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Regarded as a prog metal classic, Dream Theater's Metropolis pt.2: Scenes from a Memory is now 20 years old

ProgBlog reflects on the current state of prog metal

By ProgBlog, Jan 1 2019 05:22PM

2018. A year like no other, with global politics stooping to a new nadir as so-called world leaders lie, cheat and bully their way through life. I’ve always tended towards optimism, which is one of the reasons I have an affinity for progressive rock, but when humanity is fast-approaching the point where man-made climate change is going to have irreversible, accelerated effects on the biosphere and some of the largest economies in the world argue about the wording of a document at the end of the (extended) COP24 Climate Conference in Katowice relating to the implementation of the 2015 Paris agreement, I may have reached my personal tipping point. For the US, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with tacit encouragement from Australia and Brazil, joining forces to prevent the conference fully embracing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings that any warming of above 1.5oC of pre-industrial levels would be disastrous for many species seems criminal to me. As forest fires rage across California and Australia and Japan once again break their local temperature records, it’s time surely for anyone with children or grandchildren to think globally and, at the earliest opportunity, use the ballot box to facilitate change.


The Guardian headline 15 December 2018
The Guardian headline 15 December 2018

Change appears to be the kryptonite of anyone with a vested interest. Colonial expansion allowed Europeans to profit from indigenous mineral wealth with little or no trickle-down benefit for locals (usually the opposite); the dirty energy that fuelled the industrial revolution made a small number of people very rich; the sell-off of former Soviet state industries made a smaller number of people super-wealthy; now our fondness for technology has created an even smaller group of unimaginably rich who are responsible for the way we get our information. I’m not going to deny that there’s no philanthropic disbursement of funds but however well-founded donations are, there’s always a return for the sponsor through free advertising and access to political power, and even something as outwardly benign as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has come under scrutiny for purportedly cornering the market on global health issues. Thanks to some stunning work by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), it has been revealed that the accumulation of wealth by a limited proportion of the global population, including politicians, is driven by self-interest and that they utilise schemes which although falling within the letter of the law, are actually complex constructs to preserve that wealth and ergo, influence or power. The employment of offshore structures is the equivalent of smoke and mirrors, a device to distract and confuse and ultimately avoid transparency; the influence is exerted to avoid regulation, the same red tape that might have prevented the Bhopal disaster, the Sandoz chemical spill, the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the Flint, Michigan water crisis and many others. There’s a salutary lesson here: cutting regulations may save you money, but cutting costs may cost lives.


Climate change appears to be rather low on the UK government’s list of priorities, along with rising homelessness and providing appropriate care for the elderly, those with disabilities and the unwell. Currently paralysed in a mess of her own making, bounded by red lines and surrounded by a party disunited over Europe, the Prime Minister continues to rely on DUP MPs to hold the government together even as she decries almost half of the population who voted to remain in the EU as undemocratic for suggesting a second referendum; her pro-Brexit allies from Northern Ireland don’t actually represent the majority ‘remain’ sentiment to be found in the province but she continues to allow them to hold her to ransom. It’s easy for critics of Jeremy Corbyn to lambast him for not holding Theresa May fully to account for her Brexit bungling but there are some equally pressing issues which, if satisfactorily addressed, might persuade those who voted to leave that their voice is being heard and that there was nothing to gain from leaving the EU. If May had taken more of a consensus approach to work out the best solution for the country and not attempted the impossible, the reconciliation of the pro- and anti-Europe wings of the Conservative party, the UK might not be three months away from the worst possible scenario – no deal.


Extrapolating from what I’ve seen in Prog magazine and in tweets posted by the individuals I follow on Twitter, I imagine that the majority of UK prog musicians are in favour of remaining within the EU. The challenge of restriction to movement throughout Europe effectively putting a kibosh on touring the mainland continent for all but the best resourced bands by erecting barriers to seamless touring not seen since the early 1970s, cutting off a previously accessible market. The reciprocal arrangement will undoubtedly deter artists from some of our former EU partners from gigging in the UK. The following argument could be made by not only anyone who has enjoyed the benefits of cheap intracontinental travel but by NHS senior managers, hoteliers and other owners of hospitality, catering or drinks businesses, even farmers requiring a large seasonal workforce; any restriction or barrier to EU citizens working in the UK is going to have an adverse effect on our daily lives, whether that’s longer waiting times in hospitals, no one to staff care homes for our elderly relatives, food shortages and concomitant rising prices, or just finding it harder to enjoy a night out. Doesn’t that make us look grown-up?

The Brexit-fantasy nostalgia even puts my infatuation with 70’s prog in the shade. I resent the barriers being erected that will inconvenience me on my quest to witness the last few classic progressivo Italiano bands I’ve not yet seen, and flourishing my blue UK passport at the end of a slow-moving immigration queue at Genoa’s Cristoforo Colombo airport isn’t actually something I’m going to feel proud about.


2018 did turn out to be good for one thing; the number of concerts I managed to attend (22) was the most I’ve ever managed in a year; I had thought 2017 was busy with 14 (that’s including two days in Genoa for the Porto Antico Prog Fest and five nights in Rome for the Progressivamente festival.) At times it felt as though I was chasing gigs and was certainly flagging by the end of March. Having recommenced semi-retirement towards the end of 2017, it became easier to take extended weekend breaks so on my return from a midweek skiing trip to Chamonix in early January I discovered that Banco del Mutuo Soccorso had a gig in Brescia the following week which, thanks to its proximity to Milan, made travel arrangements relatively easy.


ProgBlog's list of gigs, 2018
ProgBlog's list of gigs, 2018

The true gig marathon began on the 23rd March with my second venture to the Fabio Zuffanti-organised Z-Fest in Milan and ended with my first attendance at a Tangerine Dream performance at the Union Chapel, Islington, on 23rd April. Between those dates I got to see Yes at the Palladium, the first of Steven Wilson’s three nights’ residency at the Royal Albert Hall, had a week skiing in Austria after which I dropped off my gear and immediately headed out to the ESP 22 Layers of Sunlight launch party at the Half Moon, Putney, and flew off to Brescia again, this time for another classic Italian prog band, Le Orme, who were augmented by David Cross on violin. The complexities of getting back the hotel from some of these Italian venues can be something of a logistical nightmare after public transport has shut down for the night. Walking the streets of Genoa after a show poses no threat when the club or theatre is in the heart of the city but the 11km between L’ Angelo Azzurro and the NH Genova Centro, though only a 90 minute walk at most, might not be the best idea at 2am. I am deeply indebted to Marina Montobbio for arranging my lift back from an excellent gig. BMS at Brescia would have been less problematic if I hadn’t followed my wife’s instructions not to use public transport to get back to our hotel. Circolo Colony, the venue for the show, was hidden away on an industrial estate about 20 minutes walk from the light rail terminus to the east of the city. Though the last train was scheduled for 1am, the walk to the station would have involved a section behind the Armco protection from a dual carriageway, so I was told to get a taxi. I had pre-programmed a mobile phone app to get my return cab but despatch phoned me to tell me nothing was available at the time I requested, 00:45am, and the last taxi was at midnight. Apart from missing a chunk of the BMS set, I had to hang around the car park for almost half an hour and had to phone the company to ask where the driver was. When he appeared, it turned out that he was familiar with progressive rock so the journey back to the hotel wasn’t unpleasant. On my return to the city three months later I’d worked out not to bother trying to pre-book a return taxi journey. I made a note of where the taxi dropped me off on the way to the Brixia Forum, returned to that spot at the conclusion of the performance, and called a taxi; mine was the third to arrive. As a result of making the trip for the BMS gig, I was able to explore more of Italy. I really like Brescia with its three record stores (special mention has to go to Kandinski, Via Tartaglia 49c, 25100 Brescia) but it also hosts a UNESCO World Heritage site and the railway provides easy access to other cities including Cremona, and to Lake Garda.


While the variety of live events I attended spanned the inaugural local electronica festival (part three of Palace Electrics was held at Antenna Studios, Crystal Palace and included an interpretation of Steve Reich’s Pendulum Music) to Camel at the Royal Albert Hall and the fabulous Lucca Summer Festival for an outdoor experience of King Crimson, I was also being exposed to a lot more music that I’d describe as being outside my comfort zone. Requests for me to review new music, which came from all parts of the prog spectrum, led to the creation of a new section on the ProgBlog website, DISCovery, which had the aim of exposing new artists to a wider audience. So far it has featured a diverse range of styles including classic Floyd-like soundscape prog, pop-prog, prog with a metal bias, and RIO-inflicted free jazz.

I hope that my contribution to the prog world, however small, inspires someone to go out and explore, whether that’s just the sonic adventure of trying something new or a geographical quest to unearth the inspiration behind the music, where an understanding of physical and cultural artefacts help to piece the world together. 2019 certainly needs everyone to display a little more understanding.


Wishing everyone a peaceful new year.







By ProgBlog, Mar 19 2018 08:38PM

At the beginning of 2018 the proprietors of Genova bar and music venue L’Angelo Azzurro posted a message on their Facebook page that suggested that after almost nine years of putting on concerts they were very likely to have to close down for good because they had insufficient funds to cover their rent and were facing eviction. The energy, dedication and passion they’d put into the club really could not be questioned and the local musicians I’ve spoken to were seriously concerned about the loss of a venue that had been very supportive of the Genova progressive rock community; limiting the potential exposure of bands of whatever genre would have undoubtedly had an impact on a number of up-and-coming local bands.



Owners Danilo Lombardo and Katya Daffinoti launched an appeal for €6000 through the issue of shares and within the first three days had managed to collect over a third of that sum, prompting them to acknowledge that the club was more than simply their business, it belonged to family, friends, musicians and music fans within the community as ‘a shelter and a reference point.’ They received many certificates of esteem which indicated that their commitment over the past few years had obviously left good memories with the musicians who came to play and those in the audience who came to watch. By the end of January they were very close to reaching the total and held open meetings to discuss future plans and suggestions for improvement. I arrived at the club, still going strong and with more performances announced, on Friday 9th March.

I’d gone along to support Melting Clock, playing their third gig and premiering some new material that has been written for their forthcoming album and the event, part of a series organised by local impresario Marina Montobbio called ‘Lady Prog Nights’ was made even more attractive by the second act of the evening who already have two high calibre symphonic prog albums under their belt, Panther & C.



L’Angelo Azzurro is relatively quick, cheap and easy to access by public transport in the evening, costing just €1.60 for a ticket from Genoa’s main station (Piazza Principe) to the suburban stop Genova Borzoli, from where it’s a 10 minute downhill walk to the club. Unfortunately, Google maps drops a pin by a roundabout in what appears to be the middle of nowhere so it took me a little while to work out where the venue really was and how to get there, descending the hill beyond the roundabout then almost doubling back on myself through a 1930s industrial estate; a trip reminiscent of getting to the Progressivamente 25 festival at the Jailbreak Live Club in Rome last October or BMS at Circolo Colony in Brescia in January. I’d had to join the Circolo Colony club in addition to getting a BMS ticket; for this Lady Prog night entry to the gig was a one-off payment of €10 which included membership of the club. It was really good to meet up with friends from previous trips to the city and it was patently obvious how much the club meant to this community; the place was full and buzzing with anticipation.



I was seated behind a table occupied by members of Panther & C. along with their friends and family and was told by flautist/vocalist Mauro Serpe that he’d be joining Melting Clock on stage, for what I assumed was one of the surprises Melting Clock had hinted of. The event began with a short introductory speech by Montobbio about the club and the special brand of Genovese symphonic prog we were about to be treated to, but there was a delay before the band could start because there were problems with Simone Caffè’s acoustic guitar lead which took the house sound engineer a little while to rectify.

Once the guitar lead was fixed, the set commenced with the short instrumental Quello che Rimane, a track very much in keeping with the melodic symphonic prog style that characterises the band. Material that they’ve played on the previous occasions I’ve seen them followed: L’occhio dello sciacallo; Banalmente (first played at La Claque last November); Caleidoscopio; Strade Affollate; each song revealing nuances I’d not previously detected as the musicians had become more confident in their performance. I’ve previously compared them to Renaissance and while Emanuela Vedana’s voice matches Annie Haslam’s beautiful vocals, there’s something more adventurous about the music of Melting Clock, something in the layered sounds of the twin guitars of Caffè and Stefano Amadei that add an extra degree of complexity. If I was detecting new subtleties in the songs I’d heard before, I wasn’t prepared for the latest composition to be played live for the first time, Vetro. This song involved sudden stops and changes and reminded me of the early classic Italian prog bands, taking their lead from UK prog, most notably King Crimson. Stefano and Sandro Amadei both suggested that they’d been a little nervous of tackling something of that difficulty for the first time in front of an audience but I thought it sounded remarkably tight and contrasted nicely with the flowing tunes I associate with the band. The technical challenge faced by the musicians, not least drummer Francesco Fiorito and bassist Alessandro Bosca, will have tested the audience in a different way. I actively seek out music that could be difficult to listen to and though this wasn’t in any way extreme and would still be classified as symphonic prog, I can’t believe that it didn’t make a few people sit up and marvel at the writing and execution of the piece; the applause at the end of the song suggested that the crowd really appreciated an excellent piece of music.



We were back on familiar territory for the next two songs, my favourite Antares and the evocative Sono Luce before Panther & C.’s Serpe joined them for their final number, by tradition a cover version of a prog classic. In acknowledgement of Marina Montobbio’s fantastic efforts getting the series of concerts off the ground, they played a song that originally featured Steve Hackett, one of her all-time favourite musicians, Firth of Fifth, with flute provided by Serpe.

Apart from the glitch at the beginning of the set, the sound was mostly good. The mixing desk was at the side of the stage so the engineer had to walk out in front of the band to judge how well he’d balanced the instruments and it took him a couple of trips to get Vedana’s vocals to a suitable level in the mix. Being a bit of a fan of keyboards, I wouldn’t have complained if they’d been a little clearer when the band was in full flight.



The Panther & C. performance was as good and professional as you’d expect. I’m relatively familiar with their music having bought both of their CDs when I last saw them at the Porto Antico Prog Fest, so I’m beginning to pick out more subtleties in their music, too. The set was a mixture of material from both of their albums (my personal favourite was ...e Continua ad Essere which segued into Giusto Equilibrio) but whereas you expect them to play high quality symphonic prog, the theatrics of Serpe also play an important role and that’s not something I’d particularly noticed before or something that comes across on CD. In a previous review I’d incorrectly ascribed opening song La Leggenda di Arenberg to the famous cycle race through the Arenberg forest but, aided by the CD booklet I now understand it’s about the Flemish king Helmut, and how he battled bravely despite being outnumbered by another army with around 100000 cavalrymen. Legend tells of the reappearance of Helmut and his foes for one night every year, disappearing as the sun rises.

This has caused me to reappraise the band. The musicianship is of a very high standard (Serpe on flute and vocals; Alessandro La Corte on keyboards; Riccardo Mazzarini on guitars; Giorgio Boleto on bass; and Falco Fedele on drums) and the compositions are well-crafted and the lyrics poetic. They certainly tell a very good story through both music and words; add in the use of masks and it’s clear that they’ve derived some inspiration from early Genesis.



Montobbio and her husband very kindly gave me a lift back to my hotel at 2.30 am – public transport had shut down by the time the gig ended – but in the intervening period while the two groups packed up their equipment, I was introduced to some other members of the Italian Riviera prog scene: Bruno Cassan who is based in Nice and is responsible for, amongst other things, Prog’Sud in Pennes-Mirabeau, France (Panther & C. played there in 2017); and Il Tempio delle Clessidre bassist Fabio Gremo (who had come along with ITDC guitarist Giulio Canepa to support his good friends from Melting Clock.) The sense of community can’t be understated, and it would be a terrible loss if L’Angelo Azzurro was forced to close. Every time I visit the city, I’m awed by the friendliness of everyone involved in the prog scene in Genova: the support from the staff at Black Widow Records, the work and enthusiasm of Montobbio, and a world of welcoming musicians. I’ll be back











By ProgBlog, Jan 30 2018 05:04PM

The announcement that one of the most highly regarded Italian prog bands was playing a gig in a relatively accessible city came as a bit of a surprise. Having just flown back from skiing in Chamonix the day before a Facebook post indicated that Banco del Mutuo Soccorso were performing in Brescia in seven days time, I needed to get my act together, pronto.


Advert for BMS at Circolo Colony, Brescia
Advert for BMS at Circolo Colony, Brescia

I delayed booking until I’d had confirmation that I could take annual leave but still managed to put together a decent hotel and flight bundle with only four days before we were due to leave. We flew to Milan (there was an alternative but early flight to Verona) and had just enough time to kill to grab a coffee and a browse through the Feltrinelli shop at the station before getting a slow train to Brescia from Milano Centrale. This particular branch of La Feltrinelli has a dedicated Progressive Italiana section where I found Giro di Valzer per Domani (1975) by Arti & Mestieri on CD and, being a fan of Tilt (1974) and their more recent release Universi Paralleli (2015) (the latter acquired on vinyl in Como last spring), I really couldn’t resist buying it, along with Prog Italia no.16. Giro di Valzer per Domani leans more towards jazz-rock than prog and there are times when they play tunes you could imagine were written by the Mahavishnu Orchestra; it’s genuinely impressive stuff.


Highlights from La Feltrinelli, Milano Centrale
Highlights from La Feltrinelli, Milano Centrale

Brescia doesn’t have such impressive prog credentials as somewhere like Genoa, Milan or Rome although PFM’s Mauro Pagani was born in the city; Pagani was also, for a brief time, a member of classic progressivo Italiano group Dalton (from Bergamo, 53km west of Brescia) but left before their well-regarded debut album Riflessioni: Idea d'infinito (1973). Convenor of a number of musical projects, drummer and composer Gustavo Pasini used to run the Canterbury Café in the San Polo district, south east of the city centre.


Temporarily resident in the Novotel a 10 minute walk south east of Brescia railway station, we arrived on Friday evening and spent the next day exploring the city before I had to set out to the Sant’Eufemia district where BMS were playing at Circolo Colony, a club on an industrial estate or retail park. The first band on, La Stanza di Iris (Valeria Di Domenicantonio, voice and synth; Antonio Di Girolamo, guitar; and Valentino Piacentini, drums) were a bit noisy for my taste and lacked sufficient variation to really hold my interest; they describe themselves rather accurately as a ‘rock bomb that hits and stuns those who listen to us’. Second up were Hamnesia (Lorenzo Diana, guitar; Livia Montalesi, vocal, violin; Giovanni Tarantino, drums; Matteo Bartolo, keyboards; and Andrea Manno, bass guitar) who were premiering their first album Metamorphosis, available at the merchandise stand. Metamorphosis is a concept piece about a journey into human consciousness through the fears and uncertainties that paralyze it, yet at the same time provide us with an opportunity to overcome them and change ourselves through metamorphosis. This was much more to my liking, where the individual influences of the band members which appeared to include symphonic prog, classical and metal, combined to form a modern prog that included some riffing, some great soloing, some authentic analogue keyboard patches and some memorable melodic lines. The lyrics were all in English, something which may have been influenced by the English-speaking bands they profess to admire like Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree, but I prefer my Italian bands singing in their native language. Montalesi may have had monitor problems because there were a couple of occasions where I thought she drifted out of key, whereas her singing on the CD – I thought I ought to buy a copy – is assured and problem free. Hamnesia are another young Italian progressive rock band to look out for.


The actual reason I’d organised the trip was to see Banco but when the first track Metamorfosi kicked in the link between the veterans and the newcomers was eloquently spelled out. Having stood around at the back of the hall for La Stanza di Iris, then moved near to the mixing desk for Hamnesia, I stood with most of the rest of the crowd close to the stage for Banco. Without Gianni Nocenza or any of the other members from the 70s apart from Vittorio Nocenza, the sextet which now consists of Vittorio Nocenzi, keyboards, vocals; Nicola Di Già, guitar; Tony D’Alessio, vocals; Marco Capozi, bass guitar; Fabio Moresco, drums; and Filippo Marcheggiani, guitar, released a re-imagined version of Io Sono Nato Librero, titled La Libertà Difficile along with the original, as a legacy edition CD in the autumn of 2017.

La Libertà Difficile is well played and well thought out but lacks the raw energy of the 1973 release and, however good D’Alessio is, he’s not going to fill the shoes of Francesco Di Giacomo. This had been one of my concerns when I booked my ticket but to his credit, he didn’t try to emulate Di Giacomo and accompanied by Nocenzi, the singing worked very well. Unfortunately, I’d been forced to book a taxi for 11.50pm because the taxi firm couldn’t provide the service that I’d originally requested at half-past midnight, or my compromise at 00.15am so I didn’t get to hear the full set. Following Metamorfosi (from their eponymous debut in 1972) they played Cento Mani e Cento Occhi (from Darwin! 1972), Il Ragno (from Come in un'Ultima Cena, 1976), La Conquista della Posizione Eretta (from Darwin!), Canto Nomade per un Prigioniero Politico (from Io Sono Nato Librero) and then a couple of tracks I don’t have in my collection which I believe were Canto di primavera (from the 1979 album of the same name) and Paolo Pa’ (from Urgentissimo, 1980). I had to leave the club as the excellent L'Evoluzione (from Darwin!) was ending.


BMS, Circolo Colony, Brescia 20 Jan 2018
BMS, Circolo Colony, Brescia 20 Jan 2018

Though I’d been a little disconcerted by the songs I didn’t know, the playing throughout was exceptional and Nocenzi, fairly close to the beginning of the set related a tale of how much Brescia meant to the band. So, despite only getting half a set, I was glad I attended. I don’t think I can make up my mind whether I prefer the music of PFM or Banco and, having seen PFM live for the first time last year, I’ve now ticked off Banco del Mutuo Soccorso from the list. I suppose my only gripe is that the club was some way out of the city centre and even public transport, which I had been informed shut down at 1am on a Saturday, was not an easy option to take because of the nature of the journey from the club to the station. This is becoming a bit of a recurring theme: the gigs start late and at gigs in both Milan and Rome last year, the journey back to my hotel was pretty fraught unless I left early and missed part of the performance.


The city has a couple of decent second-hand record stores, Music Box and Brescia Dischi which are round the corner from each other and appear to be owned by the same person. I was tempted to buy a live BMS album from 1974 but I thought €40 was a bit too much to pay. Opposite Music Box there’s a branch of bookstore Punto Einaudi which sells classical and jazz music on CD and vinyl, and there’s also a reasonably-sized branch of La Feltrinelli on Corso Giuseppe Zanardelli where I bought three PFM-related LPs: L’Isola di Niente, Amore e non Amore (1971) by Lucio Battisti where his backing band is the original PFM line-up, and Acqua Fragile’s second album Mass-Media Stars from 1974 which features Bernardo Lanzetti, the vocalist with PFM from Chocolate Kings to Passpartù, and was produced by PFM and Claudio Fabi. Marva Jan Morrow who contributed lyrics to Jet Lag also wrote lyrics for Mass-Media Stars.



In between bouts of seeking out Italian prog, we discovered Brescia boasts some of the most impressive Roman remains I’ve ever seen, located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site complex made up from the Brixia Archaeological area and the Museo di Santa Giulia. The city was also under the control of Venice during La Serenissima, making the architectural history from Roman, through medieval to the Rationalist redevelopment of the Piazza della Vittoria to the postmodern reinvention of the Courts of Justice and the Brescia 2 district where our Novotel was situated, a fabulous eclectic mix of styles. It’s a clean, pleasant and friendly city. I’d visit it again.


Mimmo Paladino sculpture 'Ritiro' in the Brixia archaeological site
Mimmo Paladino sculpture 'Ritiro' in the Brixia archaeological site


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