ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Dec 20 2019 09:43PM

I’d just gone to buy myself a beer during a break between bands at the 2017 Porto Antico Prog Fest in Genoa when Alessandro Bosca, the bassist from Melting Clock who had just completed their set, also arrived at the drink stand. I introduced myself and told him how much I’d enjoyed their performance, indicating that I’d be writing a review article of the Prog Fest for the blog and Alessandro asked me if I’d like to hear some studio-quality demos of their songs. He passed on my details to Stefano Amadei, acting manager and one of the band’s two guitarists, who sent me files for four tracks, describing them as ‘something we recorded in only two days to present ourselves to venues’. I’d been impressed by their live appearance (their live debut) but the demos L'occhio dello Sciacallo, Antares, Sono Luce and Strade Affollate, all aired at the gig, were beautifully produced and allowed me to fully appreciate their song-craft and playing, even replicating the tingling sensation provoked by Emanuela Vedana’s vocals on Antares. Listening to the download, I was reminded of mid 70's Renaissance: melodic, symphonic and well constructed, though Melting Clock were more complex and had an audible Mediterranean influence. When I told Stefano he was flattered, but said they had only recently discovered Renaissance when some of their friends had made the same connection.


Melting Clock, Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017
Melting Clock, Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017

The origins of Melting Clock can be traced back to the Department of Physics at the University of Genoa in 2001. Stefano explained to me that the original objectives of a small group of friends was to have fun making music, describing the attempts of the fledgling group to play covers from the bands they loved but ‘were so bad that we were off beat on the various section of the songs’. This prompted Alessandro to apply the Italian slang ‘ci sciogliamo il tempo’ (‘we are melting our time’), meaning that they were forgetting or loosing the rhythmand beat, while sparking the connection with the melting clocks in Salvador Dali's 1931 masterpiece The Persistence of Memory that some have suggested was inspired by Einstein's theory of General Relativity. According to Stefano they adopted the moniker Melting Clock as a private joke: a comment on their musical skills and a pretentious link to the nerdy background (Stefano’s description) of the line up at the time.


Four of the original line-up remain: brothers Sandro and Stefano Amadei (keyboards and voice, and guitars respectively); Alessandro Bosca (bass); and Francesco Fiorito (drums), while the current sextet is completed by Simone Caffè (guitars) and Emanuela Vedana (vocals). It surprised me that their coherent, largely symphonic style should result from a wide range of influences because Francesco and Stefano are metal-heads, Simone is a David Gilmour fan, and Sandro listens to Scandinavian jazz, though he has played with Daedalus, a Genoese prog-metal band alongside Fabio Gremo of Il Tempio delle Clessidre, and was a huge fan of Jordan Rudess, lending Rudess his Kurzweil K2600 when the Dream Theater keyboard player was on holiday in Italy and agreed to perform for the Italian Dreamers. The influence of contemporary acts like Porcupine Tree, Riverside, Opeth and Ayreon that the band say have shaped the direction of their sound is tempered by a critical understanding of the cultural significance of the music that came out of Italy in the 70s along with an appreciation of classic UK progressive rock; accompanying them to a gig reveals the depth of their knowledge of Italian prog, and each time I’ve seen them play, they’ve included a classic-prog cover in the set.


Melting Clock at La Claque, Genoa 11/11/2017
Melting Clock at La Claque, Genoa 11/11/2017

It would be fair to say that Genoa, or more broadly Liguria, played a key role in the rise of rock progressivo italiano and in my opinion, Melting Clock have the ability to take on the role of RPI standard-bearers for the entire country. Rubbing shoulders with the city’s original prog musicians and the bands that have more recently come to prominence, Stefano says that the members of Melting Clock are dismissive of any boundary imposed through generational differences. An indication that their music has the potential for broad appeal is the decision of Black Widow Records to allow the band to produce a limited 2LP edition, in purple vinyl, of the debut album. Black Widow co-owner Massimo Gasperini may have thought long and hard about the vinyl release when the band had enough material for three sides of an LP but a cover medley of King Crimson tracks 21st Century Schizoid Man, In the Court of the Crimson King and Starless, first aired to great response during a gig at Genoa’s L’Angelo Azzurro club in March 2019, would provide the material for side four. That performance had been rearranged and I missed the show, not arriving in Genoa until the following week, when I was treated to a band rehearsal where they ran through the entire set from the performance and, warned of a surprise inclusion to the set list, was absolutely blown away by the medley Alla Corte del Re Cremisi, artfully segued together and enhanced by violin from Hanako Tsushima.



Melting Clock rehearsal 21/3/2019
Melting Clock rehearsal 21/3/2019

When I met up with the whole band at the 2018 Porto Antico Prog Fest, we had a lengthy discussion about the merits of singing in their native tongue, unanimously agreeing that it was preferable for a rock progressivo Italiano outfit to sing in Italian. It was clear that they also understood overcoming the language barrier was likely to make their music accessible to the wider public and were considering, at least on one of the formats for their forthcoming debut, to include a bonus track of original music with lyrics translated and sung in English to expand their appeal or perhaps, like veteran local group and Black Widow Records stable mate Il Cerchio d’Oro on their 2008 album Il Viaggio di Colombo, include English translations of the Italian lyrics; what we get in both CD and vinyl editions of Destinazioni is a full English translation of the song words by Emanuela and Stefano providing an interpretation for non-Italian speakers. The Italian singing is expressive and poetic and at times almost operatic; the translations reveal an impressionistic flair that reminds me of Peter Sinfield’s best work – much of it for PFM.

I was also asked my opinion of the proposed album artwork which had divided opinion amongst the members. Initially thinking that the cover, painted by their friend Matteo Anselmo, didn’t accurately reflect the genre, I began to change my opinion because the depiction of the young woman at the bus stop waiting for a boat links the music, especially Antares and title track Destinazioni to Genoa; Stefano later confessed how he feels connected to the sea at a performance of Höstsonaten’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an admission that caused me no surprise as he’d grown up on the Ligurian coast and something I could empathise with, having spent my formative years in a shipbuilding town in the north west of England.


Destinazioni
Destinazioni

Not only has the material has matured since the original demo and the original live performances, the compositions are thematically linked by the representation of different aspects of a journey. Though the music is largely credited to Simone and Sandro, with a good proportion of the lyrics provided by Emanuela, the process of structuring each piece is dependent on rhythmic arrangement by Francesco and Alessandro and colour and mood supplied by Stefano. Having originally begun recording the album in November 2018, the time spent in Studio MAIA under the direction of Andrea Torretta was used wisely, settling on the most satisfying arrangements that capture the drama of each individual story. Stefano explained that he wasn’t interested in music that he found unchallenging, describing their style as being characterised by evocative and engaging sounds which belie the compositional complexity, drawing in the listener, which reflects how I felt when I first heard them in 2017.


Album opener Caleidoscopio was an excellent choice as a first single because it’s archetypal, condensing Melting Clock into a shade less than eight and a half minutes. It’s incredibly well-structured, built up from short phrases emphasised with distorted guitar yet despite its intricacy, the multiple instrumental layers are all clear and distinct and floating above is Emanuela’s gorgeous vocal melody. There are tempo and metrical changes and a fast organ solo but generally the lyrics express reflection, representing an inner journey.

I always look forward to meeting up with the band because we share an appreciation for many of the same things and conversation inevitably turns to music, books, and politics. Banalmente is a political song, played in a recognisable Melting Clock idiom attacking those who don’t question, preferring not to know or hold any responsibility for any atrocity carried out on the orders of others, along the lines of John Stuart Mill’s ‘Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.’ The references to ‘sand covered in blood where corpses are lying in the sun’ followed by ‘digging our trench to defend the high season party’ bring to mind the fate of refugees who have risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean and landed on Italian territory, a journey of desperation and hope that sadly too often ends in tragedy. There’s poignancy in Sandro’s particularly effective baritone during this piece.

Like a number of rock progressivo bands celebrating their Mediterranean roots before them, Melting Clock employ Middle Eastern scales and rhythm patterns on a couple of sections of Vetro which enhance the feeling of imprisonment and suffocation spelled out by the lyrics inspired by Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian classic We. A song of different moods, the brief cinematic opening is followed by bright acoustic guitar which gives way to the eastern Mediterranean flavour and the start of the vocals. During the singing, which has a story-telling quality, Emanuela holds the melody while the instrumental backing is largely rhythmical (guest percussion is provided by Fabrizio Salvini) though there’s quite a lot going on with guitar and keyboards adding splashes of colour in the background. Following the last verse there’s a bright synthesizer line before a reprise of the acoustic guitar and eastern theme which precedes a piano flourish ending. I was present when this was first aired at a gig – it was one of the last compositions written for the album - where Sandro said he had been concerned about both the technical requirements of performing the piece (the verse is in 19/16 time) and its reception. I can report that not only did the music flow well but that it was really appreciated by the audience.

Strade Affollate was brought to the band by Simone. The acoustic guitar takes something of a lead but it’s obviously gone through the Melting Clock arranging machine. The understated piano that enters during the second verse and the Hammond-like organ arising during the middle eight enhance the melody as the layers build up, with restrained distorted guitar appearing in the third verse. This is a song of hope after the confinement of Vetro and partly because of its message and partly from the way it’s structured, it’s probably the most accessible track on the album, capable of bridging into more mainstream genres.


Melting Clock set list, L'Angelo Azzurro 9/3/2018
Melting Clock set list, L'Angelo Azzurro 9/3/2018




L’Occhio dello Sciacallo is another political song written by Sandro. Lasting less than three minutes and translating as The Jackal’s Eye it’s a short exhortation decrying corporate culture. The abrasive guitar introduction actually gives away to a pleasant melody where Emanuela and Sandro sing call-and response vocals. The drudgery is represented by drumming on the lower kit (though Francesco does use a limited amount of cymbal) and there’s an excellently executed cello solo provided by Stefano Cabrera.

The band is particularly proud of Antares, the first song they wrote for Melting Clock. It also happens to be a personal favourite of mine because it’s structured like a classic early Camel song, with amazing melodies and contrapuntal keyboard and guitar lines. This is another track that links to Genoa and the sea, so it’s not surprising that it begins with sea sound effects. Another composition that relies on building upon short phrases (c.f. Lunar Sea by Camel), it’s enhanced by Mellotron-like washes and contrapuntal synthesizer lines and some excellent twin lead guitar work, plus flute played by Fabrizio Salvini and cello played by Stefano Cabrera. Sandro shares some of the vocal duties but its Emanuela’s wordless vocals leading up to the dramatic denouement that steal the show, generating the physical signs of frisson, the pilomotor reflex and goosebumps.

Sono Luce has a lengthy instrumental introduction, arranged differently from the first time I heard it. This was the song where Alessandro’s playing first caught my attention, prompting me to seriously consider buying myself a 5-string bass. Even though there’s a Gilmour inspired guitar solo (it was written by Simone) the overall sound is less classic prog and more neo-prog with a delicacy to the piano and brightness to the guitars, giving a feeling of hope. The title (Made of Light) and lyrics are suggestive of a journey towards enlightenment but they still reference the sea and the shore.


The title track is something of a departure from the other melodic-symphonic tracks and it’s cleverly presaged by the short late-Floydian or early Marillion instrumental Quello che Rimane… It’s here that we get a better feel for individual influences in what is a notch or two up on the challenging stakes, both for the performers and the listener on the longest track on the album. Destinazioni is substantially heavier than anything else the band has done and begins with a nod to King Crimson and Dream Theater prog-metal while managing to stay adventurous throughout. Less reliant on stand-out melodies, it involves a lot of changes of style without breaks or segues, from fast and heavy to stately, from reflective to angular and aggressive, providing a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time. It conforms more to a classic prog template with accurate patches of analogue keyboards sitting well with the updated sound, exemplified by another fast organ run from Sandro but perhaps best illustrated with a few bars of guitar and keyboards that sound like Gabriel-era Genesis which appear toward the conclusion of the song, the most obvious incorporation of a classic prog influence.

Massimo Gasperini sanctioned the release of the double vinyl format with the medley Alla Corte del Re Cremisi taking up side four. These are pretty faithful recreations of the original King Crimson material, down to the Wetton bass trills on Starless and the role of David Cross covered brilliantly by Hanako on 21st Century Schizoid Man. Massimo has overseen some of the brightest names in contemporary Italian prog and hints at great things for Melting Clock, telling me that he enjoys seeing the band’s excitement about their own music. I also think they have a bright future, provided what is really a quite stunning debut gets attention beyond Genoa and Croydon.

What began as a chance encounter in 2017 has turned into a good friendship. I’ll be watching Melting Clock’s future journey very closely.


Destinazioni by Melting Clock, my album of 2019, is available from Black Widow Records BWR 224





By ProgBlog, Aug 20 2018 03:25PM

I met up with an old school friend last week. Though we have always exchanged Christmas cards and occasional emails, usually around the time his band is about to release some new music which he will dutifully send me, I’d not seen Bill or his wife, Anna, for thirty years, the last time being at their wedding. Bill lived two doors away from me in Barrow, was in the same year at school and, as part of a tight-knit group of adolescents, we grew up liking the same music, the direction of which was set by my older brother.

I played bass and Bill played drums in a band influenced by early Pink Floyd and King Crimson until we departed for separate universities; we listened to records, analysed and discussed music and last Monday, in the Royal Oak, Borough, a pub without any form of electronic amusements where even the contactless payment facility failed to work, began making up for lost time in conversation about music over well-kept beer from Harvey’s of Lewes.



Having not long before returned from a trip to Italy, talk naturally turned to PFM, who’s Photos of Ghosts, Cook and Chocolate Kings were first obtained by Bill. I hadn’t realised that he wasn’t so much a fan of Jet Lag, despite its jazz rock leanings and his proclivity for jazz and jazz rock, or Chocolate Kings, because of Bernardo Lanzetti’s English vocals and what he suggested was a move away from the earlier band sound, with its distinctive Mediterranean feel. Favouring their post-millennium output, he also thought that Emotional Tattoos was the best thing they’d done since Photos of Ghosts. For my part, I agree that Emotional Tattoos is a step in the right direction, with a couple of tracks that do hint at their 70s prime, but I think the Mediterranean warmth that pervades their early work is largely absent. There’s less use of change in amplitude and other devices to add contrast to an individual piece of music than there used to be, less contrapuntal interplay and no flute; as much as I like Lucio Fabbri’s playing, I miss the flute when the current band play the old material. Still, based on Bill’s recommendation, I’ve just invested in a copy of Dracula from a seller on ebay, a CD I saw when I was in Rome in 2006 but failed to buy, but I’ve never seen it anywhere since.



I tend to play the English version of Emotional Tattoos because that’s the version I own on vinyl, but I listened to the Italian version (which came on CD with the 2LP) before going to see them in Genova last year. Bill and I agreed that the Italian version was better, like their 70’s material that was available in both Italian and English. I’m not trying to suggest that I don’t like PFM’s English language work as Photos of Ghosts and The World Became the World include faithful re-workings of songs from Storia di un Minuto and Per un Amico and I’m not too put out by Lanzetti’s singing; unfortunately, Peter Sinfield’s words required a more nuanced delivery than the band were capable of, though I found it pleasing, not understanding the social situation in Italy at the time, that they accepted his environmentalism and his compassionate lyrics.



The topic of Italian bands singing in English was also raised when I was talking to Melting Clock at the Porto Antico Prog Fest, who employ their native language for their original material. They also play one or two progressive rock classics during their live set, where vocalist Emanuela Vedana sings with confidence when they perform accurate renditions of Genesis’ Firth of Fifth, Time by Pink Floyd or Soon, the coda to Gates of Delirium by Yes; this not only demonstrates their understanding of prog history, but it’s also a clever device to ingratiate themselves with members of an audience who may not have heard their self-penned music. We were unanimous in agreement that it was preferable for a rock progressivo Italiano bands to sing in Italian, but they also understood that overcoming the language barrier was likely to make their music accessible to the wider public and were considering, at least on one of the formats for their forthcoming debut, to include a bonus track of original music with lyrics translated and sung in English to expand their appeal but also, like veteran local group and Black Widow Records stable mate Il Cerchio d’Oro on their 2008 album Il Viaggio di Columbo, include English translations of the Italian lyrics.



It could be argued that world-wide appreciation for the entire sub-genre of RPI was facilitated by Greg Lake, Keith Emerson and Manticore Records. PFM manager Franco Mamone passed on a tape of the group to Greg Lake who, to the surprise of the Italians, listened to and liked what he heard, and invited them to Fulham to see and hear them play. Peter Sinfield was working with ELP at the time and compared their musicianship to King Crimson (PFM performed cover versions of 21st Century Schizoid Man and Pictures of a City on their first Italian tours in 1971 and 72) and suggested that English language lyrics would make their music universally appealing, and the band agreed. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso were also signed to Manticore after Emerson had heard them play and became a huge fan. Banco (1975) was their first release for Manticore, containing one original track (in Italian) and re-workings of material from Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Io Sono Nato Libero in Italian and English, followed in 1976 by a concept album Come in un’ultima cena / As in a Last Supper released in both Italian and English.



Le Orme, another of the most successful RPI bands, also experimented with an English version of one of their highly regarded LPs with the aim of conquering the UK and US. Released on the Charisma label, Felona and Sorona had lyrics written by Peter Hammill (who was signed to Charisma), based on the concept provided by Tagliapietra, Pagliuca and Dei Rossi so that his words closely followed the original story.



In a modern twist, when La Maschera di Cera released their continuation of the Felona e Sorona story Le Porte del Domani in 2013, they also released a version in English, The Gates of Tomorrow, with a very subtle alternative mix and a less subtle variation of the album sleeve, painted by Lanfranco who had provided the original art work for Le Orme. In addition to Italian groups releasing an alternative version of an album for the English-speaking market, which spreads beyond the four acts listed above, there are examples found in my collection of groups who only sing in English (The Trip, Cellar Noise, Hollowscene); those like Banco, PFM and Osanna who have released albums with a mixture of Italian and English lyrics; and those who have released both all-Italian and all-English albums (Nuova Era with Dopo L’Infinito and Return to the Castle respectively).



The phenomenon of non-native English speakers singing in English isn’t restricted to Italy; plucking a few more examples from my collection are Tasavallan Presidentti from Finland (Wigwam don’t count because they were Anglo-Finnish); Pulsar from France (both French and English are used on Strands of the Future, 1976); Germany’s Eloy and Triumvirat; Aphrodite’s Child from Greece; Earth and Fire, Focus and Supersister from the Netherlands; Norway's Wobbler; Albion from Poland (Broken Hopes, 2007); Spain’s Iceberg (Tutankhamon, 1975, a mixture of Spanish and English); and Sweden’s Anekdoten. So what influenced these choices? Was it simply the likelihood that the music would be more universally accepted, with concomitant success, if they used English lyrics? I’m not so sure it’s that straightforward; there’s a theory that in Italy during the 70s in there was something of a backlash against groups singing in anything other than Italian when the political tension is well documented. It’s strange then that PFM should release their anti-American opus, Chocolate Kings as an English language LP but that album might give a hint why there’s a melange of native- and English languages used throughout progressive rock in mainland Europe.

The title track on Chocolate Kings spells out that the US army, an occupying force in Italy following the Second World War, became unwelcome when fascism was defeated and bribing the local populace with candy and consumer items was insufficient for them to gain the goodwill of the locals; it could even have been seen as a potential source of friction, especially with the polarisation of political viewpoints in the late 60s and 70s. American and British music arrived in Italy through major ports like Genova and with further influx from a mixture of cultures it’s not surprising that Genova has played an important role in the development of musical styles, though a crucial element was retaining some of their own heritage and identity, including a desire to sing in their own language. It could be argued that the adherence to a ‘romantic style’ also helps to explain the attraction of UK progressive rock in Italy.

A similar situation occurred in Germany, though there was a greater concentration of American armed forces. The counter-culture generation, born after the war, largely rejected Anglicised music but also opted to break from their own traditions to create their own music scene, disrespectfully dubbed Krautrock by the English-speaking media, which has since become massively influential in its own right. The more mainstream prog bands tended to develop along the lines of the space rock of early Pink Floyd although Triumvirat became something of an ELP-clone.


Progressive rock started as an British phenomenon and was absorbed an integrated by many European countries putting their own stamp on the movement, including choosing whether or not to adopt English as its official language. The eclectic mix of influences that helped to form progressive rock indicates that there was no manifesto for the genre to remain 'English', and many bands stuck to their native tongue; this enriched the scene and made it a joy for the UK and US audiences to discover something new. Sadly, globalisation means that the music industry, which once thrived on creativity, now treats artists as commodity, fulfilling the fears aired in Chocolate Kings. The trend for an increasing number of mainland European prog bands to sing in English may reflect the attitudes of the market but would anyone dispute that most fans prefer Italian bands to sing in Italian?


I personally like all non-UK bands to sing in their mother tongue because it sounds more fluent, more poetic, more passionate and more believable but it all boils down to whether or not a band feels that English lyrics best serve the purposes of their music.











By ProgBlog, Dec 5 2017 09:22PM

The Italian Riviera, stretching from the border with France to the west, down to through the Cinque Terre to La Spezia is a beautiful and often dramatic coast packed full of interesting places with well-preserved medieval quarters and fascinating histories. Genova is the regional capital and is close to the geographic centre; it’s also at the heart of the progressivo Italiano movement having been responsible for a good number of the original 70s acts and also, since the early 90s, producing a quite amazing crop of the current (and future) standard bearers.


Genova - San Lorenzo
Genova - San Lorenzo

Savona, west of Genova, was responsible for Delirium, one of the first Italian acts to adopt progressive traits. Originally a beat group called Sagittari, they changed their name when Ivano Fossati replaced the original vocalist in 1970 and released their favourably-regarded debut, Dolce Acqua (Sweet Water) in 1971. This turned out to be their only album with Fossati, though the televised appearance at the Sanremo pop festival (100km west of Savona along the coast) in February 1972 was responsible for the huge success of their single Jesahel where it finished sixth, which many regard as being the best-known pop song in Italy; I think it’s quite interesting that there’s a picturesque Ligurian town called Dolceacqua with an old, elegant single arch bridge and a 12th Century castle roughly 25km inland from Sanremo. Fossati was subsequently replaced with Briton Martin Grice on sax and flute and, after a disappointment with the jazz influenced prog of their second album, Lo Scemo E Il Villaggio (1972), they produced their symphonic prog masterpiece Delirium III - Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo in 1974 but split up following personnel changes in 1975.


Savona
Savona

I own a budget price ‘2LP in 1CD’ release of Dolce Acqua (with Jesahel as a bonus track) plus Delirium III - Viaggio Negli Arcipelaghi del Tempo, bought from Piccadilly Sound in Livorno on a day trip out from Pisa in August 2014, and managed to get to see the reformed Delirium (Martin Grice, Fabio Chigini on bass, Alessandro Corvaglia on vocals, Michele Cusato on guitar, Alfredo Vandresi on drums and original member Ettore Vigo on keyboards); the very enjoyable set contained a number of songs from the prog-folk Dolce Acqua but there was also good slices of 2015’s L’Era della Menzogna and 2009 comeback release Il Nome del Vento.


Delirium 2LP in 1CD
Delirium 2LP in 1CD

On my second trip to Savona I wandered into the Jocks Team record store (it was closed for lunch on my first visit) I picked up a Yes T-shirt depicting the cover of Fragile and the CD Il Viaggio di Colombo (2008) by Il Cerchio d’Oro who also hail from the city; this was me fulfilling my desire to acquire music from the home city of a group. Though they’d been around in the 70s, Il Cerchio d’Oro never managed to release an album of original material until reforming in the 00s, although they did produce some non-prog singles in the late 70s which emerged on a Mellow Records compilation in 1999 and La Quadratura del Cerchio, an album of rehearsal tracks from the mid 70s, including cover versions of songs by The Trip, Le Orme and New Trolls was released by Psych-Out Records in 2006.

Christopher Columbus lived in both Genova and Savona and provided the inspiration for Il Viaggio di Colombo, a well-presented CD and the first collaboration between the band and Black Widow Records. The sound is crisp and clear with Giuseppe Terribile‘s Rickenbacker bass high in the mix, providing the driving force for some 70’s sounding progressivo Italiano. It’s almost as though the 33 years between the snippets from La Quadratura del Cerchio and Il Viaggio di Colombo never existed. The use of sound effects such as the creaking of the wooden ship show a welcome attention to detail, though the concept, the writing and the playing are all first-class. There’s a bit of a Floyd feel to the production but the music is very much Italian prog; at times I’m reminded of Alphataurus.


Il Viaggio di Colombo
Il Viaggio di Colombo

I completed my Il Cerchio d’Oro collection in the Black Widow Shop, with 2013’s Dedalo e Icaro on vinyl and the most recent release Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere on CD. The former is stylistically similar to Colombo, a concept album in classic Italian prog style, nicely presented in its gatefold sleeve and I haven’t yet made up my mind which is better, Colombo or Dedalo e Icaro.


Il Cerchio d’Oro had played just before Delirium at the Porto Antico Prog Fest and I suspect that they were premiering parts of Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere which hadn’t been released at that time. For this version of the band, the original members Gino (drums) and Giuseppe Terribile (bass) and Franco Piccolini (keyboards) were joined by Massimo Spica (guitar), Piuccio Pradal (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Franco’s son Simone Piccolini (keyboards), plus special appearances from vocalist Pino Ballarini (ex-Il Rovescio della Medaglia) and drummer Paolo Siani (ex-Nuovo Idea), two guest musicians warmly appreciated by the crowd. I recall thinking that the compositions were well structured but there wasn’t the degree of complexity I was expecting though when I got my hands on the new release I thought it was equally as good as Colombo and Dedalo e Icaro, if not better. I was once again reminded of Alphataurus despite detecting a subtle shift towards a more conventional rock format, and where the concept is presented as a series of snapshots, rather than the linear narrative of the two preceding albums. In a move reminiscent of their 70’s performances, the final track on the album Fuoco sulla collina (Fire on the mountain) is a cover version of an Ivan Graziani song, which fits the overall concept, the idea that we live in a world where feelings smoulder under the ashes and from time-to-time, fire erupts, often violently.


Il Cerchio d'Oro - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017
Il Cerchio d'Oro - Porto Antico Prog Fest 2017

Title track Il Fuoco sotto la cenere (Fire under the ashes) is a really good piece of prog which commences with a melodic figure and goes through multiple changes (including a section with a heavy, distorted guitar riff and some excellent organ which reminds me of Biglietto per l’Inferno.) It’s about the state of mind of a person who becomes unable to deal with everyday problems and suppress the rage which has been building up as their inner strength gets worn away, the fire that bursts from the smouldering ashes.

Thomas uses the Great Fire of London as an analogy for our ability to turn a bad situation into an opportunity; fire destroys but it clears the path for new opportunities and life can emerge phoenix-like from the ashes. The organ and guitar work really well together and the vocal melody is nicely underlined with synthesizer. The solo vocals aren’t particularly strong but there are some memorable melodies on the longest track of the album.

Per sempre qui (Forever here) relates the story of a character who spent much of his life away from his homeland in exchange for prosperity but in the end, the desire to return to his origins, the ‘fire under the ashes’ prevails over the materialistic urges. This is a relatively short number, sung with great emotion by special guest Pino Ballarini on the recommendation of Black Widow Records and who, it transpires was perfectly placed to narrate the song because the sentiment coincides with his personal story.

I due poli (The two poles) is about the conflict between two mental states, including the suppression either one of the aspects. There are obviously different degrees of this bipolar phenomenon which affect individuals to different extents. At its most extreme, there is perpetual conflict between the two sides with one dominant and one suppressed (under the ashes), instantaneously switched and transformed into ‘fire’ when the conflict switches. It begins with some almost Hackett-like acoustic guitar which resolves to melodic piano and Mellotron cello before commencing a short riff and getting a bit Floyd-y. It’s in this track where I find the greatest similarity to Alphataurus, in the vocals where they work as a chorus (and this is where the vocals are at their strongest.) There’s nice expressive guitar and some great organ work and even a trippy synth solo.

Il Fuoco nel bicchiere (Fire in the glass) is a story of alcohol addiction, where the protagonist never totally overcomes the need for drink though he’s fully aware of the consequences of his failure to do so. The melancholy which besets the character is reflected in the slow melody; the song was written by keyboard player Simone Piccolini who has been described by his father as possessing the appropriate DNA for penning Il Cerchio d’Oro songs. This is dominated by moderately heavy guitar riffs but has some nice piano and an interesting section which includes a theremin sound.

Il Rock e l’inferno (Rock and hell) plays on the idea that rock music is frequently though inappropriately associated with the devil, when it’s actually a means of communication, just transmitting a mood. It’s altogether heavier and the beat more simple than most of their other material, with the band stamping their melodies over distorted guitar riffs and classic Hammond sounding organ and wordless vocals which recall some classic early 70’s RPI moments.


Some critics have pointed out the weakness of some of the vocals and there are times where I’d agree, though I think the music more than makes up for these moments. The band acknowledged the difficulty producing a suitable follow-up to the critically acclaimed Dedalo e Icaro and the time spent attaining their trademark ‘vintage’ sound without compromising cleanliness and quality was obviously worthwhile; it’s a very good album. Though I’m not a great fan of the artwork on the cover, I do understand the links between the painting and the songs and I’m impressed that artist Pino Paolino, a former vocalist with the band, has used images set partly in a 17th century fortress located in Capo Vado, not far from Savona. By strange chance the area was devastated by one of the fires which raged in the hills along the Riviera last summer, clearing the way for new possibilities.


Il Fuoco sotto la Cenere by Il Cerchio d’Oro is on Black Widow Records BWRCD 204 (2017)


The blogs HRH Prog 4 Line Up (F+B) Keith Emerson at the Barbican Z fest ticket BMS Brescia A Saucerful of Secrets banner