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(68 min, Maracash)
TRACK LIST: 1. Del Nascere di un Castello 2:05 2. Pietra su Pietra 6:13 3. Adelaide 1:40 4. La Regina 6:27 5. Goffredo il Gobbs 1:36 6. Danza di Matilde e Goffredo 7:37 7. Matilde ed Enrico IV 1:44 8. Tre Giorni 10:57 9. Del Combaterie l'Imperatore 2:05 10. La Battaglia 4:14 11. Irudonica Ariosto 1:27 12. Il Porta 10:33 13. Enme Nulla Muare 1:43 14. Il Suo Richiamo 10:10 PERFORMERS: Mangala Vallis (2) Trama Sonora (4) Sequencer (6) Arcanoise (8) Type (10) Oltremare (12) Master Experience (14)
Prolusion. CANOSSA is an ancient castle in the north of Italy where Pope Gregory VII pardoned German Emperor Henry IV for his sins in the very distant 1077. Devised and produced by a drummer for Mangala Vallis, Gigi Cavalli Cocchi, "Rock Opera" present seven Italian bands (see them listed above) interpreting seven different stories selected from the many that have taken place in the castle during its long history.
Analysis. Each of the seven tracks-stories is preceded by a brief piece with Gigi Cavalli Cocchi narrating over orchestral synthesizer passages. Since these, say, intermezzos are very similar to each other I'd better focus on the basic cuts, calling them "stories" from now on. Of course, these contain much fewer features that are peculiar to all of them. What most of all unites the stories is that the sounds of vintage keyboards - whether real or sampled - can be found on each. The latter words are also relevant regarding heavy guitar riffs, but while the first four bands use these mainly for the accentuation of a theme, the last three pay much attention to their diversity. Generally, these are exactly the last three stories that hallmark this album's progressive culmination, which yet is not to say they strongly surpass all their predecessors, the creations of Mangalla Vallis and Sequencer being almost equally satisfactory. Of the seven bands in the project, I was acquainted only with Mangalla Vallis until now (reviews here and here). On their story, Pietra su Pietra, they still appear as faithful followers of both the English and their native schools of symphonic Art-Rock. This is a remarkable composition comprising lush Hammond organ chords, beautiful acoustic guitar passages, impressive synthesizer flights and very original vocals from a newcomer, Fabio Mora. Any allusions? Genesis's "Trespass" and "Drama" by Yes. Sequencer's Danza di Matilde e Goffredo is another excellent track from the disc's first half, standing out for its elaborately thought-out construction, as well as several effective interactions between the flute and acoustic guitar. The two with female vocals, La Regina by Trama Sonora, but especially Arcanoise's Tre Giorni, are lacking in truly intriguing musical events, and if the former band balances between its classic and neo sympho-prog manifestations, at times delivering some truly innovative ideas, the latter never exceeds the bounds of the Neo idiom, in addition quite strongly resembling Landmarq. The only story with no lyrical content, La Battaglia by Type, is not too long (4:14), compared to the others, and isn't entirely free of derivative features either, and yet I find it to be one of the two best tracks here. I am a big lover of angular structures and intricate, frequently changing rhythmic patterns, and La Battaglia is abundant in just such. While not Metal-In-Opposition, it has some common ground with that style - perhaps just because it is much in the vein of King Crimson's Red, with the occasional use of that guitar technique Mr. Fripp first applied on his milestone solo album "Exposure" (which in turn I perceive just as a sign of the Crimsons' second incarnation). With the exception of a brief Gilmoresque solo closer to its finale, Il Porta by Oltremare is a unique composition, as if breathing with a mystery whose emanations remain perceptible regardless of whether the music is heavy, symphonic or atmospheric at any particular moment - my favorite track on the disc. Master Experience's Il Suo Richiamo is heavy Art-Rock often bordering on Prog-Metal, a piece whose tune stands out for its originality as well. The only problem I have with it is that the vocals, although good, strike me as too melodramatic for such music.
Conclusion. Along with "Odyssey" by the Finnish Colossus Art-Rock Society, "Canossa - Rock Opera" is one of the very best sympho-prog compilations I've heard in the last year. Certainly, that's because it doesn't sound like a compilation, and in fact is a genuine concept album. Highly recommended, especially to those with a deep interest in Italian Progressive. Personally I'd like to dig deeper into the output of Sequencer and the three bands described last. I sincerely hope that they will emerge into the limelight in the near future to the much delight of all Progressive Rock fans, myself including.
VM: January 13, 2007
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