REVIEW: Banco del Mutuo Soccorso – Orlando: Le Forme Dell’Amore

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If you want a taste of wonderful, complex, and unique progressive rock, you should do yourself a favor and get to know some of the most essential Italian prog outfits, such as BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO. The history of the band dates back to the dark dungeons of the 1970s when the two brothers Vittorio and Gianni Nocenzi, inspired by classical music and the prog monoliths of the time, set out to explore the extreme possibilities laid out by the fascinating amalgamation of these two seemingly disparate genres. Celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary, these prestigious elders of rock progressivo Italiano are about to release possibly their most ambitious concept album since their 1972 debut. The new studio outing, “Orlando: Le Forme dell’Amore,” is due out on September 23rd, 2022, via InsideOut Music. If vintage-sounding symphonic prog á la GENTLE GIANT, GENESIS, ELP, JETHRO TULL, and such happens to rub you the right way, this album will no doubt be right down your alley. There is a caveat, though; unlike its British counterpart, Italian symphonic prog is very much notable for the prominence of classical influences, insofar as classical music seems to be the very driving force behind the music. In the case of BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO, the music does feel more like classical music in a prog-rock setting, on occasion, rather than the other way around. Sure, some British prog legends have flirted with classical music over the years but not like this – KING CRIMSON‘s live rendition of “Planets Suite” by Gustav Holst maybe notwithstanding. If classical music is your cup of tea, you’re in for a real treat – if not, you’re out of luck. The fact that the song lyrics are in Italian does also add to the mystique of the band. The lyrical concept is woven around an Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso, a chivalric romance written by Ludovico Ariosto in 1516. With the poem being a story about love and war, infested with fantasy, humor, and tragedy, it certainly does set a proper backstory for nothing short of wild and immersive prog offering: the stage is the entire world – plus a trip to the moon.

Proemio” (Italian for “Preface”) sets the gears in motion with 2 minutes’ worth of romantic motifs played with piano and acoustic guitar while the lyrics – or cantos – go on about a knight named Orlando, esteemed for his great prudence, yet driven mad by love – the usual story, that is. My knowledge of classical music may not be vast enough to say anything too final about the possible influences behind the intro song but there is, nonetheless, something very Italian about the piano ornamentations – on this track and the album as a whole. Well, of course, there is… Italians have a long, long history of mixing romance, drama, and music.

The romantic doodlings of the opening track soon give way to something completely different; “La Pianura Rossa” (Italian for “The Red Plain”) starts as off-kilter riffage and develops into an orientally tinted prog mayhem in the spirit of vintage bands such as ELP and YES. The somewhat cubistic piano motifs are also subtly reminiscent of Derek Sherinian‘s recent endeavors such as, say, “Scorpion” from his latest solo album “Vortex.” The vocals sound particularly dramatic but, then again, the lyrics are about some ancient war for water; the album comes with translations of the Italian lyrics, which might come in pretty handy for us who don’t speak Italian.

Next up, “Serve Orlando Adesso” plunges headlong back into the romantic realms of the intro. The transition to “Non Mi Spaventa Piú L’amore” sounds so seamless that I reckon this track serves as an introduction to the latter; this is a concept album, after all. The melodic motifs, once again, radiate something very Italian. While the genre could not possibly be further from the dark and gloomy metal sound, I sense some sort of soul connection to the Italian doomsters of NOVEMBRE here. It stems, no doubt, from the way these melodramatic proggers handle their melodic delivery, albeit the strongest candidate on the selection to trigger more than pleasant flashback of this metal bunch is “Cadere Volare”… maybe excluding the keyboard shreddings.

There are a good few ballads on the album, with “Non Credere Alla Luna” being the most appealing to me, personally, because of the spirited duel between the saxophone and the synth. Vittorio Nocenzi is a rather proficient keyboardist in terms of technique and style. On “Non Serve Tremare” he even sidesteps briefly into the synthetic realms of TANGERINE DREAM, while the rest of the song gallops forward with a 7/8-riff that could make even Steven Wilson jealous. While romantic piano motifs are his forte, he certainly knows how to drop some badass chops with Moog and Hammond organ just as well. The absolute standout track on the outing, in this or any other regard, is the 11-minute epic, “Moon Suite,” which not only channels the ghosts of vintage prog but the spirit of David Bowie‘s “Berlin trilogy” albums as well.

This cornucopia of Italian prog excellence is an album that takes some time to digest, that’s for sure. It has a little bit of everything from the Argentinian tango vibes of “Non Mi Spaventa Piú L’amore” to the art-rock of “Le Anime Deserte Del Mondo,” a song driven by a beautiful piano ostinato that would fit on many a Peter Gabriel album of late. Then, “L’isola Felice” shows that the notorious autotune plug-in may have applications far beyond the mumble-rap atrocities with which it is way too often associated. After 4 minutes of genuine riff madness, the piano-driven coda of “La Maldicenza” is one of the most beautiful instrumental passages I’ve heard in a while. Nocenzi‘s lyrical touch with the Moog is pure ear candy. Worth mentioning is also the sublime, instrumental prog-riffathon, “Il Paladino,” which sounds uncannily funky for a prog song.

Yes, it might just happen that this album won’t knock you out instantly, but over time it probably will. The songcraft and the band’s penchant for somewhat vintage sounds of choice do honor the virtues of the genre’s halcyon days. Yet, these founding fathers of Italian prog aren’t merely paying homage to their own legacy, nor making eccentric pastiches of an era long gone – they are the real freaking deal! It sounds as though the progressive movement, in Italy out of all places, never really withered the way it did everywhere else, but has been very much alive through all these decades, going from strength to strength in terms of originality, experimentalism, and free artistic spirit.

Written by Jani Lehtinen

Tracklist

  1. Proemio
  2. La Pianura Rossa
  3. Serve Orlando Adesso
  4. Non Mi Spaventa Piú L’amore
  5. Non Serve Tremare
  6. Le Anime Deserte Del Mondo
  7. L’isola Felice
  8. La Maldicenza
  9. Cadere O Volare
  10. Il Paladino
  11. L’amore Accade
  12. Non Credere Alla Luna
  13. Moon Suite
  14. Come È Successo Che Sei Qui
  15. Cosa Vuol Dire Per Sempre

Lineup

Vittorio Nocenzi – keyboards

Filippo Marcheggiani – guitars

Nicola Di Giá – guitars

Marco Capozi – bass

Fabio Moresco – drums

Tony D’Alessio – vocals

Label

InsideOut Music

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