Jeff Cotton (of ‘Fictional Cities’ and ‘The Churches of Venice’ fame) asked me a few months back if I ever listened to any Italian progressive rock. I had to admit that I didn’t really.
The only group I was properly familiar with was Goblin, most famous for their collaborations with the director Dario Argento. Following the different incarnations of the band is complex, but various members worked with the maestro over a thirty year period. “Tenebre”, “Phenomena” and “Non ho sonno” all have their moments, but their two great works are, without a doubt, the soundtracks to “Profondo Rosso” and the truly nightmarish “Suspiria”. They never bettered the latter, but that doesn’t matter. Few bands could have made such a recording in the first place. As a demonstration of just how good they were at the soundtrack form, compare their work for Argento with Keith Emerson’s score for “Inferno”…the stomping choral goth-rock of Mater Tenebrarum aside, Emerson’s work seems pale by comparison and – more seriously – doesn’t fit Argento’s visuals anywhere near as perfectly as Goblin’s.
The next step, then, was moving beyond Goblin, and the realisation that Italian prog is a massive genre to explore. More than that, much of it is utterly fantastic.
Premiata Forneria Marconi – typically known as PFM – made the wonderful Storia di un minuto back in 1972. There’s an influence of Emerson, Lake and Palmer there but, in all honesty, I’d rather listen to PFM. They ran out of steam in the late 70s, but those early albums are all worth listening to.
A friend of mine recommended La Locanda delle Fate to me, a band whose tragedy was to come along just as the prog boom was coming to an end. Forse le lucciole non si amano più is a fantastic album, reminiscent of Gabriel-era Genesis. Again, I’d rather listen to La Locanda…
Museo Rosenbach are mainly remembered for one single album Zarathustra. But what an album it is, the title track being a 20 minute prog epic of Wagnerian majesty. I’m still exploring one-album wonders Alphataurus and the more prolific Banco del Mutuo Soccorso.
Pride of place, however, must go to Marghera’s finest, Le Orme. Their debut, Ad Gloriam is reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. Their second, Collage, is more keyboard heavy in the style of The Nice, with two classic pieces in the title track and Uno sguardo verso cielo. Uomo di Pezza, their third album, is a lyrical, beautiful work, more acoustic in nature. Felona e Sorona, their fourth, is an ambitious concept album based around the idea of opposing binary planets. It is an absolutely stunning piece of work. It’s so good, in fact, that I’ve kind of got stuck on playing this one to death and so, fortunately for me, I still have plenty of albums by them left to explore.
I wrote most of The Venetian Masquerade to a Monteverdi soundtrack. Now I’m taking a bit of a holiday from him. Seriously, if progressive rock is your thing, Italian prog is a genre you really do need to explore. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to play Felona e Sorona again.