(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
I first heard La Torre dell’Alchimista’s music at Nearfest 2002 and they treated the crowd in Trenton to some great Italian progressive rock from their self-titled debut album. Even though they put on a decent show most of us there realized they were very young and had quite a bit of growing to do. Well, it’s been five years since then (my how time flies) and the band has matured tremendously in this period.
So what have they been doing for the past five years? Well, they released a CD of their Nearfest performance entitled USA…You Know? in 2005 and I imagine they have been working on this new studio album for quite some time because it is simply amazing! They have really mastered the majestic sound of the 70s Italian progressive rock groups like PFM, Banco, Locanda delle Fate, and the list goes on and on.
The leader and main-songwriter of the band is keyboardist Michele Mutti. I was impressed by his performance at Nearfest but the new stuff is so much better. Mutti mainly uses an assortment of vintage keyboards and sounds including Hammond Organ, Moog, Fender Rhodes and Mellotron. There are also moments where he ventures outside of the box and brings in some unusual elements in his playing; using the vocoder, for example. Mutti seems to be influenced by the classic players – Emerson, Wakeman, Nocenzi, Premoli, etc. but he’s not trying to imitate any of them. He is a very original player and quite an accomplished songwriter.
Vocalist Michele Giardino is impressive as well. He has a great range and never sounds strained. His delivery is very honest and he seems to be enjoying himself. While I tend to usually like my music with less vocal parts, when the voice comes up here it is not a problem at all. Davide Donadoni returns on bass guitar but there is a new drummer in Michelangelo Donadini. Not sure if there is any relation here or not but they are probably brothers. They do not have the flautist Silvia Ceraolo on this album to my knowledge, but there are a few spots where I hear a flute in the music. Possibly this is a session player. The record company only sent me a CD-R with not very much in the way of liner notes. The cute girl they had with them is also gone. Apparently the band realized she was basically only eye-candy and were looking to be taken more seriously.
Not sure why they chose to name this album Neo because this is actually much stronger than most neo-prog and it would seem that they are not in that category. The tracks are mostly in the longer range, athough there are a couple of shorter piano interludes (“Idra” and “L’Amore Civerso”) that are quite beautiful. My favorite tracks are…ok…so they are all great! There seems to be a mythology theme running through the album based on song titles like “Cerbero”, “Medusa” and “Idra”. I don’t speak Italian so I don’t know how this all plays out in the lyrics.
So if you’ve got a craving for some great Italian prog from a younger band, I would strongly recommend this release. Similar in many ways to La Maschera di Cera (who played Nearfest this year), these guys have great respect for the traditional Italian progressive rock and present their material in a fresh and exciting way. Hopefully they will come back to America and treat us to more of their fantastic music in the near future.