Another day, another Italian prog album celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The self-titled debut from Alphataurus was pretty much a one-shot: after their debut the band, formed out of some like-minded musicians in Milan broke up before completing their second album. But that one is enough for me – this is more bombastic and rocking that the previous albums we’ve covered so far, and I remember it also being the first album I checked out from the Sea of Tranquility primer (yeah, I know…I’m linking to this a lot), namely because the list was alphabetical. But whatever the course it took to discover, it’s here, in my hands and on my turntable and the rush of sound is both exciting and calming, putting me in the familiar waters of prog and getting steadily settled in the Italian vibe.
The descending bass line that kicks off opener “Peccato D’orgoglio” is immediately grabbing but it quickly shifts to an acoustic guitar and the heavy reverbed vocals of lead singer Michele Bavaro. He’s the most prominent piece of the band at this point, but the 12-minute track soon falls firmly in the hands of keyboardist Pietro Pellegrini. What follows over the course of the song almost plays like a Cliff Notes version of Italian prog: bass and electric synth providing the bottom end with higher register flourishes, organ breaks straight of a Tull playbook and some incredible percussion. I’ve found myself more and more gravitating to the drumming on records, and on Alphatuarus the work of Giorgio Santandrea is phenomenal, reminding me of Barriemore Barlow in his ability to play the drums as a lead instrument as much as a rhythm keeper. The second half of the song really finds its footing in the rock world, feeling almost like a letdown as it leads into the next track.
That track, “Dopo L’uragano” takes a while to get going, but the blues licks from guitarist Guido Wassermann brings things to a promo-doom metal crescendo fairly quickly before dissolving into a wash of honky-tonk riffing and boogie breaks interspersed by heavily effected fills from Santandrea. At only five minutes long I wish it got to the business end a little faster, but I can dig on the Led Zeppelin brushstrokes that cover the track. From there it’s on to the relatively brief “Croma” which feels a bit like an interlude, but damn if I don’t smile when it gets all symphonic and feels like the Moody Blues created a prelude to some 70s suspense film.
That leaves Side B, which are a pair of nine minute tracks, of which “La Mente Vola” with its vaguely motorik beat overlaid with synths seems to be the consensus for the stronger track. I get Neu! vibes from it, although reading a bunch of online reviews (if you thought Amazon reviews were odd, you should check out the impassioned folks over at progarchives.com) there are a lot of comparisons to ELP (meh, the keys, I guess) and Van Der Graaf Generator (a band I have yet to crack). I don’t think my synapses are wired to make those connections yet, but we’ll see. I’m more partial to closer “Ombra Muta” though, although a case can made for the fact it has some nice crackling guitar solos battling with some nasty moog and organ licks.
Listening to Alphataurus and Alphataurus so close on the heels of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso yesterday you’d think this would be my preference simply owing to the more rock-centric guitar placement and the solos. I’m not so sure…I think I dig more on the entire compositional aspect of what Banco do, but I can readily appreciate taking a break from the more cerebral work there to simply nod and groove along to the rock Alphataurus are putting out into the universe. I guess they’ve largely reformed with much of the original crew in place and have released a record in 2012, so maybe this isn’t the last we’ll hear of the band.
Tomorrow we get out of the 70s, out of Italy, and into some of the rock I loved in high school.