Arpia — Liberazione
(Pick Up Records PKPROG. 1904, 1995, CD)
Epica — Confini
(Pick Up Records PKPROG 1902, 1995, CD)
Hyaena — Scene
(Pick Up Records PKPROG 1906, 1995, CD)
by Peter Thelen, Published 1996-03-01
Pick Up Records is a relatively new Italian label, their first release (Midian's Soulinside) came at the end of 1994, and they have since released a number of releases by relatively new bands, seeming to be (at least for now) unconcerned with doing reissues. In addition to these three, they have also released the fourth album by Nuova Era (see roundtable section), the latest by Dunwich, and the debuts by Alembic Virtual, Athena, and Aufklarung (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). Most of their releases – including these three – can be typified by the influence of a harder prog-metal sound, though there are some definite exceptions. None of these bands go overboard with the metal though, and each has their own distinct style. These three have been grouped together here because they represent a the latest in a new crop of young Italian prog bands with great singers that (in the wake of Nuova Era) deliver the lyrics in their native language.
Epica is a five-piece with a dedicated singer from the Venice area. They have taken the essence of the classic sound, updated it for a nineties delivery, and brought it forward with some new influences – most notably Queensrÿche. Vocalist Alessandro Secchi is a powerhouse all by himself, up there with the best of them; the band is quite diverse also, and although the metal influence is greatest on the first few tracks, by the midpoint they are driving a far more balanced sound, with tracks like "Senza Via," the instrumental "Arabian Night," and an innovative cover of PFM's "Impressioni di Settembre" bearing this out. Their keyboards seem a little underpowered at times, but their structures, compositions, and Secchi's pipes more than make up for any shortcomings in instrumentation.
No shortcomings at all with Arpia's Liberazione. From Rome, they are a trio of guitars, drums, and bass / synth / vocals, and probably the most out-and-out powerful of the three. After an opening instrumental, "Ragazzo Rosso," that will leave you stunned flat on-the-floor, the band moves into their vocal material. Their sound is heavy and symphonic, and lacks many of the metallic tendencies of Epica. The structures and melodies are interesting and unpredictable, and while keyboards are present throughout, they are utilized more for texture and as a harmonic adjunct to the lead vocals than as the primary melodic mover. As opposed to Epica, vocalist / bassist Leonardo Bonetti's voice is a little lower in the mix, and while his voice is not quite up to Secchi's pyrotechnic abilities, he is still a very solid and impressive singer overall.
Hyaena occupies a slightly different part of the rock spectrum than the other two, mixing heavy / progressive ideas with some strong early 70s influence; the keyboards play a more major role than in either of the other two bands, as well as a distinctive grungy guitar sound. Instrumentally, Hyaena is probably the most innovative and experimental of the three, yet it's all done within a heavy rock context. Vocalist Mauro Forte has a very stylized voice, unique – but vaguely reminiscent of John Kay (Steppenwolf) at times. The structures and arrangements here are more dark and sinister sounding, almost approaching Black Widow territory. My only gripe is the recording quality on the first few tracks, which seems sometimes as grungy as the guitar sound. Still, a fine album that deserves an ear.
Phil Miller RIP – Sad word reaches us today of the passing of another of the great musicians of the Canterbury Scene — guitarist Phil Miller. His distinctive sound added greatly to Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, and National Health, and he also contributed to albums by Caravan, Dave Stewart $amp; Barbara Gaskin, and many others. He was 68. » Read more
Moonjune to Distribute Tony Levin's Back Catalog – It has been announced that Moonjune will now handle distribution for Tony Levin's catalog of releases. These great albums will now be a bit easier to get hold of, so check out the site and see what you're missing. The veteran of King Crimson and Stick Men worked with a host of great players on these albums, and we've reviewed most of them over the course of the years. » Read more
Bandcamp Shines Light on Niches We Like – Bandcamp has developed into one of the best places to discover new music, and even a lot of old music is showing up there. In addition, their staff has been producing periodic articles spotlighting some interesting stylistic areas. On 20 September, they published one called "The New Face of Prog Rock" which bears checking out. » Read more
Holger Czukay RIP – Holger Czukay, a musical experimentalist without boundaries who has been involved with expanding the sound palette of rock music since the late 60s, has died at the age of 79. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 60s, he became fascinated with the possibilities of rock music, and was a co-founder of the pioneering group Can. He leaves behind an impressive body of work both as musician and producer. » Read more
John Abercrombie RIP – Another of the greats of jazz guitar has left us. John Abercrombie plied his way through a beautiful series of albums on the ECM label as well as bringing his talent to bear on albums by many of jazz's greatest artists. From his early work in the group Dreams to Gateway and outstanding work with Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, and many more to his own trios and quartets, he brought a unique instrumental voice to the world. » Read more