Yet another Italian Symphonic Great! Except I wouldn't call it symphonic...
Well, I believe that this album belongs more in the Art Rock genre rather than the Italian Symphonic Prog genre, but that doesn't matter much to this review. What DOES matter is that this is one of the freshest albums I've heard, and I actually find I prefer it Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso's Darwin, Le Orme's Felona E Sorona, PFM's Storia Di Un Minuto... in fact, I prefer it to every other Italian Album I own. Certainly, if we assume that Museo Rosenbach actually were Italian Symphonic Prog, then we'll find that they are probably the best, at least for me, and I think there are several reasons I can point out as to why this is.
First off, they have, among the albums I know, the ONLY epic in the classic prog style. This comprises the first 5 tracks, forming Zarathustra. Not only is this an epic that is right up with Supper's Ready, Close to the Edge, and the like, but it is also completely original. They capture their own unique sound here, combining hard rock that bursts with unbridled energy with mellotron overdoses (this is a GOOD thing), a dash of King Crimson and ELP, but without sounding like either, and the result is perfect. Maani (another reviewer) suggested, and I agree, that if Zarathustra had been better known, it would have been just as influential as Supper's Ready. Maani also correctly said, "the Zarathustra suite is every bit as creative and brilliant" in terms of musicianship as Supper's Ready, Close to the Edge, Thick as a Brick, and Tarkus (well, others, too), and that it deserves comparison. Well, in my mind, it deserves more than comparison. It deserves to be place up with those songs as one of the defining moments in prog history, as one of the epics that defines what prog is all about.
Secondly, they have more energy than all the others I mentioned (and some I didn't mention), with the possible exception of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso. With Museo Rosenbach, they give their all to this album, and it shows. PFM and Le Orme had some amazing compositional skills that I greatly appreciate, but both (especially Le Orme) should've put more energy and enthusiasm into their songs. E' Festa and Impressioni Di Settembre aside for PFM and Equilibrio aside for Le Orme, they are fairly laid back, which doesn't hurt them except in the sense that it doesn't help them as it helps Banco and Museo Rosenbach. If I had to choose my favorite Italian Symphonic Prog BAND (not album), I'd be torn between Banco and Museo Rosenbach. BUT!, if I had to choose my favorite ALBUM in the Italian Symphonic Prog genre, it would definitely be Zarathustra.
Musically, as I've said, this album blends hard rock with prog, with dashes of ELP and King Crimson here and there, and some wonderful mellotron. I honestly don't understand the lyrics, so I can't comment on their depth and meaningfulness, but I can say that they translate perfectly to music. Also, I find the choice of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra fascinating, although I'm sure that if I read the actual book itself, I wouldn't like it, as Nietzsche was a proto-white supremacist philosopher, and, in other works, talked of the White Man's Burden to "take care of" blacks in Africa. The vocals here, despite what other people on this site say, really carry the lyrics perfectly, and I prefer Museo Rosenbach's vocalist to Le Orme's and probably also PFM's (though I cannot deny that Banco got the best of the lot). And now, it is finally time for me to talk about the individual tracks and their merits.
If you own sound editing software, I suggest you put the first 5 tracks together into one track, to really get the full "epic" effect of the Zarathustra Suite, without the breaks between tracks that may otherwise interrupt your listening of this masterpiece suite. The album opens with silence that becomes a wonderful drum roll into some symphonic-ish music that is dark and brooding. This goes away into silence, followed closely by some vocals that you can't really understand, but both they and the music build over time, still dark and brooding, until a mini-climax that really grabs you around 2:55 in, and that really ushers in the epic. This is followed by a section with to die for mellotron work and excellent and engaging drumming. The song is still dark and brooding, as it remains throughout.
About 4 minutes in it switches to the next part of the song, which begins with some great mellotron, creating an almost spacy sound with a great atmosphere (dark of course). One thing I will say is that Museo Rosenbach really knew how to create atmospheres that make you feel within their music. Around six minutes in, the song starts building beautifully, up until about 7 minutes in when the next part of the epic comes and the whole song simply explodes into great energy and harsh but effective vocals. The drumming here is top notch, as is the mellotron work. Around 8:30 into the song, we get an excellent hard rock but still prog section that features excellent guitar. This becomes another section with great vocals, and, of course, unrivaled energy. These energetic hard rock sections continues until about 11:15 minutes in, when the fourth and shortest part of the song comes in.
This part begins with some soft vocals, and then the music really starts coming in behind it in a majestic. There are some particularly good vocals, and then there is a very energetic section that is very short and fades out around the 12:45 mark. At this point, the final part of the song comes in, though it really consists of several sub-parts within it. It begins with an almost march-type section that builds on top of itself in a perfect way, ushering a hard rock section, but still hard rock in the prog fashion we know and love. The textures that come in the somewhat softer section that follows are simply overwhelming (this is most definitely GOOD). The drumming is, as always, particularly excellent, and really carries the epic the whole way through. This whole section that makes up the last eight minutes of Zarathustra truly has a life of its own that shines through and makes it perhaps the best section of the song. With about 3:45 left in the song, the second "sub-section" comes in, opening deceivingly softly, and then bursting out into full blown hard prog, with great drums guitar, and keyboards. A softer part follows, building slowly, and then its back into some vintage prog, almost Crimson-like (In the Court of the Crimson King era) but still completely original. This brings us to the end of the track, the end of a nearly perfect epic, just as good as any other epic you care to name, and easily my favorite, at least for the moment, song in Italian prog. Zarathustra truly deserves to be recognized as an epic that defines progressive rock in the same way that Tarkus, Close to the Edge, Supper's Ready, Thick as a Brick, and Shine On You Crazy Diamond do.
The rest of the album isn't quite so good as Zarathustra, but it is still excellent. Degli Uomini opens atmospherically, and then in comes some excellent guitar and drumming to forge a top notch hard rock song. In amidst the hard rock of the song are some beautiful melodies that show themselves with time. The drumming and guitar shine here, but the mellotron does, of course, get its fair share of the attention, giving this song a prog feel it would otherwise lack. This song bursts with energy, more even than the epic (but not quite as focused musically). When the vocals come in near the end of the song, they are excellent in the same way as the others on the album, harsh but not grating. Some soft vocals follow, and the song fades out.
Della Natura opens with some excellent keyboards and drumming. Some excellent vocals come in as the music that opened the song leaves. The drumming returns, followed by the rest of the instruments, building the song in perfect fashion. When the vocals end, a dueling keyboard and guitar section comes in that is pure heaven. The singer starts harmonizing with himself to great effect for a short bit, and then its a wonderful mellotron dominated section that really grabs me, followed by more self-harmonizing (these self-harmonizing sections are the best vocal sections on the album, and that's saying something). The only less than inspiring part of the album follows, with silly "ba-ba-ba-bas" that don't cut it with me. We then get some wonderful floating keyboards as in interlude, but then it's back into the "ba-ba-ba-bas." Again, though, the music that follows is wonderful, full of mellotron and full of energy. Some soft vocals follow on top of some floating music, before the song builds back up to what I would call "floating hard rock" (which sort of characterizes the whole album) and some wonderful aggressive vocals. Mellotron heaven follows, closing out the song in perfection. The one section in the middle does make this my least favorite song on the album (in relative terms, I still love it), as none of the others have these sorts of weak sections to them.
Dell'eterno Ritorno opens softly, before opening up to some great drumming and guitar work, as well as some great vocals, just perfect hard rock. When the vocals leave, the guitar and keyboards start dueling again, and this time, it seems they're fighting the drums, too. More excellent vocals follow, and then a softer section full of almost beautiful sections. Until, of course, the build up to excellent hard rock passage you know will follow. After this are some vocals that are closest to beautiful you'll get with this singer, and then some beautiful hard rock with a symphonic feel, and then a powerful finish where everything really comes together perfectly, ending this album in perfection. If pressed, I would say that this is my favorite song on the album other than the opening epic.
Overall, this album may be more hard rock (art rock) than symphonic prog. But it IS the very best album I've heard out of Italy, and this site classifies it as Italian Symphonic, so I'll stick with that, which allows me to claim that this is the defining work of Italian Progressive Rock, and Zarathustra is an epic worthy of Supper's Ready status that simply suffered from lack of exposure to the prog public. Well, it's time that ended. Museo Rosenbach were essentially a one shot band in the 70s, but they gave that one shot their all, and the result was a masterpiece. On Zarathustra, they shine when they're singing, they shine when they're rocking, suffice it to say, these guys simply shine, no matter what they do. The drum work is some of the most refreshing I've heard in an age where drumming, at least intelligent drumming, is virtually non-existent. The guitar and keyboards (mellotron included in keyboards) are simply to die for. This album easily deserves the rating masterpiece, and stands as probably one of my top 10 albums. Italian Prog is vastly underrated on this site, and there is no good reason for it. While the Brits had prog's first home, it definitely found its seaside resort in Italy. The whole genre is underrated, and you cannot go wrong with this one, which is Italy's finest.
5 STARS: ESSENTIAL, A MASTERPIECE OF PROGRESSIVE MUSIC (AND OF HARD ROCK).