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Museo Rosenbach - Zarathustra CD (album) cover

ZARATHUSTRA

Museo Rosenbach

 

Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.31 | 915 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
Prog Reviewer
5 stars "I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses."

The above statement is one of the maxims of Friedrich Nietzsche's work published between 1883 and 1885, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Unorthodox, independent, critical, simply different, and much misunderstood, Nietzsche's hopes were for the work of his life to become somewhat of a guide for lost humanity. The philosopher, however, was met by great disappointment, dying in horrid suffering and depression.

Exactly 90 years after the first part of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a group of young musicians from Italy, Museo Rosenbach, were getting ready to record what would later turn out to be one of the lost treasures of Italian progressive rock music. But first, let's have a look at the act's roots. "Museo Rosenbach was formed in Bordighera, a seaside town in the Liguria region, a few kilometers, from the French Côte d'Azur, in December 1971," recalls Alberto Moreno, the band's co-founder, bassist, and composer. Museo Rosenbach emerged from the fusion of the groups Quinta Strada and Il Sistema. In fact, Moreno and Co. inherited some material from the latter. However, the young musicians felt they were in need of a vocalist. The guitarist, Pierluigi "Pit" Corradi, suggested they recruit blues-influenced Stefano "Lupo" Galifi, whom he had met during his military service. The current trend in Italy was to name bands after buildings, so Moreno came up with an idea of a museum (Museo) fused with the last name of a German publisher, Ottoman Ernst Rosenbach, which he really liked the sound of. After many live performances around the country, the band was offered to record an album and entered the studio in February 1973.

Similarly to Nietzsche's book, Museo Rosenbach's debut album Zarathustra is a bold, uncompromising statement. Musically, it could be said to derive its inspiration from many of contemporary bands like Genesis, Uriah Heep, Van Der Graaf Generator, and Pink Floyd, from the United Kingdom, as well as their countrymen, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Le Orme, Osanna, and Premiata Forneria Marconi. However, make no mistake, Museo Rosenbach's music cannot be compared to anything else in the world of music. Taking the power and might of Strauss' and Wagner's classical compositions, Museo Rosenbach make their elements shake hands with the heavy, raw quality of rock music, finding several common characteristics somewhere along the line. The music on Zarathustra is as heavy as it is finesse and tasteful - full of crunchy, overdriven guitar sounds, deep, expressive Hammond organ tones, and mellow, cloudy Mellotron soundscapes alike. Furthermore and probably even more importantly, Rosenbach's debut, similarly to Nietzsche's original work, is rich in evocative images, in this case musical images. Numerous tensions and their releases, a wide plethora of constantly changing atmospheres and auras, emotional, soulful storytelling - all these elements predominate on Zarathustra.

Side one of the album is fully occupied by a multimovement suite "Zarathustra", consisting of five parts. "We decided to build a suite that recounted Zarathustra's descent from the mountain after a period of meditation and his encounters with certain characters, who represent different schools of thought that the prophet criticizes," Confesses Moreno. He also remembers composing the piece in fragments - writing for a piano and then transcribing the piece for the whole band. The first movement, "L'Ultimo Uomo" opens in a gentle, yet confident manner. This part somewhat resembles the very first notes of Richard Strauss' piece Also Sprach Zarathustra, which the band admitted to, allegedly even opening their concerts with a portion of that composition. Then, the listener is suddenly approached by a more self-assured motif, creating an effect similar to a rising curtain. A silent part with Walter Franco's vocals follows, accompanied by echo and reverb, representing Zarathustra's descent from the mountain cave. After several repetitions, which are less gloomy, yet still very delicate, the majestic, heavy main theme of the movement kicks in with an interplay of Hammond organ, Mellotron, and guitar accompanied by a very heavy-hitting rhythm section. Only a few minutes in, the listener is already successfully invited to take part in the unique journey Museo Rosenbach are taking them on. The next movement, "Il Re Di Ieri", dominated by organ and piano, both drenched in reverb, alters the atmosphere, making it a bit unsettled. When the listener becomes slowly familiarized with the part, comes a short solo, utilizing a crispy Moog synthesizer timbre. Next come vocals from Giancarlo Golzi. All of the sudden, the rhythm section accompanied by a distorted guitar joins the spectacle, leading to "Al Di La Del Bene E Del Male." This one takes no time to hesitate, since the very first notes, the character is heavy and rather aggressive. The movement features the whole band singing to illustrate the mass of the priests who denounce Zarathustra and his teachings. The following "Superuomo", pictures Zarathustra experiencing a moment of weakness, as Moreno explains. The mood here is rather melancholic and halting, before going through numerous dynamically contrasted, diverse passages, representing Zarathustra reclaiming his power. The closing movement, "Il Tempio Delle Clessidre", opens with a haunting, celestial Mellotron, recalling Genesis' "Watcher of the Skies", until the main theme from "L'Ultimo Uomo" returns in its full glory, featuring a very emotional guitar solo in between the layers of organ, strings, bass, and rapid drums. This longer moment, very powerful and majestic, is the moment capable of bringing tears to one's eyes. The theme slowly descends towards silence.

Although the epic resonance of the title suite might seem hard to top, side two stands very strong, somewhat complimenting "Zarathustra." "Degli Uomini" opens with a high pitched Mellotron melody, which is quickly joined by the huge-sounding guitar and rhythm section. Going through dynamically contrasted sections, some based on the same melody put in different musical contexts, the track proves to be no worse than the overwhelming epic from side one in terms of composition and performance. "Della Natura" exposes its sophistication in the very first bars with a twisted organ melody. It is followed by a quieter vocal part, bringing Le Orme's most romantic moments to mind. It comes back after a brief instrumental interlude. The tension built is resolved in quite an opposite, baffling direction with a funky electric piano line. This leads to the loud chorus, which features very eccentric vocal parts. At one point, the atmosphere mellows out, repeating the Le Orme-like moment, which leads to a solo of interplaying Hammond organ, a Moog synthesizer, and screaming guitar. The closing track, "Dell'Eterno Ritorno" opens with a moment of abrupt heaviness, which quickly hides behind the constantly-developing passages, which, in my mind, really highlight every strength of the band - excellent compositional skill, a tremendous amount of instrumental know-how, and the ability to forge beautiful, striking instrument sounds. The track seems to finally settle in parts, but it's rather deceiving. After a few echoes of the previous motifs, the album closes with a symbolic Mellotron line.

It's worth remarking that the album caused a lot of controversy when it first appeared on the market. Not entirely due to being a tribute to Friedrich Nietzsche and his controversial work Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but rather to its artwork. It features a collage portraying a strange face, as Moreno indicates, that of Zarathustra, using images of jail bars, a countryside landscape, ancient buildings, and... a face of Benito Mussolini, a Nazi dictator from the period of World War II. Museo Rosenbach were accused of fascism, which in conjunction with poor marketing of the release and sheer bad luck (political protests at one of their biggest concerts, in Naples, unrelated to the band) led to the breakup of the band.

Zarathustra, Museo Rosenbach's only opus before their reformation in the 90's, is, in my opinion, one of the best, most creative, original, accomplished records to come out of Italy. Although stylistically, it is closer to rock music, I believe this to encourage many of the qualities of classical music of the highest order. Zarathustra is an astonishingly addictive journey and something to be experienced. Words cannot truly reflect the nature of this music. A jewel of progressive rock music!

ALotOfBottle | 5/5 |

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