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Banda Do Casaco - Dos Benefícios Dum Vendido No Reino Dos Bonifácios CD (album) cover


Banda Do Casaco


Prog Folk

3.89 | 32 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars A historical document and all-round awesome album

So, I finally have some time to review the albums that I know from this almost forgotten band. More of a small orchestra then a typical 3-5 piece band (their origin was a phylarmonic, even if it was a fraudulent one - pun intended), Banda do Casaco took portuguese folk music to new heights, mixing modern instrumentation with traditional themes. Very much like any other folk-rock band, one might say. Well, it's not that simple.

When Banda do Casaco first appeared, the concept of traditional folk music in Portugal was restricted to popular balls and marches, songs taught to children in pre-school, and ethnical dances. Banda do Casaco took other themes from deep folk culture, and revamped them in new lyrics, using the unapparent musicallity of the Portuguese language through several wordplays. This was a constant throughout most of their albums, but it is especially present in this one - Dos Benefícios Dum Vendido no Reino Dos Bonifácios is an exceptionally strong vocal folk- prog recording: it features some very poetical lyrics and singing, with great choirs, and unusual ranges (Na Boca do Inferno, for instance, has some low rough vocals that could easily find a spot on some Death Metal album 30 years later). But let's by trying to describe the most important element: sound.

This is not a rock album. It's a full-blown folk album whose arrangements and experimentation make it fall under the "progressive" moniker. The album opens with the sound of drums, in an almost tribal rhythm, which is soon enough followed by an incredible paraphernalia of instruments, with the strings being the most dominant element. The first track reeks of Wyrd, although one cannot really be sure if the band knew what Wyrd was. Aliciação - Espírito Imundo is reminiscent of some of the sounds of Comus' First Utterance, with it's delicate percussion and subtle vocals, with the piano and female choir complementing the strings later on. D'Alma Aviada and Ladaínha das Comadres follow on this sonority, with some lovely acoustic guitar work and harp, as well as the wild violin. Percussion is present here and there, always in a fast-paced, almost tribal rhythm, with the later track featuring a hypnotic litany accompanied by flute. A Cavalo Dado is an astonishing track due to its multiple variations in such short time, less than 3 minutes, beginning with a pastoral choir accompanied by a jazzy piano, switching to a repetitive theme closer to a rock n'roll rhythm, then back to strict folk. Lovely choir vocals present throughout the song, before the cool ending with some sublime piano and declamation. Henrique Ser ou Não Enriquecer is the shortest track, a delicate pastoral folk ballad delivered by the female voices of the band, featuring a lovely violin solo by multi-instrumentalist Carlos Zíngaro. Bonifácios is an acoustic guitar-driven ballad, with some soft male vocals, and a catchy rhythm. The first half of Lavados Lavados Sim is the folkiest part of the album, close to the typical sounds of village fairs of days long gone. Featuring an interesting interplay of male and female choir, it soon sees the introduction of cello and horns, at times evocative of Renaissance. The jazzy piano returns in the end, clearly breaking all conventions of folk tunes. Cocktail do Braço de Prata begins with the interplay of acoustic guitar and violin, before the vocals kick-in. Like A Cavalo Dado, it features plenty of variations in sound, between regular folk and some percussion that reminds me of Moerlen's work in Gong. A delicate electric guitar can be heard in the back. Na Boca do Inferno is a two-part song (in only two minutes), featuring some very low, rough vocals in a grim track dominated by the violin. It quickens in pace as it comes to the end and several instruments (mostly flute and acoustic guitar) take their place in an amazing vortex of sound. The Gong-like xylophone-like percussion returns for the beginning of Horas de Ponta e Mola, where we also get some piano and electric guitar in the background. The longest track of the album, it is more constant in its sad, delicate sonority than many of the other shorter tracks. The ending is extremely eerie, with a weeping violin being heard over the repetitive piano, like something out of the darkest Hitchcockian scene. Memorando - Sábado Sauna Sábado Santo, after a small spoken part, begins almost like a lullaby, even though the words sung by male and female vocals are far from advisable to children. The chorus drops this sonority at moments, but the sarcastic lullaby dominates. The final track, Opúsculo, is a mostly vocal track, with a cacophony of instruments and sounds in the background. Vocals do dominate this album - as I said previously, a lot of the musicality inherent to the songs comes from the singing, greatly helped by a mastery of the Portuguese language not available to every native speaker. The main concern was to make the words musical, something not very easy to achieve in any language, while at the same time having them making sense, which is even harder - yet the band managed to do so in style. Let's give the theme a quick run-trough.

The album is in fact a concept album, but you wouldn't really know it unless you read the liner notes, where the entire storyline is explained - it is basically the story of a man (the "Vendido" - sell-out) who sells his soul to the devil (there is a thin line between metaphor and fictional reality regarding this "sale") in order to be rich and successful in the "Kingdom of the Bonifácios" (Portugal, presumably in the years that preceded the 74 revolution) - a Portuguese society musical spin on Dr. Faust, if you will. A giant metaphor criticising the abandon of moral values in exchange for money, power, and ultimately, comfort. Our subject, the "sell-out", is a rural man, awaken from his sleep by a gorgeous woman, who lures him with promises of all sorts. Thus the title, Aliciação/Espírito Imundo (The Luring/Immoral Spirit). In the second song, he observes his simple way of life, which never pleased him, and decides to sell his soul to the woman whom now appears to him as the Devil. The song's title (D'Alma Aviada) is one of several puns and wordplays present in the album. Before he leaves, he his stopped by the elder women of his village (the "Comadres"), who instantly know something isn't right. They warn him, and he answers with scorn. The women sing a litany ("Ladaínha") to keep the Devil away. In the next song, A Cavalo Dado. (Don't look a gift horse.) the "sell-out" sets out on his journey and meets a one-armed woman, created by the Devil, with whom he marries for money, after briefly thinking it over in the track Henrique Ser ou Não Enriquecer (another of those puns and wordplays impossible to translate without loss of meaning). Bonifácios is a lovely poem which makes a really sarcastic, but in the end, very true appraisal of the Portuguese - they appear here as sheep, as Henrique (Prince Henry the Navigator) and his political heirs drive thousands of them into hard living conditions and death for their own profit. It establishes a parallel with Lavados Lavados Sim, which speaks of all those who, in the 20th Century, had to leave the country searching for a better life while others, like our "sell-out", were getting richer at their cost. With the money he has made serving the State, the sell-out is able to afford is armless (but not harmless) wife a shinny new silver arm - this is told in the 8th song, Cocktail do Braço-de-Prata. With a fat account in a Swiss bank, his family taken care of, the "sell-out" spends his days fattening himself even further. In the haze of success, he appears to have forgoten his earlier contract. But the evil is there to remind him - in Na Boca do Inferno Beelzebub himself reminds the sell-out of his contract, and puts him back on his path, by telling him to take his son to Boca do Inferno (Hell's Gates, loosely translated - a cliff near Lisbon overlooking the Atlantic) and teach him how to follow is own success, by dropping all moral values in favour of watching over one's own back. Horas de Ponta e Mola - yes, another wordplay, this time combining the expressions "Hora de Ponta"(rush hour) and "Ponta e Mola" (switchblade knife) -, along with the next track, Memorandum - Sábado Sauna, Sábado Santo, tell us how our "sell- out" is safely at home with his family after a day's work, while a presumable partner is killed-off by his henchmen. He coldly tells his secretary to send a nice envelope to the widow and buy the kids something. Sábado Sauna, Sábado Santo shows the band in their nastiest sarcastic poetical vein, telling us about the good life of those whose money makes them invincible and hides their crimes, while they practice the good life of saunas and gambling on Saturday morning and church and family in the evening. The final track has the most undecipherable meaning of the album, but the final liner notes are clear: "the sell-out remains faithful to Fatherland, God, and Family - or so he claims. We say: to Hell with him!". Unlike Faust, there is no Lord to save our "sell-out" from his diabolical contract, probably because he doesn't want to be saved. Its an extremely vicious (but deserved) attack on the lack of moral values of pre-1974 Portuguese society (but which could have perfectly been written today) and those who forget their humanity in the face of capital and power. A lot of the meaning in this album will be lost to non-portuguese speakers - hell, it may even be lost to some natives - and I cannot dabble to much in it in the space of this review: the literary content of this album would be enough to fill the pages of an academic thesis. It may be of help to say that the whole theme of the album is visually summarized in the artwork - a small comic book where one can easily identify the elements told by the words and music, using humorous, exaggerated and provocative drawings, courtesy of Carlos Zíngaro.

Dos Benefícios Dum Vendido No Reino Dos Bonifácios, despite the "folk" label, is everything but a cheerful album - it is actually a display of very grim, eerie and dark music, complementing an even darker storyline. The instrumentation of choice (more than 20, not counting other objects not necessarily instruments) are kept to minimum levels of volume, with the strings and piano occasionally achieving a greater presence. The vocals are essential is conveying the various moods, and all singers of the band do an exquisite job. Everything about this album is top-notch: composition, songwriting, musicianship, performance. A sublime array of talents, with plenty to discover and guaranteed to make you want to listen over and over, each time discovering something new - the pleasure is doubled for those who understand the concept. This is not a masterpiece of progressive rock, but only because it's not progressive rock. It is a sublime folk album with progressive leanings and a masterpiece in its own right. Anywhere else it would get five stars, but for the purposes of this website it will have to settle for four - but rest assure, Banda do Casaco will get their 5-stars from me soon enough, in another album. Because no matter how good this album is, it's NOT as good as it gets from this band.

Kotro | 4/5 |


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