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Area - Arbeit Macht Frei CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.27 | 741 ratings

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4 stars For quite a while now, I've become increasingly more interested in exploring Italian prog, largely due to the often fundamental differences between it compared to the vast majority of classic progressive rock that I've heard. Of these, one of the primary defining aspects that separates it from the main genre is its more prominent influences from classical music and the way it much more seamlessly blends orchestral elements into its sound. When comparing this to the symphonic elements in prog often putting the majority of its focus onto the keyboard sections, you end up finding a much more diverse and lush range of sounds to discover when looking a bit deeper in this material. This however, is also where Area's work, in this case, their debut Arbeit Macht Frei comes in when it comes to further setting itself apart. While taking the more dynamic sound that Italian prog tends to take, rather than leaning more into classical influence, it instead take a different approach, drawing its influence from jazz and combining it with a far more intense, avant garde sound that at times feels as if it's pushing its particular era of prog to its limit in a glorious way. This also isn't just a case of this being interesting on paper, as in execution, Arbeit Macht Frei also completely succeed in making this sound into something truly interesting to delve into, with a great amount of consistency and interesting ideas to back things up.

The album feels quite noticeably split into 2 parts, with the first half being full of complex and intense proggy moments that are a joy to listen to and contain a nice balance of catchy melodies and dissonant improvisation. The opening track Luglio, Agosto, Settembre sets things up rather nicely, with some spoken word breaking into dramatic, operatic vocals by lead singer Demetrio Stratos, before quickly breaking into an upbeat synth melody. This immediately brings in a lot of interesting ideas, with the synth and eventually brass melody being reminiscent of Arabic music and being contrasted with the bizarre vocal performance that's both passionate yet somewhat dissonant, all of it working together in an imperfect yet extremely effective sense of harmony and cohesion between all the band members. The title track takes a lot of what made this opener good, such as the extremely dynamic nature of it combined with chaotic bursts of energy to create the album's best piece. After a while dedicated to aimless soundscapes being created by the drums and keyboards, the central bassline comes in while other instruments are phased in and out of the mix to create an unusual, yet atmospheric start to the song. Once the saxophone appears, the song really gets going, finding its structure and upping the energy in a satisfying way that sets the stage for some of the madness to ensue. The switch-up halfway through once the vocals get brought in is the moment where the song begins to go from good to great, with the instrumentation shifting to completely centre around an extremely fun, groovy melody that ends up exploding into a dizzying cacophony as bass is replaced with the guitar as a frantic solo is being played in the background, constantly intensifying to near-explosive extents.

After this, Consapevolezza takes the album in a more conventional direction, with its sound and approach being reminiscent of the more frenetic segments from Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso's work, just with a jazzier twist on it. I like the way it takes the listener on a little journey while simultaneously highlighting the extremely passionate vocals, but on the whole there's not too much outright amazing with this one, even if it's still a very enjoyable listening experience. The 2nd half of the album demonstrates an interesting shift in approach, putting extra emphasis on their jazzy side, being much closer to jazz rock and at times coming close to something you'd hear in fusion, with the instrumental passages becoming longer and focusing even more on the complex interplay between everyone in the band. The first 2 of these 3 songs have little more to be said about them, just that there seems to be a distinctly more atmospheric feel to them, and that the use of brass instruments is brought up significantly, contributing to what makes them both as good as they are. The final track feels like the true culmination of everything this album stands for and demonstrates the perfect balance between its 2 sides, leaving plenty of room for long winded instrumental sections while also giving additional attention to their weirder side. Here's where you get the vocals in particular being pushed to new heights with some wild, dissonant wailing with moments of a more beautiful passion mixed within, ultimately leading to yet another of the album's absolute best songs that only gets better with each listen.

On the whole, this is one of the high points in the Italian prog I've heard, not the absolute peak, but very high up there for sure. The main thing that does this for me is just how distinct and unique it is , taking such a radically different approach in sound to a lot of other bands of the genre and era and then making it work so well. While this doesn't really give the listener much if they're looking for something prettier sounding, for the more experimental side of Italian prog, I cannot think of a better band in general. Essential listening for prog fans who like their music on the more intense side of things I feel this one is practically essential listening, as while it occasionally falters and has some moments that are on the more subdued side, for the most part this will give you the sort of stuff you're looking for.

Best tracks: Luglio agosto settembre (Nero), Arbeit macht frei, L'abbattimento dello Zeppelin

Weakest tracks: Le labbra del tempo

Kempokid | 4/5 |


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