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Museo Rosenbach - Zarathustra CD (album) cover

ZARATHUSTRA

Museo Rosenbach

 

Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.29 | 536 ratings

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maani
Special Collaborator
Founding Moderator
5 stars I am notoriously stingy with 5-star reviews. Thus, I want to explain carefully why I am ready to put "Zarathustra" in the same pantheon as "In The Court of the Crimson King," "Piper at the Gates of Dawn," "Foxtrot," "Close to the Edge," "Thick as a Brick," and "In A Glass House," among others. Although it is not a "seminal" album like those noted above - and although it has some minor "flaws" (for example, the production is dated) - it nevertheless has a few things in its favor that far outweigh any minor quibbles, and definitely point to a legitimate "masterpiece."

Most important is its early arrival on the prog scene. Released in April 1973, the album was actually written during 1972: according to a Museo Rosenbach web site, all the tracks had been completed by mid- to late 1972. Thus, although the band claims Genesis as one of its major influences (along with Gentle Giant and Jethro Tull), it is highly unlikely that "Zarathustra" was influenced by "Foxtrot," given that the latter was not released until October 1972. This means that the "Zarathustra" suite - all 21 minutes of it - was not a response to "Supper's Ready," but was written contemporaneously with - and independent of - it. Based on this, and after numerous listenings, there is no question in my mind that the "Zarathustra" suite is every bit as creative and brilliant (re composition, musicianship, etc.) as "Supper's Ready." Yes, I realize this will sound like "blasphemy" to many; however, although I, too, believe "Supper's Ready" (along with "Thick as a Brick") to be perhaps the earliest, most important and influential "conceptual" prog "suite," the originality and execution of "Zarathustra" is every bit as creative, and proves itself worthy of the comparison. Indeed, had MR been as "well-known" as Genesis at the time, "Zarathustra" would probably have been just as influential as "Supper's Ready."

Also important to consider is that "Zarathustra" was MR's debut album. It took Gentle Giant three albums to get to their first conceptual "quasi-masterpiece" ("Three Friends"), Genesis four albums to get to "Foxtrot" (and "Supper's Ready"), and Jethro Tull five albums to get to "Thick as a Brick" - and none of the debut albums by any of these bands was anywhere near the masterpiece that "Zarathustra" is. Indeed, of the eight "seminal" progressive groups (Crimson, Floyd, Moody Blues, Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant, Tull and ELP), only Crimson's "Court" and Floyd's "Piper" are equally great debuts (with ELP's debut coming pretty close).

"Zarathustra" is certainly influenced. Indeed, one can even discern the exact influences: Genesis' "Trespass" (1971), Giant's "Acquiring the Taste" (1971) and "Three Friends" (June 1972), and Tull's "Thick as a Brick" (March 1972). Yet Museo Rosenbach not only "filters" those influences beautifully to create something both creative and compelling, but "Zarathustra" also clearly influenced those bands' later work (as well as many other bands). That is, "Zarathustra" both draws from and adds to some of the earliest works of Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant, ELP, Crimson and Tull - an extremely rare, if not unique, occurrence in prog-rock, especially given the comparative obscurity of MR.

The "Zarathustra" suite itself is one of the most beautifully and "carefully" crafted compositions in the history of progressive rock, and I use the word "carefully" in its literal sense: i.e., that great care was taken. The band neither rushes into things, nor lets things "sit" for too long. Every section - whether soft, smooth, slow and simple, or "hard," rocking, fast and complex - is constructed for maximum effect, with minimal (if any) "down" time. And although the vocals are not always as "immediate" as a Gabriel or Anderson (Jon or Ian), Stefano Galifi moves between soft and subtle and "immediate," using the natural raspiness in his voice to evoke a sense of "urgency." (There are also some very nice "choral" parts, sung entirely by the group.) Perhaps most remarkably, Galifi and the band are able to convey the story of Nietzsche's "Superman" (in both lyrics and music) quite well even if one does not understand Italian. For all of these reasons, "Zarathustra" stands on its own as an incredibly creative, often brilliant, and extremely early (if not seminal) concept suite.

The other three compositions (all of which are related, to one degree or another, to the Zarathustra story), vary in length from 4 to 8 minutes, and are all equally well-written and executed. (Indeed, the album is set up almost as a "reverse" of Foxtrot: i.e., imagine putting "Supper's Ready" first, and following it with "Watcher of the Skies," "Get'Em Out by Friday" and "Can Utility and the Coastliners.")

What makes any album a "masterpiece?" Obviously, there are the compositional, lyrical, musicianship, production and general execution elements. However, that is not enough. It must have something else: a quality that makes the album not only an exceptional achievement "in its time," but also an achievement that "transcends" its time - and, indeed, makes the album "timeless." Although, as noted, the production on "Zarathustra" sounds somewhat dated, it nevertheless "transcends" its time, and is not only a timeless masterpiece - in the truest sense of that word - but an exceptional, historically important album, and an absolute must-have for any serious prog-rock collection.

maani | 5/5 |

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