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Franco Battiato - Gilgamesh CD (album) cover

GILGAMESH

Franco Battiato

 

Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.85 | 8 ratings

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octopus-4
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars The story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, is the oldest epic poem of the human history. Not all the Sumerian tables which compose it have been found and some were partially destroyed, but what we have is enough to have almost all the story.

Gilgamesh is a king who starts a quest for immortality and during his travels meets Ut- Napisctim, the survivor to the diluvium....it's clear thta this poem is an ancestor to the Bible. The captive Hebrews in Babylon learned the story, transformed Ut-Napisctim into Noah and transferred it into the old Testament.....likely.

Battiato who has always been fascinated by the Middle Eastern cultures so that sometimes there are Arabic lyrics in his songs, takes the poem and creates his second "opera" after "Genesi". I remember to have seen it on TV, executed in Bhagdad by the Iraqi National Orchestra at the tiimes of the UNO sanctions after the first Gulf War. He was supporting the end of the embargo in favor of the suffering people and I remember the minister Tarek Aziz going to thank him on the stage at the end of the performance.

The "Ouverture" consists in Battiato reciting the prologue of the story which starts with the divine battle between the two semi-gods Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The second is defeated byut they become friends and start their quest together. This while the orchestra, the choir and the keyboards play between Symphonic music and Krautrock which evolves into a proper track when Battiato quits speaking. Since now it's clear what we have to expect. The arrangements are classical, thanks also to the old time collaborator and director Giusto Pio, but who knows the old progressive albums of the early Battiato will surely recognize the Krautrock/Psychedelic minimalistic imprinting.

"Pianoforte" is what the title says. A short piano solo made of few notes over a single chord. It's not so minimalistic like "Mm.lle Le Gladiatour" but it's like Battiato is finally feeling free to write what he likes out of the logics of the 80s electro-pop of which he has been a standard- bearer in Italy.

"Il Re di Uruk" (The King of Uruk) is the first piece of proper opera. We have often seen the presence of a soprano even in the pop albums of this eclectic artist, so it doesn't sound outplaced. A Soprano and a Baritone sing with the choir, but as it often happens with the opera I can't understand the lyrics.

"Balletto" (Ballet) comes unexpected. It's a repetitive and compulsive piece of piano with some help of the strings in the background. The kind of things that Battiato was used to do in the middle of the 70s when his music was not understood and his label terminated his contract. Nothing to do with the opera, it's closer to TERRY RILEY instead, even when the orchestra comes out and puts the piano in background. The trumpet reminds to MARK ISHAM's Tibet, but when the choir starts at minute 4:30.....This is ZEUHL with no doubts. It's not sung in Kobaian, but if I didn't know, I could think it's MAGMA. The final of the track returns to the minimalistic ambience. "Era Felice" (Happy Era) is another operatic track. What makes it different from a quite poor experiment like Ca Ira is the minimalistic music behind."Enkidu Muore" (Enkidu Dies) is quite different. It has to be a funeral chant, an elegy for a friend, so the music is very dark.

Some speech again open "Romanza". This short track sounds like an attempt of real opera. Of course don't exepct anything like "Nessun Dorma". It's just less than 2 minutes of classical music.

"Primo Viaggio" (First Journey) has again a Zeuhl feeling. A classical background of strings, with tapes played reversed and a randomic harp with the notes extended by the organ. Between Art Zoyd and Anthony Phillips (strange mix sin't it?).

"Secondo Viaggio" (Second Journey) is a short piece made of three elements: The symphonic orchestra, the choir singing a totally different thing, like they are listening to a different accompaniment and a deep organ Vangelis-like. Everything in less than two minutes.

"Terzo Viaggio" (Third Journey) is even shorter. Totally symphonic for just 1 minute.

"Quarto Viaggio" (Fourth Journey) closes the circle. It has almost the same length of the first journey and it's a kind of "crepuscular music" that I really like. Think to the numbness just before falling asleep. This is the sensation that this kind of music brings to me.

"Siduri" is a 90 seconds speech of Monica Fiorentini. She is suggesting Gilgamesh to reach Ut-Napisctim through Ut-Napisctim's boatman (the Biblic Charon) who leads the hero through the "Acque Mortali"(Deadly Waters) for 50 seconds.

A baritone then tells Gilgamesh the story of the Diluvium. This parrt of the poem has been transferred almost integrally into the Bible. If you ignore the operatic vocals, this is exactly the music that caused Battiato to loose his contract. The track is ended by him speaking as Ut-Napisctim.

"Liberai Una Colomba"(I Loosed a Dove) is another short operatic choir followed by two tracks, both called "Danza a Corte"(Dance at the Court). Probably two different dances. The first has a Middle Eastern flavor thanks to the violin, the second has a Zeuhl format lead by the piano.

The dead of Gilgamesh "Morte Di Gilgamesh" arrives quite early. There are still 6 tracks after this one,but effectively the story doesn't end with the hero's death, as he's trying to become immortal. Listening to this track I still think to Art Zoyd.

"Pater Noster" is a christian prayer (in Latin). Here it has the purpose of sounding elegiac. I think it's a very good track, but you have to be prepared for it by having listened to the previous tracks. Some parts of the splendid "De Profundis" from After Crying and some compositions of Arvo Part come to my mind.

"Sette Sufi" can mean Seven Sufis" or Sufi's Sect. I think the meaning is the second. Somebody tells the story of a monastery in North Africa. This speech sounds like a legend and I think it's an appendix to the Gilgamesh. A story about immortality. Then a girl says to have been a Disciple of Ibn Arabi, other than a plant and other things in different incarnations. We are into a deep mystic environment. If you don't speak Italian skip this track, but reading a translation can be very emotional. The third speaker is more criptic speaking of music.

"Solo" (Alone) Is a slow song easily recognizable as a Battiato's composition. I think it can be called Krautrock even if the soprano seems to enhance the connection to Zeuhl. The music is extremely repetitive and minimalistic. The base is made of just two piano notes.

"Preparazione Alla Danza" (Preparation To Dance) is another piece for orchestra and choir. with instrumental parts very sad and dark because of viola and cello. Later piano and organ translate the song into a strange realm made of different things. The piano part is really weird.

"Danza Sacra" (Holy Dance) is an instrumental made of piano and strings that's very close to the most experimental things released in the 70s by Battiato. I love this track on which almost nothing happens but that shows a continuity and a slight evolution.

"Exultet" (latin: Let's Exult!) is a sort of Christian hymn sung in Latin. I don't know if Battiato wanted to underline the connection between Gilgamesh and the Bible. He sings in Latin and this is an excellent closer for an album which seems to be the perfect evolution of the 70s experimental albums, like the electro-pop period was happened in a different timeline in a parallel Universe. This album is what Battiato would have become if Ricordi didn't cut his contract.

It's not a masterpiece because there are some weaker parts and it would also need translated versions of the spoken parts, speaking of an opera let's say a "libretto".

If you can spend your time in something not easy but not too challenging, this album deserves some consideration.

4 stars

octopus-4 | 4/5 |

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