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Arpia - Racconto d'inverno CD (album) cover



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Mellotron Storm
3 stars ARPIA's first two albums are very much in the Heavy-Prog genre even close to Prog-Metal, so it was a complete shock when I listened to this their third studio album for the first time. No electric guitar and very Symphonic. It's actually a very interesting album as we get 19 tracks over just 43 minutes, but the thing is that most of these songs blend together, you often can't tell when one ends and the other begins.

This record is based on band leader Leonardo Bonetti's novel. Yes he is a writer and extremely talented. Once again he shares the vocal duties with Paola Feraiorni and she's excellent. Lots of strummed acoustic guitar here with drums and vocals leading the way. So we get this sound almost throughout as the tempo and moods shift slightly along the way. It works much better than you would think.

A big departure for this band. Greg Walker and others are raving about this one but for me the heavy style fits my tastes much better. If your into RPI please check this recording out. 3.5 stars.

Report this review (#243384)
Posted Tuesday, October 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Arpia are an Italian prog band from Rome that have been active since 1984. The present line up features multi instrumentalist and composer Leonardo Bonetti (vocals, acoustic guitar, bass and keyboards), Paola Feraiorni (vocals), Fabio Brait (acoustic guitar) and Aldo Orazi (drums). "Racconto d'inverno" is their third album and it seems to mark a change in the musical direction of the band. It is conceived as a long acoustic suite where melancholic musical landscapes are drawn by male and female vocals. The rhythm section is never invasive, acoustic guitars are omnipresent, there are not spectacular solos but the music perfectly fits the mood of the lyrics and flows away describing with notes what Leonardo Bonetti described with words. In fact "Racconto d'inverno is not only a musical work but also a novel. They're like two faces of the same coin. It's very difficult to appreciate the mood and the atmosphere of this album without knowing what it's about.

The main sources of inspiration for this opera were "Stalker", a 1979 science fiction film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and "Raconto d'autunno", a novel by the Italian writer Tommaso Landolfi (1908-1979). According to Leonardo Bonetti it was impossible for him just to put in music and words the work of Landolfi and he decided to write his own novel to shape his feelings in a better way. The result in my opinion is very good and I enjoyed both book and music.

The plot is settled somewhere in the mountains of Northern Italy, not far from a border, during the period 1943-1945. After the Italian army disbanded, Northern Italy was poisoned by the conflicts between Nazi-fascists and bands of partisans... "Crime and Pride / Our lady the Black Death / Is marching without pain...". Desperation, death and hunger are the background for this work that tells the story of a desperate man, running away from this gloomy country looking for an escape. The fugitive arrives in a tumbling down villa built upon the ruins of an ancient abbey, a kind of labyrinth haunted by a strange presence... A man tries to help him to cross the border but they are trapped in winter weather and have to come back to the villa. Here dreams and reality melt while hope and love come out under the shadows of an impending death.

The titles of the tracks are just like the titles of the chapters of a book. The tracks are not separate entities but movements of a long suite while lyrics recall the story narrated by the book evoking images and feelings. The contrast between male and female vocals is the strength of a bold and complex album with a peculiar "unplugged" rock sound.

On the whole, an excellent album.

Report this review (#247805)
Posted Monday, November 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Understated, elegant, wonderful!

In 2009 this band from Rome known as Arpia celebrated their 25th anniversary with the release of the splendid "Racconto D'inverno." The three core members have been together all that time: Leonardo Bonetti (vocals, bass, keys, and brilliant composer), Fabio Brait (guitar), and Aldo Maria Orazi (drums). While I have not heard their earlier recorded works, it is written that the band have moved through different stylistic phases of progressive rock, including symphonic, heavy prog, metallish, gothic, and certainly some classic RPI influences exist. Past work has been noted to be of a heavier and darker element. In the earlier days the music and performance were linked to theatrical presentation as well, sometimes employing actors or mime (which reminds me of the vocalist from Officina Meccanica in the '70s). Over the years music definitely became the emphasis as their discography of cassette and CD releases grew. A few years ago the band was assisted by percussionist Tonino De Sisinno and vocalist Paola Feraiorni. Around 2006 Paola would become the fourth permanent member of Arpia and the band were ready for the new work "Racconto D'inverno." It is quite difficult to find comparisons that sound like this album and doing so is always my least favorite part of the reviewing process, but I'm usually game to give it a try: Think of "unplugged" Italian prog mixed with elements of Dead Can Dance; think of Joni Mitchell's great instrumental intuitions of later years; perhaps bits of Mazzy Star, Roxy Music, Delirium, Cat Power, and Kristen Hersh. Confused? You should be, for Racconto sounds like Arpia 2009 and no one else on!

Even hearing just a few samples of older work from their website, it is obvious that Racconto is a sound shift for the band. Described as a marriage of music and literature, it was a dual release of the novel by Bonetti and this conceptual album by the band. (The book is also available through their website.) For a band with a history of rough and heavy music, this new album is an amazing change-up. It comes across to me as a highly sophisticated yet toned-down progressive sound, emotionally evocative, and darkly romantic....a musically conceptual, cohesive work. I dare to say it comes closer to mature progressive-pop than "prog-rock" but it certainly is NOT saccharine, mainstream pop music. Rather it is a sound all its own, very tightly controlled, perfectly-produced, and yet passion-filled. Very beautiful. There is no electric guitar and the keyboards play only a background role in most cases, providing the atmosphere, the mood. The main element throughout is an acoustic guitar played in a unique way, tightly and often briskly strummed, most of the time not allowing the chords to ring out. It is an intensely focused acoustic guitar rather than any kind of laid-back or folksy acoustic you might expect when talking "acoustic music." While completely different in finished product obviously, the guitar style itself reminds me of Syd Barrett's playing on some of his solo stuff. I think of tracks like "Opel" where the acoustic is played so personally, so guarded, the strokes so consistent it sounds like he plays them to keep a boat afloat. Here, as there, it gives the songs a truly distinct sound, which is aided by a similarly masterful drum playing. Very crisp and defined, perfect without being flashy. Subtle rhythmic shifts combined with the understated play give the tracks a light and airy feel in one way, which makes for fascinating contrast with the moodiness of the songs themselves. Then there moments which break away to a refined yet imaginative interplay of guitar, bass, and drums....not really jamming as much as complimenting the others....these moments are just savvy and delicious examples of musicians taking their craft to a completely different place.

And then there are the outstanding vocals which are the emotional ebb and flow, alternating male and female by Leonardo and Paola. They are nothing short of breathtaking. Modest but passionate, sometimes pleading, aching....other times more narrative in feel. Paola's vocals on "Casa non mai vista" will take you straight to heaven. They are all perfectly balanced and integrated into the nimble instrumentation, never overbearing or contrived. The combination of these various forces, and without even understanding the lyrics as an English-fluent-only boy, I find the album one of the year's loveliest releases. (And it was a great choice for them to use Italian language rather than attempt the English conversion---keep singing in Italian!) Further, they did not make the modern era mistake of forcing every album to be 70 minutes long. At 43 minutes the album is the perfect length and will keep you spellbound throughout. With my highest compliments to the band members, "Racconto D'inverno" will make my yearly list of best Italian albums, and perhaps flirt with my overall best of 2009 list at ProgArchives. The folks at Musea were wise to latch onto this band. Enthusiastically recommended to fans of Italian progressive and sophisticated pop-rock music. 4 stars. (Might eventually round it up rather than down, will have to see how it holds up over more time.)

Report this review (#254587)
Posted Sunday, December 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars After having released a fully prog metal and average album in 2006 ("Terramare"), the band comes back with an album which sounds more Italian this time (thank god!).

There are lots of acoustic guitar as well as sweet vocals during this short "Rocconto D'Inverno". Not only is this short album: under the 45 minutes mark which is OK with me, but it holds lots of very short tracks which makes it quite difficult to really appreciate. It is difficult to be thrilled with half the tracks clocking at less than two minutes. At least, I feel so.

This is only a suite of disparate tracks without any atmosphere. None of these nineteen songs features passion and very few do hold some decent melody. Some might also say that there aren't any bad tracks either. Accordingly.

This album sounds too much of the same stuff and I really don't like it too much. Somewhat dull and too uniform to my standards. The fantasy of the Italian genre is absent; the emotions of RPI are absent. So, there is only some regular music proposed on this "Racconto".

Two stars, no more.

Report this review (#307422)
Posted Saturday, October 30, 2010 | Review Permalink

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