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Il Ballo delle Castagne - Surpassing All Other Kings CD (album) cover


Il Ballo delle Castagne

Rock Progressivo Italiano

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Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Doom laden heavy-psych-goth storytellers

Il Ballo delle Castagne is a Milan based collective led by the duo of vocalist/keyboardist/lyricist Vinz Aquarian and bassist Diego Banchero. They are assisted by musicians from other bands and on this album the supporting players are Carolina Cecchinato, Marina Larcher, Davide Bruzzi, Roberto Lucanato, Fernando Cherchi, and Carmen D'Onofrio. "Surpassing All Other Kings" was released in late 2012 and is the third installment in a trilogy by the group, the subject matter looking at universal mysteries of life and the universe.

"The last chapter of the trilogy is based on the first poem ever written in the whole history of mankind: "Gilgamesh". The legendary king of Uruk and his incredible story was the very first step in this new journey of Ballo delle Castagne. Beside the myth and the most obvious research of eternal life, the figure of Gilgamesh offer the chance to reflect generally on the constant problem of man to look always for an answer for all things in the universe. Indeed, the thousand year sleep of Gilgamesh is now interrupted by the challenge of a new search. The man has lost its meaning, its beliefs. The King rises up from his grave (somewhere in the universe) and starts a journey back to the earth, meeting new and old characters of the ancient saga. The mission is now to reach a new state of consciousness, embracing a new golden age called "Aquarian Age"." -Band album overview

The sound of BdC is right at home within this joint project of Bloodrock Records and Black Widow Records. Their doomy and goth-tinged heavy psych recalls other dark and dramatic artists like Goad and Orne, and to an extent Areknames and Antonius Rex. The tracks feature both male and female vocals in a dramatic style, there is a theatrical flair to the presentation that is very RPI to the core even during the passages in English. (There is a mixture of language). Drumming is also varied rather than purely typical beat-keeping, there are march-like drums and slower, lumbering pacing with that Antonius Rex feel. Organ and keyboards are not overwhelmingly complex but they are filled with spooky moods and choking atmospheres like sooty smoke. I notice a penchant for long repetitive patterns of song structure that often borders on oppressive, challenging the listener a bit, and indeed on their page BdC challenge their listeners to turn this WAY up. Chunky guitar chords and distorted tones contribute to the heaviness and fun. "Il Viaggio" is a cool track typical of the album, with a Doris Norton style vocal over dark, shimmering, hallucinogenic sound that can only be described as unsettling.

The psych/goth-doom sound is changed up on "Rorate Coeli" to express a post-rock sound and this is really refreshing in the throes of such intense material. The change-up continues in "Konigin Der Nacht's" superb and nightmarish recitation over piano and sound effects. Wonderful! "Il Segreto" continues a strong middle section that just cooks with heavy guitar, deep organ tones, and choir vocals to create chilling and heavy, aggressive dark prog. "Eoni" is a huge departure, an acoustic interlude with lofting, lovely synthesizers and male choir vocals--I was wishing this track was longer! A few missteps exist. "Fire in the Sky" is pretty mediocre compared the cool tracks leading up to it, just a very basic, somewhat boring jam that goes on too long. And the closing track is an unfortunate choice. It's the requisite anti-war track with the old "scary music over US presidential speech" thing. It's really old hat in 2012 and it's been done hundreds of times now. While I respect their right to their opinion, my own is that it comes off as a pretty thin way to address such a complex issue, and it ends a great musical ride on a low, awkward note.

Despite my annoyance with that last song, I truly enjoyed "Surpassing All Other Kings" and I like this band. This is an album that will please explorers of the dark, heavy/psych-prog, those fans who love Black Widow and their associated bands. I recommend it to the dark/heavy RPI fans and want to point out that this album is available for a limited time on vinyl! Don't miss it you vinyl hounds! 3 1/2 stars.

Report this review (#889719)
Posted Monday, January 7, 2013 | Review Permalink
Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars The last forty-plus years have seen a number of evocative and intoxicating dark-themed progressive projects originating from Italy, carving themselves a nice shadowy corner in the R.P.I field. The defining acts from the early days such as the Bartoccetti-led Jacula/Antonius Rex and the horror soundtrack kings Goblin, Abiogenesi and Standarte in the 90's, and the current renaissance with Three Monks, Il Babau & I Maledetti Cretini and others lighting a black candle in the modern era. Il Ballo delle Castagne, a joint project led by Vinz Aquarian (vocals/lyrics/keyboards) and bass player Diego Banchero, main composer in fellow modern dark Italian project Il Segno del Comando, is an addictive mix of gothic, psych, hard rock and even Kraut, filled with typical Italian classical bombast and sophistication wickedly woven into the dark atmospheres.

In much the same way that conducting some extra research or study benefits all the Il Segno del Comando albums, listeners will be rewarded by delving into the background of this work. `Surpassing All Other Kings' is the third act in a trilogy of works based around `The Epic of Gilgamesh', an ancient poem from Mesopotamia that remains one the earliest surviving works of literature. This particular album takes it's translated title from `Shuter eli Sharri', dating from the 18th century BC. On the surface, it tells the tale of gods, goddesses and kings, an oppressed people, and a search for the secret of eternal life. But, like many of the best Italian dark progressive creations, there's this eerie, cryptic tone to the music, and Vinz and Diego incorporate various esoteric reference points and mystical unease to this work. The lyrics often favour surreal imagery over a direct narrative or a straight interpretation of the ancient writings.

The music here often has a brutish, intimidating quality, not surprising considering the source material, and the band attempts to cover a wide range of styles and genres to present the story. The imposing opener `Tema di Gilgamesh' (Gilgamesh Theme) is full of creeping church organ, militaristic drumming, devilish female chants and a croaking, raspy vocal from Vinz himself with very hypnotic spacey finale. A propulsive constant beat surges `Il Risveglio' (The Awakening) constantly onwards, a stalking quality to the grand church organ and moaning voices that perfectly captures the violent imagery of the lyrics. Chanted female vocals and a searing electric guitar solo over echoing whispered recitations in the finale draws directly from dark Italian occult proggers Jacula/Antonius Rex, the suffocating atmosphere threatening to overwhelm the listener.

`Il Viaggio' (The Journey) is just that, a voyage through a variety of sounds - funky wah-wah and bluesy electric guitar soloing, groovy bass strutting, jazzy strolling piano and some seductively dark and purring vocals from Carmen D'Onofrio. The piece is a nice break from all the true gloom of the rest of the disc that recalls not only fellow Italian gloomsters Abiogenesi but mid 70's Pink Floyd as well. The brief interlude `Rorate Coeli' is a cold electronic experiment based around churning repetitive synths. The mix of haunted house tip-toeing piano and eerie electronics that opens `Konighn der Nacht' could be straight of a later 70's Antonius Rex album like `Praeternatural'. The piano quickly grows in desperation, Vinz's mournful yet intimidating crooned vocals take on a wretched faraway quality that sounds like he's falling further and further down a deep well. The pummeling `Il Segreto' (The Secret) is a showcase for Diego's rumbling and fluid bass playing, with some unusually uplifting electric guitar soloing from Roberto Lucanato over a lovely female choral voice in the later half.

`Aquarius Age' is a fascinating instrumental that incorporates Post-rock influences with it's drawn- out ambient guitar flavours, `Fire In The Sky' is a slightly plodding jam that somewhat resembles the early Amon Duul albums with a scuzzy and wasted slurred vocal, as well as the early Abiogenesi albums again. `Eoni' features lovely chiming classic period Genesis-like acoustic guitars and gentle Mellotron, a male choir from the band brings a nice sense of foreboding too. Deranged strings and stabbing orchestral synths offer a climactic fanfare reprise of the opening piece in `Apochriphon of Gilgamesh', but sadly the music is pushed right to the background under a collage of sounds of war, transmission snippets and presidential speeches. Had the piece been purely instrumental, it would have ended the album in a suitably grandious E.L.P-styled manner.

Still, `Surpassing All Other Kings' is a very strong album for lovers of the dark Italian works, and this one might even appeal to newcomers unsure of where to begin exploring these sort of albums. It is never endlessly gloomy, instead balancing easier-going pieces in numerous different styles, so it might serve as a suitable introduction. Vinz, Diego and their musical companions have released a fine dark work here, and hopefully a follow up is in the works for the near future.

Four stars.

Report this review (#1149299)
Posted Monday, March 17, 2014 | Review Permalink

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