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Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso - Darwin! CD (album) cover


Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso


Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.37 | 1138 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars Out of the multitude of Italian prog that emerged in the 70s, of which there are too many greats to mention, only a few reached the top tier status that placed them as the crown jewels of Italian progressive rock. Alongside critically acclaimed acts such as Premiata Forneria Marconi and Le Orme came another Italian great from the city of Rome and like an episode of punctuated equilibrium, a term that describes a sudden burst of evolution rather than a gradual ascent, BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO or BANCO for short unleashed their second album of 1972 and expanded their musical paradigm a millionfold on their sophomore release DARWIN! Named after the famous evolutionary theorist Charles Darwin, the band crafted a concept album based on his theories about the birth and evolution of all species on the planet. Like the self-titled debut the music is driven by the powerful classical trained keyboard counterpoints of brothers Vittorio and Gianni Nocenzi alongside the powerful rhythm section and the operatic powerhouse vocal style of Francesco Di Giacomo.

Much of the Italian prog scene was influenced by the British bands such as Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and Emerson, Lake and Palmer who often found more enthusiastic fans abroad than in their homeland. While each respective Italian band shared similar elements from the abundance of imported influences, they each managed to find a different recipe in which to refine the ingredients. In the case of BANCO, the band continued their heavy driving double keyboard drama with an outstanding emphasis on overlapping classical attacks of bombastic ELP styled Hammond organ runs along with Moog synthesizers and the tender yet stylistically challenging piano riffs. While many bands were about showcasing their virtuosity, BANCO found a way to tamp down those primeval impulses and implemented their talents in the context of a theme which gives DARWIN! a very mature and sophisticated overall feel. In addition to these imported influences, BANCO utilized healthy doses of the beautiful Italian folk as well as pan-European classical music in general.

Due to the fact that like many Italian bands of the day, BANCO crafts their tales exclusively in their native lingo which means the storyline is completely null and void to non-speakers but even with no lyrical context, the music delivers a spine-tingling prowess that delves into a dizzying array of stylistic shifts throughout the album's seven track run. "L'Evoluzione (Evolution)," the lengthiest track running just shy of the 14 minute mark begins much like the expected symphonic prog band of the era hinting at a pastoral Genesis inspired dreamscape with lush classical passages and Giacomo's romantic soothing vocals. But as such a title would indicate many changes, the passionate lulling placidity ratchets up the tempo as classical piano runs are joined by rock and bass guitar and heavy percussive drive. The truck erupts into an organ frenzy venturing into a frenetic ELP inspired assault that becomes the main motif of the track's duration.

"La Conquista Della Posizione Eretta (The Conquest Of The Upright Stance)" switches gears showing immediately that DARWIN! is a multi-faceted beast. The ostinato bass line provides a buzzing drone effect while the keys and flute are allowed to leapfrog all over each other. The track develops a melody and rhythmic drive that sounds sort of like a James Bond movie theme getting crashed by the mafia. "Danza Dei Grandi Rettili (Dance Of The Big Reptiles)" shifts gears again and transports the listener into some clandestine speakeasy jazz club with a sultry swinging groove augmented by the unusual sound of the Hammond organ runs crashing the party. "Cento Mani E Cento Occhi (One Hundred Hands And One Hundred Eyes)" deceives as it sounds like a victory dance at a Medieval festival and then plays the old switcheroonie as it jumps into a bombastic hyperdrive that finds BANCO in full hard rock mode making it the heaviest rock track on the album without sacrificing the Chopin-esque classical piano chops with ELP organ bombast.

"750,000 Anni Fa ... L'Amore? (750,000 Years Ago?.Love?)" takes a complete 180 and tackles a passionate Italian pop piano ballad with no trace of neither progressiveness nor rock. "Miserere Alla Storia (Misery To History)" struts its swanky groove as a heavy bass line augments a heavy organ and piano intro but the tracks dramatically shifts to a sophisticated mellower track that exceeds in dynamic counterpoints that culminate in a dramatic Italian rant that sounds like something out of Phantom Of The Opera but ultimately finds resolution as a hyperactive jazzy-funk groove with out-of-sync synthesizer runs haunting the background. This track has a lot of changing parts with classical piano runs breaking in and stealing the thunder. One of my personal faves.

"Ed Ora Lo Domando Tempo Al Tempo Ed Egli Mi Risponde ... Non Ne Ho! (And Now I Ask For Time For More Time And He Answers Me?I Don't Have Any!)" is a bizarre little ender to a very ambitious album as it is a short piece that is inspired by merry-go-round music. While that seems completely out of place it becomes clear if you understand how the music corresponds to the track titles since it seems to insinuate the cosmic wheel of life going round and round but very much on the clock. In fact the album makes a lot more sense at least understanding the meaning of the titles as they give some sort of reference to the musicality taking place. While the album may seem totally off-kilter in all its arrangement prowess gone astray, logic occurs in the context of the evolutionary themes of life on the planet and as a biology major myself, a thematic content that i'm quite enthralled with on a personal level.

While DARWIN! has stood the test of time and remained one of the pinnacles of the Italian prog scene, it is by no means an instantly attainable album for the uninitiated. While melodies and moments of symphonic beauty can pacify the soul, this collection of progressive rock workouts can just as easily sound jarring and disorienting as angular rhythms and bombastic outbursts pummel away at the nerves. The sophistication of which the whole thing is stitched together takes a few spins to come to grips with and i by no means found this to be the masterpiece it's made out to be upon first encounter. After all is said and done (and a fair number of attentive listening experiences later), one can only conclude that this is indeed one of Italy's finest moments in a progressive rock context and deservingly stands up to such greats of PFM, Le Orme or Area in its unapologetic and idiosyncratic delivery of disparate ideas sewn together in a bizarre new concoction. While BANCO would churn out a few more excellent albums, none of them are quite as startling as hearing DARWIN! for the very first time.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |


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