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Opus Avantra - Lord Cromwell (plays suite for seven vices) CD (album) cover


Opus Avantra



3.56 | 42 ratings

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4 stars No sophomore slump for Opus

Opus Avantra is one of the heavyweights of the RPI scene who get far too little attention for reasons I can't identify. As their name implies this is a group which mixes classical and opera with avant-garde passages and traditional melodies. To break it down even more Opus Avantra really have two sides to them on these first two 70s releases. There is their avant side which can sometimes be compelling and sometimes quite irritating, with instruments pressed into pursuit of the seemingly random. Their other side is what draws me in and makes them one of my favorite RPI groups: the simply drop-dead gorgeous classical and opera over heavenly piano and flute melodies. The band was born in 1973 Veneto and is most known for famed vocalist Donella del Monaco and composer Aldredo Tisocco, but quite a large number of musicians have participated over the years. After their first two mid 70s albums came a long break before two more studio albums appeared, one in the late 80s and another in the 90s.

"Lord Cromwell" is their sophomore effort and it is spectacular, I actually prefer it to their more widely acclaimed debut which featured del Monaco. (She was absent from this second album) This is a conceptual work based on the seven deadly sins and it has a more determined, motivated feel to it-they really went for it here compositionally speaking. Most of it works very well and sometimes they remind me of Australia's Rainbow Theater in their approach. The "avant" sections of their first two albums have moments that annoy me to no end because they often break the flow of the heart-achingly beautiful classical sections. They don't wreck the experience completely, they just nudge it down a bit. I also feel that the avant sections are not going to be quite radical enough to please what the Avant-Rio genre fans of today are used to, thus making Opus Avantra most useful to fans of classical and opera music with some prog feel and general moments of weirdness. A good description of their sound follows: "old-school synthesizers, sawing violins, piano, very clear electric guitar, flute, percussion (both rock and classical) and a highly theatrical but largely vibrato-free American-accented soprano. On top of that, its influences are atypical; where avant-prog usually draws on composers from the first half of the 20th century and sometimes from the Renaissance, Opus Avantra seem to be more concerned with the Baroque and Classical periods and the avant-garde of the 50s and 60s. Sometimes these styles are cleanly separated from each other, as in the lyrical Bach-goes-symph "Gluttony," or "My Vice," in which 60s-style analog synths slide and whir behind an atonal harpsichord part. In the longer pieces, styles are thrown together almost willy-nilly: "Avarice," for instance, starts out sounding like Boulez circa Structures Ia, but passes through some tempestuous pseudo-Beethoven and then melds the two together with blurry atonal synth parts and droney pedal points in the piano." -Alex Temple, Progweed

But oh those pretty songs... "Flowers on Pride", "Lust", and "Gluttony" are three of the most beautiful pieces of music I've ever heard. Gorgeous male and female choirs take the place of Donella on this album and they do just fine. The approach of the American choir worked splendidly basking in the glory of the strings, the dancing flutes, and the beautiful piano melodies of Alfredo. Occasionally the vocals will offer up spoken word narration to emphasize some dramatic buildup. The more experimental sections are less interesting to me but "Avarice" is a stunning, lengthy piano solo with plenty of twists and turns. "Ira" approaches sheer instrumental madness in places for almost 8 minutes. Overall the music of "Lord Cromwell" swells with the spirit of the 1970s Italian scene: bold, beautiful, and a bit outrageous in places but always retaining a bit of the calming reserve that comes from the lovely piano. This is an album that should thrill any RPI fan who loves gorgeous classical infused music with little rock content. I can't in good conscious give it 5 stars on this site but in my own heart it is a masterpiece. The Artis pressing features passable sound and a bonus track, but this title really needs a quality mini-lp sleeve remaster, and soon! If you've heard and enjoyed the debut you will certainly want to hear "Lord Crowell" too.

Finnforest | 4/5 |


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