1. Invocazione alle Muse (2:02)
2. Indignatio (Infedeli in Terra Santa) (8:03)
3. Urbano II Bandisce la Prima Crociata (3:07)
4. Simplicio (4:27)
5. Deus Lo Vult (7:15)
6. Verso Casa (3:49)
7. La Beffa (Non un Trono, Non un Regno…Solo Sdegno) (5:10)
Simone Cecchini – lead and backing vocals, acoustic 6- and 12-string guitar, harp
Diego Petrini – drums, percussion, mellotron, organ
Federico Caprai – bass
Simone Brozzetti – electric guitar
Eva Morelli – flute, piccolo, alto, soprano and tenor sax, theremin
Almost 7 years after their breakthrough second album, Discesa agli Inferi di Un Giovane Amante, and 10 years after their foundation, Il Bacio della Medusa have made their recording comeback with an album that is bound to leave a lasting impression. Hailing from the beautiful medieval city of Perugia in central Italy, the band (now a quintet after the departure of violinist Daniele Rinchi) have also parted company with Genoa-based label Black Widow, in a bold move that is becoming increasingly common with new bands. However, the quality of their product has not suffered one bit from dispensing with a label’s support.
Like side project Ornithos’ La Trasfigurazione, Deus Lo Vult is a concept album, but, unlike the former, it places a strong emphasis on vocals and narration. In a drastic reversal of the current trend for endless, filler-packed releases, the album concentrates a lot in a mere 33 minutes (the average running time of a vinyl LP), and this rather unusual leanness protects it from the usual pitfalls of the concept format. Even though Deus Lo Vult has drawn some criticism on account of its supposedly “incomplete” feel, it is extremely refreshing to see a band managing to describe a complete story arch in barely over half an hour, without relying on the gimmicks that often give concept albums a bad name.
The band also strike a near-perfect balance between words (penned by lead vocalist Simone Cecchini) and music, avoiding an excess of wordiness and allowing the music to convey as much emotion as the vocals. All the members of Il Bacio della Medusa are superb instrumentalists, and the music (written by drummer Diego Petrini, also a member of Ornithos like reedist Eva Morelli and bassist Federico Caprai) runs the gamut from gentle, folk-tinged balladry to no-holds-barred heavy prog. Cecchini’s extremely versatile voice, firmly rooted in the great RPI tradition of charismatic singers such as Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella or Biglietto per l’Inferno’s Claudio Canali (to name but two), at times blends with the instruments, at others completely dominates them, performing two or more roles at once in thoroughly convincing fashion.
Lavishly packaged with striking, medieval-style cover artwork and a very thorough 18-page booklet, Deus Lo Vult blends musical quality and visual appeal in true vintage prog fashion. As those well-versed in the history of the Western world will know, the album’s title (meaning “God wills it” in medieval Latin) refers to the rallying cry of the people when the first Crusade was declared by Pope Urban II at the end of the 11th century. However, rather than with the bigger picture, the album deals with the story of a young lordling, Simplicio (whose very name hints at a naïve, trusting nature), who joins the Crusade in search of fame and fortune – only to meet with bitter disappointment upon his return home.
In spite of Deus Lo Vult’s limited running time, none of the tracks sound alike. Opening with an homage to classical epic literature in the shape of an invocation to the Muses (“Invocazione alle Muse”) – a soothing, pastoral-sounding piece in which Cecchini’s melodic yet assertive voice is accompanied by acoustic guitar, mellotron and flute – the album immediately dives into the thick of things with its longest track, the 8-minute “Indignatio (Infedeli in Terra Santa”. Introduced by majestic mellotron and expressive flute (which reminded me of Delirium or Quella Vecchia Locanda rather than Jethro Tull), the song is driven by Diego Petrini’s imperious drums and Cecchini’s intense, theatrical vocal performance, paralleled by Eva Morelli frantically blaring sax and Simone Brozzetti’s searing lead guitar; the music reflects the tone of the lyrics – an invective against the Muslim presence in the Holy Land conveyed in almost visionary terms. The mphatic, march-like “Urbano II Bandisce la Prima Crociata”, with its trumpets, drums and martial chanting, strikes a half-serious, half-comical note, allowing Cecchini to interpret two different characters with deadpan effectiveness; while in the folksy ballad “Simplicio” Cecchini’s voice displays its melodic potential, well complemented by guitar and flute.
With the title-track, Il Bacio della Medusa deliver another showstopper. After a deceptively mellow, piccolo- and mellotron-led intro, a Gillan-like, banshee wail leads into a veritable hard rock feast that sounds like Iron Maiden jamming with Balletto di Bronzo, with no less than three blazing guitar solos, raging Hammond organ runs, aggressive sax and flute in the tradition of Jethro Tull’s heaviest episodes. “Verso Casa” relates Simplicio’s journey towards his home (where a nasty surprise awaits him) with a lively, waltz-like pace and very expressive, slightly histrionic vocals. The story reaches an unexpected climax in “La Beffa”, dominated by Cecchini’s suitably deranged vocals, then wrapped up by a galloping, exhilarating flute-guitar section, and ending with the ominous sound of a crackling fire.
Besides the outstanding quality of the music, which successfully blends a vintage feel with a thoroughly modern allure, Il Bacio della Medusa should be commended for the painstaking attention devoted to the lyrics – though, unfortunately, non-speakers of Italian are bound to miss out on this aspect, as even the best translation is unlikely to convey the stylistic subtlety of Simone Cecchini’s work. In any case, Deus Lo Vult is undoubtedly poised to become one of the standout Italian prog releases of this first part of the 21st century. Especially recommended to fans of bands at the heavier end of the RPI spectrum (such as Osanna and the already-mentioned Balletto di Bronzo and Biglietto per l’Inferno), this intense slice of top-notch musical skill and exquisitely Italian drama will probably be mentioned in many “best of 2012” lists at the end of the year.