1. Verso l’Alba (2:52)
2. Insolita Parte di Me (7:20)
3. Boccadasse (5:20)
4. Le Due Metà della Notte (5:18)
5. La Stanza Nascosta (5:10)
6. Danza Esoterica di Datura (6.07)
7. Faldistorum (6:06)
8. L’Attesa (4:36)
9. Il Centro Sottile (9:39)
10. Antidoto Mentale (3:30)
Stefano “Lupo” Galifi – vocals
Elisa Montaldo – piano, keyboards, organ, concertina, vocals, sound effects
Fabio Gremo – bass
Giulio Canepa – guitars
Paolo Tixi – drums
Max Manfredi – voice (7)
Antonio Fantinuoli – cello (5)
Known outside Italy as the hometown of Christopher Columbus, the bustling seaport of Genoa has had a long tradition as a hotbed of musical creativity – starting as far back as the late 18th century with legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini. Then, in the early 1960s came the ‘Genoese school of singer-songwriters’, whose foremost representative, Fabrizio De André, is known to prog fans for his collaboration with PFM. About ten years later, a number of influential progressive rock bands were formed, such as Delirium and New Trolls – two outfits that are still producing great music in the early 21st century. In particular, Delirium’s comeback album of 2009, Il Nome del Vento (reviewed elsewhere on this blog) stood out among the plethora of prog releases for successfully marrying the glorious heritage of Italian prog with a thoroughly modern sound quality. The same accomplished nature is shared by this stunning debut by Delirium’s label mates (and fellow Genoese) Il Tempio delle Clessidre.
Named after the final section of the titular suite of Museo Rosenbach’s one-off Zarathustra – one of the most iconic albums of the Italian Seventies – Il Tempio delle Clessidre (“The Temple of Hourglasses”) have been around since the summer of 2006, when keyboardist Elisa Montaldo and bassist Gabriele Guidi Colombi met former Museo Rosenbach vocalist Stefano “Lupo” Galifi. The idea that brought the band together was to perform the whole of the Zarathustra album live on stage with Museo Rosenbach’s original singer, using vintage instruments, and subsequently start penning original compositions inspired by the spirit of the golden years of Italian prog. After some line-up changes, Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s self-titled debut album was released in September 2010 by Genoa-based label Black Widow Records.
For all its cult status, Italian prog can be seen as very much of an acquired taste – mainly on account of its operatic, occasionally overblown nature, especially as regards the vocal department. In this respect, Galifi’s warm, bluesy vocals (also heard on one track of Delirium’s 2009 album), which add an emotional yet somehow informal note to the lush textures of the band’s music, are definitely Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s not-so-secret weapon. The tightly organized compositions, never gratuitously meandering, strike the right balance between melody and complexity, without a second wasted in pointless noodling, and with enough changes of pace to make the most demanding prog fan happy. Although the singing is strongly emphasized, there is also a lot of room for the instrumentalists to display their considerable chops. Indeed, the pristine sound quality allows each of the musicians’ performances to shine, and captures every nuance of Galifi’s seasoned vocal delivery, honed in years of fronting blues-rock bands; while the pronounced melodic bent tempers the intensity of the lyrics and the dense esoteric symbolism of the cover art and booklet.
Interestingly, with the sole exception of the almost 10-minute “Il Centro Sottile”, the tracks on the album are all relatively short, with an average running time of 5 minutes. The album itself, at about 55 minutes, is markedly shorter than the majority of current prog releases, some of which skirt the 80-minute mark. Those who appreciate the instrumental aspect of progressive rock rather than the vocal one will be glad to learn that Il Tempio delle Clessidre manages to balance both sides quite admirably. Opener “Verso l’Alba”, the only completely instrumental track on the album, sets the scene with the deep, Gothic sound of the organ and wind-like effects, developing into a keyboard- and guitar-driven piece reminiscent of a heavier Genesis. “Insolita Parte di Me”, at 7 minutes the second longest track, alternating quieter passages with more dramatic ones, dominated by Elisa Montaldo’s magnificent keyboards, is a perfect example of how the band manage to achieve the structural complexity typical of prog without sacrificing the unique Italian attention to melody. Montaldo, who is the main composer together with bassist Fabio Gremo, handles her array of instruments with impressive skill and flair. “Le Due Metà della Notte”, interpreted with warmth and feeling by Galifi, is a splendid keyboard showcase that combines melody and intensity; while in the sedate “La Stanza Nascosta” the piano and Galifi’s stunning vocals conjure a melancholy, meditative atmosphere. On the other hand, the mid-paced “Boccadasse” (dedicated to a picturesque mariner’s neighbourhood of Genoa) is a more conventionally structured song, with a very catchy chorus and a beautiful, melodic guitar solo.
However, it is the two central numbers that prove to be the most distinctive, in keeping with Black Widow’s keen interest in the mystical and the esoteric. “Danza Esoterica di Datura”, as the title implies, opens with a brisk, dance-like pace, and culminates with an extract from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, chanted by Montaldo in tense, dramatic fashion; some of the keyboard inserts are appropriately reminiscent of Goblin’s Dario Argento soundtracks, such as the renowned Profondo Rosso. The cryptically-titled “Faldistorum” sees the Hammond organ take the lead in parallel with the drums, introducing a male voice reciting a short text in an emphatic, melodic yet slightly ominous manner, reinforced by the closing strains of a church organ. The following “L’Attesa”, a rich, energetic keyboard-fest, is very much in the vein of classic Italian heavy progressive acts such as Il Balletto di Bronzo and Biglietto per l’Inferno; while in the solemnly melodic “Il Centro Sottile” all the instruments strive to create a lush texture that can bring to mind Genesis or Banco del Mutuo Soccorso in their heyday. After a somewhat lengthy pause, the album is wrapped up by the poppy, rather undistinguished “Antidoto Mentale”, which in my view is the only track that smacks a bit of filler.
Blending the warmth and melodic flair of the Mediterranean musical tradition with the driving energy of rock and the artistic ambition of prog, Il Tempio delle Clessidre’s debut deserves to be hailed as one of the standout releases of 2010, and one of the most promising albums to have come out of Italy in a long while. While taking their cue from the music produced in the Seventies – and, thankfully, not pretending to reinvent the wheel – the band manage to sound fresh and up-to-date, and not a mere exercise in nostalgia. A flawlessly performed, lovingly presented effort, Il Tempio delle Clessidre will surely bring a lot of listening pleasure to the many fans of Italian progressive rock.