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Dante’s Divine Comedy - 2009 - "Purgatorio"

(242.40: 4CDs, Musea Records)


*****+

Prolusion. The second part of Musea/Colossus’ ambitious project based on Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” deals with the poet’s journey through Purgatory, the abode of penitent souls waiting to ascend to heaven after having being purged of their earthly sins. The set comprises 36 tracks spread over 4 CDs, for a total of 35 bands and artists from a wide range of countries; about half of the acts involved have already appeared on “Dante’s Inferno”. The CDs are accompanied by a lavishly illustrated booklet (including some of Gustave Dor?’s magnificent engravings), as well as a detailed synopsis of the cantica (the name given by the poet to each of the three parts of his achievement). The final instalment of the project, “Dante’s Paradiso”, is slated for release at the end of 2010, and ‘teaser’ clips are already available on the project’s MySpace page.

Disc 1 (62:23)
*****

TRACK LIST / PERFORMERS: 

1.  Intro Dreamscapes (Simon Says) 2.17
2.  Entre Deux Rives (Nemo) 7.05
3.  Canto II (Kbridge) 15.33
4.  Canto III (Ozone Player) 5.26
5.  Ascenso Tortuoso (Raimundo Rodulfo) 5.36 
6.  X for V (Ten Midnight) 6.27 
7.  Polheim (Soulengine) 7.03
8.  The Valley of Kings (Willowglass) 5.58
9.  Maelstrom (Atlantis 1001) 6.42 
Analysis. Just like its august literary source, “Dante’s Purgatorio” does not possess the same immediate impact of its predecessor, the “Inferno”. Gone is the dark, tortured atmosphere of despair and irreparable regret that permeates the 34 cantos of the first part of “The Divine Comedy”, replaced by a gentler mood of hope, even in situations of obvious hardship. As a whole, the Purgatorio offers fewer strongly memorable episodes, and the steady encroachment of philosophical and theological matters (especially in the final part of the cantica) can be somewhat offputting. Therefore, it is not surprising that this 4-CD set is also somewhat more uniform in musical terms. To be perfectly honest, even allowing for the admittedly retro nature of the project itself, most of this first disc sounds like a Genesis tribute This, as well as the overall lack of actual variety (so that most of the nine songs sound oddly alike) caused me not to be overly impressed with the disc, while the first CD of the “Inferno” was possibly the strongest of the set. Obviously, this does not mean that there is nothing of merit on this album. However, the bland offerings seem to outweigh the really striking ones, generating an impression of vague disappointment. The set opens with a short, piano- and flute-based instrumental by Swedish one-man band Simon Says, bearing the fitting title of Dreamscapes. The pastoral tone of the composition, in some ways, conveys the melancholy yet hopeful mood of the whole cantica, in which Dante and his guide, the Latin poet Virgil, ascend the slopes of the mountain of Purgatory. According to medieval belief, Purgatory was an island situated at the South Pole, the only landmass in the ocean-covered southern hemisphere. French band Nemo’s Entre Deux Rives leads the listener to the lonely shores of the island at dawn, nicely balancing melodic and heavier moments, acoustic interludes and sharp guitar riffs. The following track, Canto II (the album’s longest item at over 15 minutes), performed by Italian band Kbridge (one of the new entries in the project’s roster), is nothing but ambitious – a sprawling orgy of keyboards interspersed by more low-key passages, blending classic Genesis (down to the Gabriel-like vocals) with the all-out bombast of ELP. Unabashedly retro and more than a bit derivative, it does, however, manage to channel the spirit of the episodes it describes – though I would have personally preferred Italian lyrics to the English ones. While Ozone Player’s keyboard-based Canto III fails to excite, in spite of the more than competent nature of the playing, Ascenso Tortuoso showcases Raimundo Rodulfo’s brilliant acoustic guitar skills and some tantalizingly jazzy keyboard parts. Another new Italian outfit, Ten Midnight, is responsible for X for V, which opens in a cinematic, vaguely foreboding manner, then develops into a more conventionally melodic prog offering with keyboards galore and Italian vocals. The two instrumentals that follow are both laced with abundant Genesis references – the keyboard-laden Polheim (by yet another Italian band, Soulengine) suggesting the sweeping intensity of Los Endos, and Willowglass’ soothing, largely acoustic The Valley of Kings focusing rather on the pastoral side of the English band’s output. The first disc is then brought to a close by the rather schizophrenic Maelstrom, performed by Italian Rush tribute band Atlantis 1001 – a number that could be described as Genesis meets Porcupine Tree, complete with heavy riffing and aggressive vocals.

Disc 2 (62:04)
*****+

TRACK LIST / PERFORMERS: 

1.  E Dopo Nulla Fu Piu’ lo Stesso (Contrappunto Project) 5.30
2.  Oh Silly Pride (Sophya Baccini) 4.59 
3.  The Scheme Goes On (Nexus) 8.19
4.  Canto XII (Nuova Era) 6.36
5.  Impressions (Survival) 9.50
6.  Onde Vi Batte Chi Tutto Discerne (Little Tragedies) 5.48
7.  Muove il Vento I Miei Capelli (Armalite) 7.59
8.  Strange Cloud (Phideaux) 7.30
9.  The Stream of Hope (Tommy Eriksson) 5.07
Analysis. Disc 2 sees Dante and Virgil slowly make their way up the seven levels that form Purgatory itself – each of the terraces corresponding to one of the seven deadly sins. Compared to the previous part, this disc displays more diversity, and the average level of quality is generally higher. A sparse, occasionally discordant piano solo piece, E Dopo Nulla Fu Piu’ lo Stesso (whose title is probably a nod to the similarly-titled number by Banco del Mutuo Soccorso), masterfully executed by Italian pianist Andrea Cavallo (aka Contrappunto Project), opens the disc in somewhat refreshing fashion after the keyboard overload of the previous album. Things continue in an offbeat direction with Sophya Baccini’s Oh Silly Pride, a quirky number with a strong Kate Bush flavour, definitely more original than any of the items included on Disc 1. Though I am not too keen on the whistling synth sounds, the piano work (by the artist herself) is outstanding. A sharp change of pace occurs with the Hammond-laden The Scheme Goes On, performed by Argentinian act Nexus – an 8-minute workout where Deep Purple influences meet shades of ELP, and even Pink Floyd. Another dramatic, retro-with-a-bite number is offered by Nuova Era: Canto XII is a veritable keyboard-fest in classic Italian prog tradition, with essential input from guitar and bass, alternating more sedate passages with brisker-paced ones. This track introduces a triple-whammy of sheer delight for keyboard lovers. Survival’s Impressions is brought to us by a true one-man orchestra, a grandiose Hammond-centred workout clearly reminiscent of Emerson’s style with a calm-after-the-storm ending of delicate piano chords. Little Tragedies and their mainman Gennady Ilyin need no introduction in the prog world, and their contribution, Onde Vi Batte Chi Tutto Discerne, does not disappoint, with unleashed keyboard volleys and frantic drumming in nearly progressive metal style. The Genesis vibe that permeated almost the whole of Disc 1 surfaces again in the pleasant but somewhat nondescript Muove Il Vento I Miei Capelli by Italian band Armalite, including some positively Hackettian guitar parts. However, the real standout track of the disc is strategically placed almost at its close. Though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be not overly impressed by its modern vibe, Phideaux’ Strange Cloud possesses a freshness and appeal that most of the more conservative numbers lack. Interestingly, though it contains the same ‘ingredients’ so to speak, as most of the other numbers, its distinctive vocals (a bit of an acquired taste, but oddly effective in this context), intriguing texture and melodic bent render the song deeply appealing. At the end, however, the album goes back to business as usual with the technically accomplished, though somewhat conventional The Stream of Hope, an upbeat guitar-based composition performed by Finnish-Swedish multi-instrumentalist Tommy Eriksson.

Disc 3 (64:56)
*****+

TRACK LIST / PERFORMERS: 

1.  Luna (Entrance) 7.55
2.  Avarice Atoned (Maxwell’s Demon) 7.01
3.  The Verse Continues (RAK) 5.44
4.  Canto XXI (Colossus Project) 8.30 
5.  Honey & Locusts (Matthjis Herder) 7.12
6.  Is It This the Price For the Redemption (Mad Crayon) 6.11
7.  A Varasz Fa Alatt (Tabula Smaragdina) 5.52
8.  Purgatorio Canto XXV (Blank Manuscript) 9.01
9.  Som De La Scalina (Lady Lake) 7.02
Analysis. Disc 3 keeps up with the varied mood already displayed by Disc 2, while Dante and Virgil continue their ascent up the seven terraces of the mountain of Purgatory, meeting some of the souls that are atoning for their sins before being admitted to the presence of God. Luna, by Chilean outfit Entrance, opens the proceedings with a somewhat darker, harder-edged tone than most of the offerings encountered so far, and particularly intense vocals; while Avarice Atoned, by US band Maxwell’s Demon, brings us square into avant-garde territory. To be perfectly honest, their contribution – especially if compared with the “Inferno” ’s own avant-garde piece, Garamond’s Canto XVI – is only partly successful, due to its rather free-form nature, combining dark electronic sounds, asymmetric time signatures, and airier, more melodic passages in the space of just 7 minutes. It is a refreshing change of pace anyway, as is the dramatic The Verse Continues by Swiss outfit RAK, propelled along by intense vocals and spectacular organ work. Matthijs Herder’s Honey and Locusts returns to more standard (and slightly pretentious) symphonic prog territory, featuring plenty of keyboards and tempo changes, plus some vocal parts that border on prog-metal. However, the next track brings some more variation, in the shape of Canterbury-tinged instrumental Is It This the Price for the Redemption by veteran Italians Mad Crayon – a very distinctive number, with subtle but noticeable shifts in time signature, some lazy yet edgy guitar work, and even some welcome violin inserts. The Yes-influenced A Varasz Fa Alatt, by Hungarian act Tabula Smaragdina, is a charming offering featuring female vocals and a catchy chorus. The true highlight of this disc, though, comes with Blank Manuscript’s highly individual Purgatorio Canto XXV, a number that proves the serious potential of this Austrian outfit. The 9-minute-plus song revolves around a lengthy, almost improvisational sax-driven section, with wistful harmony vocals reminiscent of Pink Floyd and a very engaging pace. Closing track Som De La Scalina by Dutch band Lady Lake has a somewhat loose structure, and the drums can be occasionally overwhelming, but provides a more than adequate conclusion to the third instalment of the set.

Disc 3 (53:49)
*****

TRACK LIST / PERFORMERS: 

1.  Tie Autuuteen (Groovector) 7.33 
2.  Matelda’s Song (Mist Season) 5.20 
3.  By the Bank of the River (Flamborough Head) 5.37
4.  Feluton (Yesterdays) 6.00
5.  Canto XXXI (B612) 6.44
6.  Juicio Final (Equilibrio Vital) 8.27
7.  Purgatorio XXXIII (Jinetes Negros) 7.00
8.  Outro Elohe Sebaot (Simon Says) 2.21
9.  Purgatorio (Pasini & Ragozza) 3.26 (bon/t-k)
Analysis. As on the “Inferno” set, Disc 4 is the shortest, at under 54 minutes – and also the most uneven, with few highlights and a prevalence of filler material. Dante and Virgil have now reached the curtain of fire through which souls have to pass before they can enter the Earthly Paradise. Here the soul of the Latin poet – born before the coming of Christ and therefore unshriven – must take his leave from Dante, and make his way back to the Limbo, his mission completed. In a way, the songs featured on this disc reflect the lofty but somewhat didactic nature of the final cantos of the Purgatorio. The opening track, Tie Autuuteen by Finnish band Groovector, lulls the listener into a deceptive sense of promise with its tasteful, jazzy vibe and easily flowing sound – interrupted in the middle by a sparse electronic section with rippling piano. Matelda’s Song, by another Finnish band, Mist Season, is a slow, melodic, guitar-driven piece that will definitely appeal to a lot of prog fans, though it may also come across as somewhat bland in spite of the angelic female voice at the beginning. Flamborough Head’s By the Bank of the River is a similarly well-executed, but ultimately uninvolving instrumental, based on guitar and synth with a bit of flute thrown in for good measure. The most interesting items are to be found towards the end of the disc, after the melodic yet rather run-of-the-mill Feluton by Hungarian band Yesterdays, graced by very pleasing female vocals, and the somewhat schizophrenic Canto XXXI by Venezuela’s B612, split between a mid-paced, melodic first half and an aggressive, synth-heavy second half. Juicio Final, brought to us by another Venezuelan band, veteran outfit Equilibrio Vital, is a textbook example of progressive grandeur – a perfect fit for the elaborate allegorical scene that it is supposed to illustrate. Massed choral vocals and fanfare compete with powerful keyboard flurries and heavy guitar riffs, and a rather arresting middle section with voices shouting in Guahiboan, an indigenous South American language. Similarly, Argentinians Jinetes Negros pull out all the stops with Purgatorio XXXIII, a heavy prog workout that may at times evoke a horror movie soundtrack, with a strong Deep Purple / Uriah Heeep vibe blended with the typical South American theatricality. After this double punch, the short, muted instrumental Elohe Sebaot (performed, like the intro, by Simon Says) sounds rather anticlimactic- though much less so than the baffling choice of a bonus track that is Purgatorio by Italian duo Pasini & Ragozza, a rather oddball offering with lyrics largely based on rhyme and alliteration.

Conclusion. Sharing most of the features that made “Dante’s Inferno” such an impressive release, “Dante’s Purgatorio” is, however, not equally solid as an overall effort, with a few too many tracks not up to the standards set by its predecessor. The presence of so many instrumentals in such a strongly narrative-based context may also seem somewhat odd. On the other hand, the project acts as a showcase for a number of interesting bands, both new and more experienced, approaching the ‘old warhorse’ of symphonic prog from fresh angles. As a whole, in spite of a higher proportion of near-filler material than the “Inferno”, this set is definitely a worthwhile listening experience.

RB=: Raffaella BerryJuly 8, 2010
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Musea Records
Colossus


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