Balleto Di Bronzo, Il - Ys

Year of Release: 1994
Label: Polygram Italia
Catalog Number: 523 693-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 41:37:00

I guess I should start by saying that this second release [from 1972] by the legendary Italian band Il Balleto Di Bronzo is thought of as an epic masterpiece of progressive rock, and of Italian progressive music in particular. I call this work, consisting of the original five tracks (the CD re-issue has a bonus sixth track), an epic because it should be seen as one work, one piece of music broken into an introduction, three movements, or incontros, and an epilog. The sixth (bonus) track can be seen as an addendum to the epilog. This work is thematically a musical journey through some sort of Dante-esque netherworld. I assume a great deal here, as I confess to no facility with Italian beyond reading a menu. After an afternoon spent translating the lyrics of the first track, printed in, duh!, Italian on my import CD, I will make some educated (I hope) guesses based on the first cut's lyrics, and the artwork that accompanies each song's lyrics on the insert.

How bold of me, and how foolish as well.

Nevertheless, I take this to be the journey of a reluctant cleric through the depths of hell, ending in revelation and redemption, at the behest of some irresistible spirit force. Lyrics aside, this is some seriously spooky stuff, and it makes for some interesting listening. It is an instrumental powerhouse, containing some impressive work by the four members of the group, and it would be easy to call it a masterpiece of keyboard brilliance if it weren't for the stunning play of everyone else as well. It IS a storehouse of great keyboard wizardry, and all the usual subjects are utilized to great effect, Mellotron, Moog, organ, piano, and also celeste and spinetta, a couple of instruments more likely found in museums than recording studios. The drums are powerful, as is the guitar and bass work.

There are some slight similarities to ELP and Banco, but this is, to a great extent, a very original sounding work by a very thoughtful and talented group.

As I said earlier, this CD has some spooky moments, and the album starts in that vein. The first track, "Introduzione," begins with something that sounds like a Halloween sound effects record, all full of ghostly moaning and the like. One expects the ghost of Jacob Marley to spring out at you, rattling his chains. The first line of the lyric states (I think) in somber tones, that what is to be revealed is "to the last word, the whole truth." I'm too scared to read beyond that foreboding revelation. The choir like vocals of the introduction leads to the main theme of this song, carried by organ and Moog. This quickly becomes a cacophony of dissonant keyboards, and leads to the real meat and potatoes of this cut, the agonizing, horror movie score, that makes up the body of this chunk of the epic. There are numerous changes of meter and tempo and a treasure trove of ghastly keyboard pyrotechnics. The guitarist is out for the kill as well, and produces a bevy of distorted, scraping licks, with echoing slides and lines that would easily draw blood. After a suitable period of chaos, the Mellotron steps in, and along with more creep show vocals, moves us along to another depth of Hell, this time accompanied by some really disturbing guitar played through a rotating Leslie or perhaps an early model of the Roto-Vibe. Tasteful spinetta, an Italian version of the harpsichord, is added to the mix, already heavy and bewildering. This extends for fifteen minutes, and the listener may at first want to bail out at this spot.

Don't stop now!

The next cut, the first movement or, "Primo Incontro" begins, without any really noticeably break. Lord, this is going to be an ordeal.

Unresolved guitar lines lead into a reprise of the first theme of the "Introduzione," this time led by the guitar, playing some mean spirited psychedelic riffs. Thankfully, after only two and a half minutes, we get a break from the sonic madness by way of a gentle interlude performed on the spinetta, which ebbs away, ending this movement.

Continue on, fear not!

"Secondo Incontro" begins with a jolt. Sounding like a heavy metal band trying desperately to find the end of a song, Il Balleto Di Bronzo beats us senseless in the intro to this movement. Moving on into the verse, we are lulled with vocals and soft Mellotron before heading into the maelstrom again. Weird Zappa-like riffs alternate with quieter, melodic parts. I call this melodic with tongue planted firmly in cheek, as there is little on this release that can be called melodic. This movement, and all the movements are based on repetitive riffs that are ornamented with chaotic solos and sheer noise. To call much here melodic would be quite generous.

As in the transition from "Introduzione" to "Primo Incontro," the break between the second and third movements goes by unnoticed, and the "Terzo Incontra" is, to my ears, the same piece as the former.

Finally reaching the "Epilogo," the intensity level drops noticeably for long enough for the listener to at least catch a breath, and take stock of the first passage that might be broadly called melody. This, of course, is fleeting and the band seems to rise once more from the depths of torment. Wild keyboards and ghostly moans carry the music to an overpowering crescendo, and some small semblance of melodic content can be appreciated near the end of this section. This section finally ends with a choir of voices signaling a return from this journey of agony.

The bonus track on this re-issue, "La Tua Casa Comoda," shows us an entirely different face of the band. This is a welcome change at this point, I will attest to that. There is no hiding the melodious nature of this piece, and the contrast from the preceding work is quite stark. This track features some unhurried work on the keyboards and a lovely solo on the vibes, as well as gentle acoustic guitar work. It works very well, set against the raging, atonal fury that precedes it.

This is a work of great power, and it contains some of the best playing I have heard from an Italian progressive band. It will not be suitable for all listeners, and certainly is not a good choice for relaxing after a long day. But, seen and heard on its own terms, it is a brilliant work, indeed a masterpiece of the genre.

As an added benefit, let me describe a use I have found for this CD. Whenever my former next door neighbors decided to drink beer and chat loudly near my bedroom window late in the evening, I found that two or three minutes of Il Balleto at high volume on my stereo would clear their yard of revelers every time. Ah, the power of music!

Introduzione (15:11) / Primo Incontro (3:27) / Secondo Incontro (3:06) / Terzo Incontro ( 4:33) / Epilogo ( 11:30) / Bonus Track - La Tua Casa Comoda (3:45)

Vito Manzari ? bass
Gianchi Stringa ? drums
Lino Ajello ? guitar
Gianni Leone ? vocals, organ, piano, Mellotron, Moog, spinetta, celeste

Sirio 2222 (1970)
Ys (1972/1994)
Trys (1999)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin IT

Added: March 28th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Hits: 1295
Language: english


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