Review by Syd Spence
Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn
Ah, third rate prog rock! It’s the only instance where I don’t use the phrase ‘third rate’ to mean something bad. This is because prog rock (at least in the ‘70s) is always great. It’s true that first rate prog rock is played by gods, and that second rate prog is played by demigods. Now third rate prog is only played by mere mortals, but they are fantastic humans, truly our champions. So let us salute today’s third rate prog heroes Alphataurus and their debut.
So Alphataurus is one of those italian prog bands. Italy’s prog scene is lesser known than their european contemporaries. I believe the ranking of the scenes goes as following. The first is of course England with their Genesis and ELPs. The second is Germany’s with their Cans and Kraftwerks. I believe France and Italy compete for third spot. Personally, I think France wins out simply because I can name two french prog groups (Magma and Gong) and would have to look up the leaders of Italian prog. I think there is band called mutual bank or something, oh, oh, and Goblin. Most people know Goblin, they did the soundtrack to Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead.
Listening to Alphataurus really makes me understand why italy is so low in the consciousness of rock listeners. Alphataurus plays keyboard driven symphonic rock, with a bit of jazz and hard rock here and there. If the lyrics weren’t in Italian, the fellas could have easily opened up for Van Der Graft Generator or ELP. This just isn’t anything as unique as Magma or Can. I would thus imagine most english speakers would more likely exhaust the british symphonic prog groups before they would explore their mediterranean equivalents. Plus the language barrier would not help.
Though, I doubt, even if Alphataurus did have english vocals, they would get big. They’d probably poke around where Fruupp sits on the progger’s mind, good but not great. As I mentioned earlier they are third rate, mere mortals, and their mortality is evident with their instrument playing. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone in the group is a good musician, but this is prog! I’ve heard prog fans mock the technical abilities of Rush. BLOODY RUSH! This genre is filled with the most dazzling expressions of musicianship this side Liszt, and Alphataurus play okay. Oh, sure they occasionally change time signatures, and have multiple parts in their songs, but a lot of them seem to a riff or two that doesn’t really boggle the mind. Personally though, I think this humanity is a good thing. They play keyboard driven symphonic prog with lots of different keyboards, not unlike a certain Emerson of ELP fame. Unlike Emerson, these guys won’t use 12 chords when only three is necessary. Their solos are short and stately and not ungodly long and meandering. Mortality keeps the ego in check and thus makes music way, way more palettable, than the pompous nonsense of keyboard gods.
The album I feel is divided in two. The first half is more rock and the second half is more symphonic. The band is worse at playing the more rock oriented stuff When listening the first track, Peccato D’Orgoglio, I kept feeling that the sound just wasn’t thick enough, that the guitars didn’t have enough crunch or there weren’t enough keyboards. Also, the music was mostly instrumental and yet the vocals dwarfed the other instruments. Plus, the song is based on one riff that never really got me. The next track is similar but with a more heavy hard rock riff, that, again, just wasn’t heavy enough. I feel like the producers should have turned the amps to 10 or something. Plus, one of the sudden prog changes sounds a bit corny.
Luckily the second half is fantastic. It starts with Croma, an instrumental which sounds like something Procol Harum would have composed if they had access to Emerson’s keyboard collection. They use every type of keyboard there is on this album, synthesizers, pianos, harpisichord, organs, mellotrons, etc. It’s got it all. Alphataurus layers different keyboard lines to make these fantastic keyboard symphonies. It’s marvelous. I do feel sorry for the guitarist, he’s mainly confined to rhythm or the tiniest of guitar solos on this second half. My favorite track is the second to last, “la Mente Vola,” where they do the keyboard symphony, but this time add a really catchy chorus with vocal harmony. The last track follows in a similar suit and is also good.
Overall it was a good third rate prog album. I’d give the first half an optimistic 3 out of 5, and the second a delighted 4 out of five. Combine the two and you get 3.5.