Greg Northrup    8-November-2001 Overview

Banco - Darwin! (1972)

The second Banco album is another in their series of classics and stands as one of my most treasured albums. In fact, Darwin! was the first Italian album I got, and once I got to the shuddering grooves of "Cento Manni E Cento Occhi," I was completely converted to the passionate, thundering sound that would characterize one of my favorite bands. It's all here, the dual keyboard tapestry of the brothers Nocenzi, trading off Hammond assaults, delicate, heart-wrenching piano runs and fire-breathing Moog themes, building together in unison to moments of unimaginable climax. Atop this are the always outstanding vocals of Franceso DiGiacomo, who comes crashing in with his operatic, distinctly Italian vocal prowess.

Nearly every track on here is a gem. "L'Evoluzione" is an utter whirlwind, beginning as a tender ballad, then accelerating into a bombastic groove. "La Conquista della Posizione Eretta" is a keyboard driven apocalypse, breathtaking throughout. And man, check out "Cento Manni e Cento Occhi." This is the song that made me a believer the first time I heard it, an up-tempo barn burner that moves through a number of themes, carried by Franceso's vocals, before arriving at its unbelievable, aggressive conclusion. "750,000 Anni Fa... L'Amore" is a tremendously moving ballad featuring Francesco backed only by a shimmering piano theme; an expressive, morose and almost romantic atmosphere pervades the song.

All in all this is another unequivocal classic. The first three Banco albums are all among my personal favorites, showing a band in the midst of a period of nearly unmatched consistency, on par with any of the more well renowned English bands. Darwin! is an excellent place to start exploring Italian progressive rock.

Greg Northrup

Banco - Come in Un'Ultima Cena

This is another phenomenal effort from Banco, though it definitely shows them going in a different direction than in their previous releases. This came out three years after their last real album, the stunning Io Sono Nato Libero; the time in between these releases was taken up by an English compilation for ELP's Manticore label, and a soundtrack album, Garofano Rosso. Here we have some compositions that are much more concerned with a cinematic atmosphere and grandiose classical movement. Gone is the powerful bombast and off the wall frenetic energy of the first three albums. This is a much more refined, toned down and compositionally mature band, though the emotion is still very tangible, and the compositions are very progressive and intricate. There are some moments where the band definitely rocks out. The album is much more vocal based than any of the previous albums, being totally structured around Francesco DiGiacomo's beautiful narrative. If you adore this guy's voice, you'll love this album.

Come in un'Ultima Cena is a concept album that has something to do with Christ and the Last Supper of the New Testament. The music seems very concerned with delivering the appropriate moods throughout, and is quite successful, as most of the album is highly emotive. Unfortunately, the album starts off slow. "...A Cena per Ensempio" is a weak opening track that originally had me worried when I first listened to it. The next track thankfully restored my faith. "Il Ragno" is one of the best Banco songs ever, if a little more subdued compared to their earlier work. Great vocal melodies and a powerful organ riff that develops into something gloriously complex. "Slogan" is a track that most recalls the classic Banco bombast, though it doesn't quite reach the energy level of something like "Cento Manni e Cento Occi." It is another magnificent track.

The rest of the album has some more gorgeous moments like the emotional vocal melodies of "Voida Mila" and the totally fabulous ballad "La Notte e Piena", which also includes some beautiful orchestration. Overall, this is a magnificent album that is less immediate than any of its predecessors. This is their most mature, structured and complex offering, and what it lacks in raw energy, it makes up for in emotion. This is another great Banco album, and though it is not quite as essential as their first three, it is still a phenomenal work in its own right.

Greg Northrup

Banco - ...di Terra

Another extraordinary album from a band that was perhaps one of the top five or six progressive rock bands in the world during the 70s. ...di Terra is Banco del Mutuo Soccorso at their most ambitious. Ironically, the aspect of the band that is often cited as their greatest strength, the famed voice of Francesco DiGiacomo, is absent from this release, as the band attempts to go in an all-instrumental direction by melding their fiery style with the full orchestra. ...di Terra is probably one of the most successful stabs at this idea that I've ever heard. The music is superbly composed by Vittorio Nocenzi, achieving a perfect balance of prog-rock splendor, classical beauty and sheer bombast. This is an extremely inspired album that doesn't come off as gimmicky at all. Orchestra swells, complete with full percussion and brass, complement the Nocenzi brothers' dazzling piano, keyboard and occasional synthesizers runs.

...di Terra may be a little off-putting initially because this is in no way your typical Banco album. It is composed very much in a classical manner, sacrificing little to none of the compositional integrity of the piece to incorporate a "rock" base. It therefore takes some getting used to. Themes develop very gradually, and may disappear suddenly only to re-emerge three tracks later. Volume dynamics are likewise very different; you might need to really pay attention or turn up the volume to hear the softer parts, only to have your speakers explode when the orchestra goes forte. Track divisions are arbitrary and mean little in the grand scope of the piece. It's very much intended to flow together. In any case, after some patience, ...di Terra reveals itself as one of the finest Banco albums.

Greg Northrup [May 2001]

Mike McLatchey    24-March-2001 Da Qui Messere Si Domina La Valle

As of the late 80's, Banco had gone the way of many a progressive band, moving away from their roots and into more commercial territory. However, in 1991, a newer formation of the group rearranged and rerecorded their first two albums and released them as the special package Da Qui Messere Si Domina La Valle (Virgin Dischi BMSX 1CD). Both albums are contemporarily updated with gated drums, all digital synths/sequencers, and a stylish, modern production. Fortunately, the band has regained strong ties to its progressive roots, deciding to expand some of the compositions instead of just digitalizing the same ones. Such a project is obviously not going to appeal as much to the 70's Banco traditionalist, but it's nice to hear the compositional evolution in their music, such as the lengthy guitar solo on "R.I.P." or the 17 minute, lushly orchestrated version of "Metamorfosi." As an introduction to their 70's (and best) output (try Io Sono Nato Libero for a better example), this won't really hint at the startling elegance of yesteryear despite most of the music being written back then. However, this was undoubtedly the gateway album that led them back to performing into the milennium in a strong, yet contemporary, progressive rock tradition. And to the Banco fan, this is certainly one of their most interesting recordings since ...di Terra.

(originally reviewed as part of The New Italian Progressive Rock Scene (part 1), Exposť #3, p. 6, Edited for Gnosis 3/17/01)

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