Progenesi: Ulisse L’Alfiere Nero
  • Musicianship
  • Originality
  • Composition
  • Production
  • Italian bands this year in general

Progenesi is another new Italian band that has released an incredible progressive rock album in 2013. Yawn. It’s not like Italian artists haven’t already peppered us with almost a dozen albums this year ranging from “Very Good” to “Potentially All-Time Great”; the purists might not want to admit it, but this year might be directly comparable to 1974 in terms of quality Italian releases, and just a step down from the hallowed releases of 1973. So yes, Italy is playing for their place in history this year, which also means that they’re working over the other countries like a speed bag. Step up your game, nations of the world!

Back to Progenesi. It’s a new group, as “Ulisse L’Alfiere Nero” is their debut album. It’s a quartet of drums, bass, guitar and keyboards, with lots of piano, organ and lead synth coming from the ebony and ivory department. It also has guest musicians playing violin and cello, which I will always support with the enthusiasm of a teenaged boy at a wet t-shirt contest. What it ALSO has is a cover featuring a chess piece, the Bishop to be specific. As well as a title that translates to “Ulysses, the Black Bishop”. As well as a booklet of pictures of chess pieces.

And yet… the album is based on the fall of Troy, as told in Homer’s Iliad. Also, the story is told only through the music (as there are no vocals) and those chess piece pictures. Which means we have a meeting of great Italian instrumental prog and allegory. My deliciously pretentious radar is starting to buzz!

So in the spirit of allegory, I’m going to use quotes from shamed former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to help me tell the story of my review of Progenesi’s debut.

I’m a man of honour, a truthful person, a gentleman of absolute morality.

Remember that this quote came from a dude who paid a minor for sex. Just let that sink in for a little while. But you know what’s really honorable? A great first track on an album. “La Gioia della Pace” is a fantastic, in-your-face introductory track featuring a trifecta of excellent organ, synth and guitar work. You’ll hear motifs presented here a little later in the album, which is exactly what any good intro track should do in a concept album. Pretty little section at around the 3:00 mark, with piano and cello interplay.

Only Napoleon did more than I have done. But I am definitely taller.

At least Napoleon managed to win a few battles. The battlefield genius was also undoubtedly a master of strategy—and I’m sure Progenesi were trying to emulate that line of thinking in “La Strategia.” A very rhythmically interesting track from the outset, I especially appreciated the drum work in this RIO/Symphonic/Jazz fusion piece. The piano solo around 2:00 is very tasty, and for some reason I totally got into the string section at the end, the one with the seemingly drug-induced arpeggiator.

An Aids patient asks his doctor whether the sand treatment prescribed him will do any good. ‘No’, the doctor replies, ‘but you will get accustomed to living under the earth’.

They have lost their minds; they really have come to the end of the line, indeed they have gone beyond it. I would advise them, too, to undergo sand treatment…

A tasteless Berlusconi joke followed by his response to the public response to said joke. What does it say about me that I had a good hearty laugh when I read that? The former Prime Minister was obviously feeling particularly brash those days, maybe even as brash as “Il Blue della Notte.” The longest song on the album, it doesn’t suffer from the compartmentalized feeling of some lengthy tracks, and manages to retain a cohesive sound throughout. What the track lacks in exceptional, unique sections it makes up for in being a damn well written and complete composition. Wait, it still has exceptional and unique sections? The little section after the first set of solos (at 6:38) was really, really fun to listen. Those little organ parts gave me the chills.

I am the Jesus Christ of politics. I am a patient victim, I sacrifice myself for everyone.

This insane quote reminds me of “Il Rosso della Notte, Part I,” in that it probably elicited from Christians the same reaction that this fourth track elicited from prog fans. Brutal. Passionate. Heavy. These are the words that best describe this intense and frantic piece. Those violin runs at the beginning are simply incredible. I love the time changes, I love the general mood, and I really can’t get enough of the Hammond throughout this album. They keep it interesting throughout without losing any momentum.

In absolute terms, I am the most legally persecuted man of all times, in the whole history of mankind, worldwide.

The most absurd quote, easily. Let’s pair it with “Il Rosso della Notte, Part II,” a sad and beautiful track with (at least right now) my favorite chord progression on the album and more great string work. It’s like they’re playing the saddest song on the world’s smallest violin for anyone who feels like “the most legally persecuted man of all times.” Don’t worry, things pick up before the 3:00 mark with some rockin’ solo sections. Progenesi has managed to successfully fuse their jazz and classical influences with good ‘ole 70’s rock, and the sound definitely works.

I’m getting out to mind my own fucking business, from somewhere else, and so I’m leaving this shitty country, of which I’m sickened.

“Un Grande Eroe,” the grand hero. But let’s quickly take a look at the other side. Somebody had to lose the war (sorry, Troy), so let’s allow Berlusconi to represent the side of the defeated. This final track begins with a grand entry of earlier motifs and builds up into more fabulous solo sections, including some great Hammond work. At around 3:30, you’re treated to maybe my favorite jazz/rock fusion section; I won’t spoil it, but suffice it to say that strings and pads have seldom been combined in such a marvelous texture. One big surprise from the track was how they chose to end it (in true 70’s rock fashion) with an extended drum solo. It brought memories of the first time I heard Bonham’s solo on Led Zeppelin’s “Rock n’ Roll.” You just don’t hear this stuff anymore, and the throwback was appreciated over here. Then, just as it ends… you get the big finish. And they end it with a Major/Minor 7th chord! A perfect ending to a perfect album.

All kidding and former Prime Ministers of Italy aside, this album blew my socks off. There are no weak moments, the musicianship is exceptional, the composition is elite, and the overall sound and execution leaves this as one of the best albums I’ve heard in a long time. Progenesi deserve this five-star rating, and I encourage everyone to check out this progressive gem.