Ad Astra Per Aspera is the fifth album from Rome based trio, Taproban and features three new tracks plus a selection of reworked pieces from the Posidonian Fields (2006) and Outside Nowhere (2004) collections which are now unavailable. To that end this is most likely to be the offering which will attract new listeners and an excellent showcase for their talent it is.
A symphonic rock band consisting of keyboards, bass and drums is always going to draw obvious comparisons with Emerson Lake & Palmer, although Taproban wisely steer their own course, in the process perhaps displaying more unity of purpose than their predecessors. Certainly Gianluca Di Rossi does a fine job as band leader, no mean feat for a keyboard player to be almost constantly front and centre; Roberto Vitelli who returns for a second outing on bass and guitars is no makeweight either, conjuring up the spirit of Hemispheres-era Geddy Lee to add to a powerful mix.
The bulk of the album, as hinted at by the title, features themes hovering between science fact and fiction. The opening suite and title track from the second album Outside Nowhere is a highlight dedicated to the heroes of space exploration, in particular Soyuz 1 cosmonaut Commander Komarov who lost his life after orbiting the earth 19 times. Di Rossi conjures up feelings of anticipation, pride, tentativeness, loss and exhilaration in a series of classic soundscapes. The mix is fresh; the band are certainly committed to these pieces and the energy is infectious. The tone remains classic progressive rock keyboard with all the stops literally pulled out. On Ves Ml' TaHghach (Klingon for War Dance) new drummer Ares Andreoni flexes his muscles in the band's most direct take on ELP, this a jarring Palmeresque exploration of suspicion and inbred hatred across nationalities. The same themes infuse Nexus, lit up by a saxophone solo from Goblin's Antonio Marangolo. Here the division lies between humans and Blade Runner type replicants, but the allegory is clear- the destructive power of fear of the other. Recordings of Komarov's final broadcasts can be heard in the coda of Nexus which gives the first half of the album a thematic unity exploring how commonality and understanding are more important than exploiting difference and suspicion. While the final three songs explore aspects of the natural and man-made environment, one of the new offerings D.I.A.N.A. although another sci-fi themed tune, finds itself marooned in the middle of the album. Sonically it is different from what has gone before and although new it sounds dated with sequenced synthesisers and drum machines and more of an 80s synth pop feel to it. The pieces which close the album are more lyrical and reflective than what has gone before, giving overall a somewhat downbeat feel.
Time and new personnel have revitalised the pieces on this rich collection which represents an ideal way to explore the story of Taproban this far. It is perhaps concerning that the more recent tracks do not show quite as much depth as the back catalogue and I hope that future releases will show the band continuing to develop new material as there is plenty to admire in what is displayed here.
***+ Andrew Cottrell
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