Ubi Maior -
Incanti Bio Meccanici

(CD 2015, 61:31, AMS 249 CD)

The tracks:
  1- Teodora(20:44)
  2- Alchemico Fiammingo(12:58)
  3- I Cancelli Del tempo(9:01)
  4- Lo Specchio Di Mogano(18:48)

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This Italian progressive rock group was formed in 1999 when Lorenzo Marotta (vocals) and Stefano Mancarella teamed up with keyboard player Gabriele Manzini. A few weeks later bassist Walter Gorreri joined and Gabriele drafted in his friend Alessandro Di Caprio with whom he had played before. They started playing covers of the classic Italian prog groups as well as writing their own material. A first demo, Frontiere was recorded in 2001. That year Manzini went to join The Watch and played with them until the end of 2004. Afterwards he launched his own solo side-project Archangel. Lorenzo Marotta left the band in 2002 to study music and in his place came new singer Mario Moi. In early 2005 they took part in a tribute live concert and DVD for Italian prog legend Biglietto Per L'Inferno (this concert also featured members from Le Orme, Banco and Area). They also contributed to Mellow's Moody Blues tribute CD that year and in October of the same year they released their first album, Nostos. Their second CD Senza Tempo (see review) was released in 2009 and now here's the third effort Incanti Bio Meccanici, which happens to be my first actual acquaintance with the band.

The new album contains only four pieces of almost 21, 13, 9 and 19 minutes respectively, which bodes well for progressive rock fans. It was recorded in a line-up of Mario Moi (vocals, violin and trumpet), Walter Gualtiero Gorreri (bass), Marcella Arganese (guitars and sitar). Gabriele Dario Manzini (keyboards) and drummer Alessandro Di Caprio.
The first piece, Teodora, starts folky with violin, acoustic guitar and calm keys and percussion. After almost two minutes threatening keys emerge and also vocals join in. The singer sings in Italian, which I usually like, but he sounds a bit strained. A bluesy guitar then changes solos with a Jean Luc Ponty-like violin. Around five minutes into the epic there is a classically influenced keyboard part and the singing is much more relaxed, which is a relief after a somewhat over-bearing opening section. I think it would be wise if the band took a step back more often because it is almost as if they try too hard and almost the entire first part of that epic becomes one major blur for me as I find it hard to keep my attention. Somehow the melodies don't flow naturally and it's only the organ led section around 18 minutes that draws me back and a nice exchange between guitar and violin leads us towards the end with calm, introspective vocals.
Alchemico Fiammingo starts with a wandering violin over somewhat dissonant (maybe Fripp-ish) guitars and then flows into an upbeat melody where Moi sings much more relaxed than on the entire epic that came before. There's a great violin-led instrumental middle part with percussion that builds up great tension until melodic electric guitar gives relief and the singer explodes into an emotional part, putting him up against organ (alas a bit back in the mix) and electric guitar. Moi even does some scat singing, exchanging licks with keys and guitars! I imagine that this could have been how Focus could have sounded if they had been Italian. There's a majestic and forward driving finale with loads of great keyboards and soaring violin. The album's shortest (which is a relative term, since it lasts almost 3 times an ordinary tune on the radio) track I Cancelli Del Tempo kicks off with widdly neo prog keys and yet again presents singer Moi singing rather relaxed, although this builds up towards the end. All in a fine rocking piece of symphonic prog that will appeal to people who love early Marillion and the like.
The final track, Lo Specchio Di Mogano, is another LP-side filing epic (or would have been if this was pressed on vinyl), starting with Mellotron-like sounds, eerie violin and sitar. Much of the piece is built on a fairly simple shuffle that carry the enormous load of lyrics (of which I hardly understand a word, but I like the sound of Italian also without understanding what it says) which makes it easier to follow than the first epic on the LP. Also I find that the instrumental interludes work better on Lo Specchio Di Mogano. There's even a lazy jazzy solo spot for Moi's trumpet! The trumpet is also used in the wonderful ending section where the muted trumpet gives an original counterpoint to the howling electric guitar.

An interesting disc that needs a few spins to grow on me. Still, I think that it would be a wise thing for Ubi Maior to experiment a bit with shorter songs (meaning, definitely less than 10 minutes!) because it will help them to be more focused and strengthen their song writing skills.

***+ Carsten Busch (edited by Astrid de Ronde)

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