In Ogni Luogo (1999, 50.06) ***½/TTT
In Ogni Luogo
Le Citta Indicibili
Agli Amici Sinestetici
Wittgenstein Mon Amour
La Meccanica Naturale (2004, 53.49) ***½/TTT
La Mia Identita'
Ode al Mare
La Ricostruzione del Futuro
The Italian movement away from '80s neo-prog fired its first warning shots from the likes of Calliope and various (though by no means all) ex-Arti & Mestieri keyboard player Beppe Crovella projects, fighting against the likes of the Egoband, Edith and Theatre, Mellotron or no Mellotron. Finisterre (****) is, in retrospect, very good rather than excellent, but compared to most contemporaneous Italian bands, it was a revelation of thoughtful, restrained progressive rock, influenced by the '70s greats, with only the occasional Marillionesque synth arpeggio or obviously digital keyboard patch to remind you it was actually the '90s. In Limine is in the same basic vein, but due to its sample use, can be found below.
In Ogni Luogo appeared in 1999 and while there seem to be few references to any Mellotronic activity on the album, my ears tell me otherwise, as does mainman Fabio Zuffanti. I'm not convinced the album is quite the match of its predecessors, although subsequent plays may well prove me wrong; there certainly seems to be less musical variety on board, though bands are allowed to vary their approach... Valle sticks that Mellotron all over the place this time round, with choirs on Coro Elettrico and Agli Amici Sinestetici, very upfront flutes on Le Citta Indicibili, rather shrieky strings on ContinuitadiLaraneltempo, with more strings and choirs across the other highlighted tracks.
Harmony of the Spheres, a double-disc compilation off odds'n'sods, including tracks by Höstsonaten and others, appeared in 2002, although it took the collective another five years to come up with their next 'proper' album, La Meccanica Naturale. It isn't wildly different to its predecessor, to be honest, despite the gap, and also doesn't really match up to their early work. Saying that, it's a pretty good album, just lacking something in the 'wow!' stakes. It features a mixture of laid-back and more aggressive material, as you'd expect, though the only track that really stands out immediately is slow-but-powerful closer Incipit. Real Mellotron on most tracks; a string chord on one track holds for too long, although that could well be studio trickery (been there, done that). Strings and choirs throughout, with a short flute part on the slightly Cardiacs-esque La Fine, but nothing really jaw-dropping.
Finisterre are still a going concern, although their releases are few and far between, largely because Zuffanti and co. seem to be too busy with their various side-projects, not least Höstsonaten, originally labelled the 'Finisterre Project' by their record label, obviously fearful of the public's ability to sniff out a classic without help. Both of these albums are worthy of your attention, although In Ogni Luogo's the only one worth it for the Mellotron.
Finisterre and their various offshoots (notably Höstsonaten) are known as part-time Mellotron users, so find themselves here either when using one live, as with Anekdoten, or when one hasn't been available for studio work. Their speciality is lyrical, symphonic progressive rock in the grand Italian '70s tradition, with little, if any of the irritating neo-prog tricks that crop up in so many bands' sound since the '80s. Hurrah!
1996's In Limine is in the same basic vein as the band's impressive debut, featuring considerable quantities of acoustic guitar, flute, piano etc, with not a single digital 'chiff' anywhere, not to mention a level of compositional complexity undreamed of by Syndone and their unimaginative like. The closing double-whammy of Algos and Orizzonte Degli Eventi add up to half an hour of excellent classically-influenced progressive rock, with a well-arranged string section and other orchestral instruments, making for one of the highlights of the '90s scene. Boris Valle plays a little sampled Mellotron on the album, with faint strings on XXV and a very upfront part towards the climax of Orizzonte Degli Eventi.
2001's Storybook documents the band's excellent set at Progday festival '97, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in front of a strangely muted crowd, although I believe the band played an afternoon set, never especially conducive to audience reaction. The album seems to be a slightly expanded reissue of Finisterre Live at ProgDay '97, adding their version of PFM's Altaloma, although I don't know if that means their whole set is now available. In case there were any doubt, many of Boris Valle's 'Mellotron' chords are held way over the eight-second limit, but then, where were they going to find a Mellotron in that neck of the woods? (Actually, you'd be surprised...). His entire use (on every track) consists of standard strings, strengthening the PFM connection, although the band really do have their own sound, with much Rhodes in evidence, though not in the overused jazzy way that so many players insist upon. Shame about the Crimson/Genesis quotes in the last two songs; Finisterre don't need to resort to such tricks. Anyway, a damn' good introduction to one of the better new Italian bands.
The following year's sprawling, two-disc Harmony of the Spheres is an odds'n'sods collection that tips over into related band territory, featuring several previously unheard Hostsonaten and solo Fabio Zuffanti tracks. Is it worth hearing? For the hardcore only, maybe, although it features several hard-to-find compilation tracks and the like, veering between the extremely primitive, previously-unreleased The Fall, an eccentric, female-vocalled version of Van der Graaf's Refugees and Asia, the guitar figure of which keeps making me think they're about to break into Rush's La Villa Strangiato. Just two samplotron tracks, maybe surprisingly, with a lush string part on Camel's Nimrodel (from Mellow's Camel Tribute: Harbour of Joy), although the synth brass is entirely unacceptable and strings on disc two's Morning, which seems to be also available on Hostsonaten's similar 2004 release, Springtides.
If you love '70s/'70s-influenced prog, you need to hear Finisterre, despite their occasional failings. Storybook is a good 'starter pack', In Limine's for the more committed and Harmony of the Spheres is really only for the 'have to have everything' fan.
Official Fabio Zuffanti site
See: Hostsonaten | Maschera di Cera | LaZona | Fabio Zuffanti | Fabio Zuffanti & Victoria Heward