From the scenic and historical lands of Italy comes Armonite a Prog duo that is both innovative and experimental in their unique style of sound. What comes to mind when one thinks of Italy? Food, Wine, Art, Romance among many other things brilliant and beautiful about the country but also music and this time, Prog Music. This new form of Neo-Experimental Prog comes to us with familiar instruments but with a twist, the violin is one of the lead voices here making it a truly unique concept that has been seen in other genres as well as in Prog but more as a lead solo instrument instead of the lead voice. Other bands have captured the violin in their music as a voice over the years; King Crimson, FM, Papa John Creach, Charlie Daniels to name but a few but more as an added voice rather than THE voice. The album art is a brilliant Prog cover in the classic sense of mayhem, destruction done with finesse and an artful approach having you stare at it and seeing everything that was involved in its making as well as an idea of what’s in store musically for you.
This album is a new beginning for the band as they released an album 16 years ago then broke up leaving scatterlings across the serene Italian terrain only to reform in to the musical duo they are today so the cover art is an epitaph and a rebirth of their direction and journey along the way. Many bands in the 60’s onward have toured through Italy and brought many different styles to the country over the years. Prog bands ventured on to the country’s shores and invaded the minds of the youth and old alike leaving their music and albums in their wake as they played in halls and open air stadiums over the years. One of the most famous moments in Prog bands coming to Italy was Pink Floyd’s filming of, “Pompeii”, October 4th-7th 1971 at the ancient amphitheatre in the southern Campania region. “The anti-Woodstock film” as it was regarded by the band and director Adrian Maben was a poignant film that really said all you need is an ancient historical site along with good music and you have yourself a Prog spectacle. Of course there have been many other moments in Italy’s Prog memory banks with bands like; Le Orme, Meganoidi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Quella Vecchia Locanda and of course Armonite who have created and made albums that have deep roots in the culture and classical up bringing that the country is proud of since the first notes were played centuries ago.
This ten track album clearly showcases the band’s diversity and blending of numerous styles and approaches to the genre and they have added musical influence through the violin voice of Jacopo Bigi and the keyboard flare of Paolo Fosso. Complimenting them is the addition of bassist Colin Edwin(Porcupine Tree/Various Projects) and drummer Jasper Barendregt (Multiple Bands/Projects) bringing a rich full sound to their repertoire and creative forces combined.
“Suitcase War” opens it all up and Pandora’s Box has the lid blown clean off with this one in a windstorm roll in and David Cross eat your heart out! The spiralling violin reaches beyond the sky’s limits to the stratosphere and add in the accompanying keys, bass and drums it speeds through the streets without a thought for brakes. The recognizable groove of Colin Edwin’s bass playing adds underlying flare as Jasper’s drumming is intense and solid providing the backbone to the violin virtuosity above. Bright and full of intertwining passages make for a eye popping first track. “Connect Four” a popular 1980’s skills game of tic-tac-toe but here it’s very much a cavalcade of sounds and synth and violin trade off skills track of virtuosity with a solid bass lines and snappy drumming that has some very Carl Palmer styling to it. The synths are grand here as they aren’t over bearing but not holding back either. The bass gives us foundation in which the track builds gloriously from allowing the violin to soar and glide wave upon wave across the ocean trading off leads with the piano synth tones to combine in to a blending of mid ranges that speak volumes of both western and eastern influences. “‘G’ as in Gears” comes in with a lullaby synth sound that is quickly joined by the rest of the band to bring us in to the swagger of things with this clockwork visionary tune of cogs and wheels turning around, a musical box with the ballerina twirling around as the maestros play on. Just past the halfway point we hear the first human voice speak over top telling us about an average day in the life of someone who gets up, goes to work and comes home again. It may be an average day for this person but this isn’t just an average person but a person determined to do and get the job done which is what the band does here with human mechanical ingenuity through music as the twinkling sounds of the musical box come to a full stop completing the day’s work. “Sandstorm” rings in with the scents of the Middle East culture, cuisine, smoke from cafes and the eye catching beauty of the desert lands mysteries held within its sandy borders with this striking piece. The tight drum patterns and smooth sailing bass lines fill the air as the synths and violin sing out to the skies and their voices trail on for miles and miles across the desert as the song searches for lost treasures, adventure and intrigue. The synth sounds off in a whirling Dervish solo as the violin adds in more cultured accents to boost the feel of being there. The track allows us to drift in to another part of the world without actually going there but it makes us crave for the want to go all that much more as we journey deeper in to the album.
“Slippery Slope” is the halfway point in the album and quietly walks in with the piano notes gently entering the atmosphere then we hear the rest of the band make their way in to glide to a melee of sound that saturates your ears gracefully with the calming tones they bring. With a slight build up mid way through the song climbs up as it falls down its slippery slope as the timbre shifts near the end to warn you of the impending fall you are going to have as you travel downwards. Each instrument is equally balanced here making it a slippery decision no matter where you step. “Satellites” reveals itself with an intro of staccato start and full on swing in to action as we are thrown in to space and pass floating orbs of metal that transmit this song back down to ground zero through our speakers and fill the space in our heads. The tempo/timbre changes here are a nice segue in to a sweet violin lead as the drums walk us through the spacial arena with the bass pushing us higher in to the darkness of space itself while the synths take over the leads briefly and swirls around like falling stars. The band amalgamates in to a multi-coloured sequence of sound bringing us a full assault of the senses with this track as it flies from start to finish. “Die Grauen Herren” has a toothsome cabaret feel to it with a theatrical stage presence of smoky German clubs that would have audiences screaming “Wir Wollen Mehr!“after the first act! We we do want more as the audience would be heard screaming in your head and this one comes with the deep belly laugh of the lead character in the middle to give you an even more feel for the theatre as the band revs up the audience with pre-show music, intermission and of course this piece that plays during the performance of Das Biermeister with his entourage of singers and dancers. A jiving swing beat with this track that is head bobbing and toe tapping throughout. The piano and violin play off each other as the bass and drums are punchy to bolster the jovial play between the other two.
“Le Temps Qui Fai Ta Rose“, a quiet breath of air on an autumn’s day reflecting in the pools of water that gather from the rain is the feeling one transcribes from this piece as the video shows the birth and life of a rose. A calm melancholic passage of music that is just the violin and piano speaking softly to each other. A beautiful soundtrack style piece that can be applied to so many emotions here from sadness, to remembrance, to a slow awakening and life, it has every opportunity to be anything. A moment in time as the violin gingerly walks through its garden of notes while the piano steps gently through the forest of ivory and black keys before itself. “Insert Coin” starts off with a carnival of sound as it steps right up and takes its chances at this bright very video game influenced song complete with memorable game sound effects bringing us back to the days of arcades in the 70’s and 80’s where one would easily let go of several(!) dollars in quarters at the same game and the game master walking around with his waist apron of change one one side and your money on the other. This track has the nostalgic feel of the excitement you had as a kid in those places and all the games you played. The drums are smooth but snappy at times as the bass keeps up with a bouncing note for note character running feel while the violin brings us next level music and the synths are all over this one with their cavalcade of popping notes, jingles and fun thematic over tones. What better to finish the song off with the familiar noise from a popular game that you have just completed that level, brilliant!
“Bastian’s Happy Flight“, the final track on the album is a heartwarming and ecstatic final track on the record as it’s the epic journey piece of music that has every member going full out and no stops here as they run, jump, fly, laugh musically all the way from start to finish. Brisk synths and elated violin passages kick it off with some thunderous drumming that is vigorous and tightly formed along with short bursts and nimble bass lines that has you leaping over streams as the song boisterously pursues the day. Another delightful presentation of how music can be everything you want it to be emotionally and vibrant as this track clearly represents the virtuosity and detailed musicianship of all four maestros combined together to complete this journey welcomming us to their unique wall of sound.
Armonite has brought us their unique blending of Prog here in an instrumental format that makes you sit up and want to go Go GO! It’s bright and cheerful melodies are addictive and catchy as you can’t help but want to get up and dance, abounding your day as well as your mind because you can hear all the intricacies throughout their music, the careful details and nuances in every track giving us many facets of the world of Prog. Your memory serves you well when you hear the familiar noises and effects held within the passages of certain songs and others make you reminisce on life, love and your joy for the genre of the world that is Prog rock. Their music is not heavy in the harder edge traditional sense of the word but heavy that you think a lot about things it reminds you of films and television soundtracks at times and other bands you enjoy in other facets of their music. A big admiration for their style and approach because it’s non-vocal and to get your point across without a singer can be difficult at times and easy others but either way their music has a unique branding on its own and with looking to the future for more albums from Armonite, they will be gladly accepted to our ears. Enjoy.