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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso

Banco del Mutuo Soccorso

Review by Julie Knispel

Banco is an essential band - full stop. If you like ELP, you will likely love Banco. If you like Yes, you will likely love Banco. Their music is grandiose in a way that only an Italian band could be, with heady classical textures dueling with equal parts jazz and rock. Banco synthesized elements of the nascent English progressive scene (bands like Genesis and VdGG were huge in Italy long before developing success in their home country), and added in a continental flair and elements of classical arrangements to create a sound that is memorable and unique. There is a reason Banco and PFM were signed to ELP’s Manticore Records...they are two of the most important Italian prog bands from the classic era. It’s too bad they were somewhat forced to re-record material in English for those albums, as their Italian material is head and shoulders above the reworkings. Banco’s first three albums (Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, Darwin! and Il Sono Nato Libero) are must owns. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso is an amazing album, made all the more amazing by the fact that this was a debut release. It seems nearly impossible to follow up...yet Banco did, not once, but twice in the next 12 months.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at

Track by Track Review
In volo
Banco del Mutuo Soccorso opens deceptively, with what can be best described as a spacey soundscape on analogue keyboards. The composition then takes on a medieval feel with spoken Italian vocals and flute-like keyboard tones. A touch of mellotron fleshes out the mix on this brief introductory piece, which fades on a keyboard/choral flourish before the next track bursts from the silence.
R.I.P. (Requiescant In Pace)
This is an incredibly upbeat track with emotional, almost operatic vocals. Francesco Di Giacomo rates with Jimmy Spitaleri (Metamorfosi lead singer) as one of the most impressive male voices in all of progressive music...having said this, you will either love his vocals or hate them, as they are entirely different from anything you may have ever heard in prog. Aggressive guitar and a variety of different keyboard textures dominate this piece. I dare you to be unmoved by the slow ballad section starting around 4:30, with piano, flute, and one of the most amazing vocal performances committed to a rock album ever.
Here we have a brief aperitif aurally, with some harpsichord and studio sounds (walking, some slightly heard dialogue). Di Giacomo’s vocals here are restrained and sing-songy, suiting this short breather of a piece.
Intense guitar and ornate organ open this piece. One might find a bit of comparison to Genesis’ “The Knife” in the beginning before the song breaks down with a wonderful piano section reminiscent of Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman (without the latter’s penchant for flurries of hundreds of notes). This shifts to layers of organ (one playing deep, throbbing bass notes, the other more of a lead tone) and gliss guitar. The band’s penchant for classical construction and jazz textures are so evident here. There's loads of dynamics...quiet organ interludes burst violently into full band playing at rock intensity, pulling back to a simmering jazz groove while Marcello Todaro rips out overdriven, distorted chords and melodic lines. By the time vocals come into play at 8:30, the song has moved to a slower mid-tempo beat, with elegiac organ, deft piano runs, and Trower-esque guitar.
Il giardino del mago
The album’s second epic (18:26) opens with quiet, ominous organ while occasional cymbal strikes and snare rolls add tension through disruption. The rhythm section builds slowly, and Renato D'Angelo adds little bursts of trebly bass. Multi-tracked vocalese (wordless singing...often seen in jazz as scat singing, but an excellent prog example would be Annie Haslam’s vocalese on “Prologue”) evolves to another emotive, near operatic display, while the multiple keyboard parts remain ominous and somber. The song goes through a plethora of changes, demonstrating the band’s excellent command of dynamics and intricate arrangements as we smoothly switch from sorrow-filled mid-tempo sections to quickly paced piano-driven rock on a dime. “Il giardino del mago” goes through more changes in just over 18 minutes than most full length albums, and the highest compliment I can pay this track is that it is an epic that doesn’t wear out its welcome.
Here is the essence of Banco, distilled in one 2-minute track. Intensely upbeat, serving a similar purpose to Le Orme’s “Ritorno al Nulla,” the track is relentless, with choppy guitar, intense piano, a driving beat, and choral vocals, leading to a massive full band chord and then...silence. No fade here, the music ends, leaving a silent vacuum for the listener to catch their breath...perhaps to play the album over again?
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