Hailing from the beautiful central Italian region of Umbria, Ornithos (Greek for “bird”) features three members of Il Bacio della Medusa, one of the most interesting Italian progressive rock bands of the past few years. However, Ornithos predates Il Bacio della Medusa by a few years, and was originally created by multi-instrumentalist Diego Petrini and bassist Federico Caprai in 1999. The two musicians were joined by Eva Morelli in 2007, and subsequently by the three remaining members, vocalist Maria Giulia Carnevalini and guitarists Antonello De Cesare and Simone Morelli La Trasfigurazione, their debut album, was completed in 2011 but released in the early months of 2012. The cover artwork by Federico Caprai features the band’s symbol, the ibis, which is a reference not only to their name, but also to Thoth, the Egyptian god of knowledge, music and time.
For a debut album, La Trasfigurazione is a very ambitious endeavour, bearing witness to the many years of work and dedication behind it. With 13 relatively short tracks arranged in three chapters, it is a concept that hinges on a man’s spiritual journey through the past, the present and the future. True to the Italian progressive tradition, it is also boasts dramatic flair, gorgeous yet occasionally intense melodies, and plenty of variety to keep the listener on their toes. However, unlike many albums that share similar features, the concept is mainly conveyed through music rather than singing. Indeed, the majority of the tracks are instrumental, showcasing the amazing technical skill of the individual members, as well as very tight band dynamics and a remarkable ability in developing a narration without the use of too many words.
Eclecticism is the name of the game on La Trasfigurazione, an album that honours the golden age of Italian prog while at the same time searching for new avenues of expression. The lush symphonic apparatus of mellotron and other keyboards is beefed up by a twin-guitar approach more typical of classic rock than prog, and the prominent role of Eva Morelli’s saxes lends a sleek, jazzy allure to the sound. While the synergy between flute and guitar, hovering between gentleness and aggression, inevitably evokes Jethro Tull (a big influence on many RPI bands, both old and new), Ornithos’ sound rests on a tightly woven web that relies on the contribution of each instrument, finely detailed yet part of a whole. The vocals, on the other hand, almost take a back seat, although the contrast between Diego Petrini’s low-pitched, almost gloomy delivery (sharply different from the quasi-operatic style favoured by many Italian prog singers) and Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soaring, blues-tinged tones deserves to be further exploited in the band’s future outings.
The sounds of tolling bells and a ticking clock lead into “L’Orologio”, whose brisk, dance-like pace introduces the album, illustrating the band’s modus operandi. The strong hard rock component of Ornithos’ sound emerges at the end, with a driving guitar solo propelled by high-energy drumming and supported by sax and organ. Petrini’s distinctive vocals make their entrance in the low-key “La Persistenza della Memoria”, and lend a somewhat ominous flavour to the first half of “Somatizzando l’Altare di Fuoco”, a cinematic number that blends echoes of Morricone’s iconic spaghetti-western soundtracks with a vintage hard-rock vibe and an unexpected, laid-back jazzy ending. The nostalgic tango of “L’Ipostasi” wraps up the first chapter.
Introduced by the upbeat “Al Torneo”, the second chapter develops in eclectic fashion with the blaring sax – almost in free-jazz mode – of “L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga”; then it takes a more mellow turn in the Canterbury-tinged “Nuvole e Luce”, which introduces Maria Giulia Carnevalini’s soulful voice paralleled by melodic flute – before plunging deep into hard rock territory with the raging Hammond organ of “Ritorno al… (Reprise)”. “Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza”, probably the album’s climactic point, begins in subdued, almost mournful fashion, then soon unfolds into a dramatic, riff-laden jazz-meets-hard-rock workout that brings to mind the likes of Colosseum, Banco and even The Doors. The third chapter opens with the blues-rock suggestions of “Nel Crepuscolo”, while “La Notte” ’s slow-paced, riff-laden heaviness conjures echoes of Black Sabbath, compounded by a wild, distorted guitar solo and aggressive, almost harsh flute. Then the serene textures of “L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno”, with a lovely sax solo that made me think of the airy, jazz-tinged elegance of Delirium’s magnificent comeback album Il Nome del Vento, bring the main body of the album to a close. In fact, while the jazzy “This Is What We Got: The Flute Song” is undoubtedly a beautiful piece of music – showcasing Antonello De Cesare’s guitar skills in a great solo backed by organ and sax – it feels like an afterthought of sorts, especially on account of the English-language lyrics, which detract from the uniquely Italian character of the rest of the album.
As is the case with most Italian progressive rock, La Trasfigurazione can be somewhat of an acquired taste, and definitely not for those who favour a minimalistic approach. Musically speaking, even if the album might command the controversial “retro” tag, there is also a sense of modernity in the band’s omnivorous approach which pushes Ornithos’sound into the 21st century. True, the album occasionally comes across as a tad overambitious when it wants to cram too many ideas into a limited running time of 56 minutes. However, this is a band that possesses talent in spades, and La Trasfigurazione will make a strong impression on lovers of everything RPI – as well as providing a fine complement to Il Bacio della Medusa’s newly released third album, Deus Lo Vult.
Il Trittico del Tempo Che Fu:
1. L’Orologio (5:43)
2. La Persistenza della Memoria (3:11)
3. Somatizzando l’Altare Di Fuoco (7:46)
4. L’Ipostasi (3:19)
Presa di Coscienza del Presente:
5. Al Torneo (3:32)
6. L’Arrivo dell’Orco – Fuga (4:34)
7. Nuvole e Luce (2:23)
8. Ritorno al… (Reprise) (1:47)
9. Salamandra: Regina di Psiche e di Saggezza (7:40)
Quiete e Redenzione del Domani:
10. Nel Crepuscolo (3:49)
11. La Notte (4:05)
12. L’Alba del Nuovo Giorno (6:01)
13. This Is What We Got: The Flute Song (7:31)
* Diego Petrini – drums, organ, piano, mellotron, percussion, vocals
* Eva Morelli – flute, alto, soprano and tenor sax
* Federico Caprai – bass guitar, vocals
* Antonello De Cesare – lead guitar, backing vocals
* Simone Morelli – rhythm guitar
* Maria Giulia Carnevalini – lead and backing vocals