October 17, 2023

It’s a long time since such a brilliant prog track as Azazel has come out of Italy. Maybe not since the 1970s!

Sardinia is famed for its splendid beaches lapped by crystal clear water, and the wild and dry hills and mountains of the interior. It’s a large island but sparely populated with barely 1.5 million people who are outnumbered two to one by sheep. It’s not famous for its rock music, and if you’re aware of a global Sardinian rock star then please let me know who it is. So, very much a musical backwater, but here to change those perceptions are Capside, a group of five Sardinian natives that have produced this excellent album.

Capside declare that their style is ‘symphonic progressive rock with pop/jazz nuances’, which it must be said is a pretty accurate description, although the ‘symphonic’ word might mislead you into thinking they produce Yes-like epics. The symphonic element is more about extensive use of keyboards and strange time signatures, but Capside also maintain the Italian attachment to a strong melodic line, and hence the pop nuances. The jazz undercurrent is easy to pick out too although it never explodes into full-blown fusion. 

The six-minute Dea is one of the highlights of the album and the most overtly prog track. It begins with a stirring guitar version of what will be the main melody, and cleverly closes with a gentle piano version of the same melody. But it’s the electrifying middle part of the song that really makes it stand out. Here the band race breathlessly through a fast prog rock section, sometimes marked with almost progressive metal riffing. Vocals are from the one female member of the band, Valentina Casu. Her voice has a pleasant and sometimes sultry tone that is well-suited to the more pop-orientated material but maybe lacking a little bit of grit in the heavier segments such as that middle-section of Dea. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating (and rare) cocktail to hear a female Italian voice accompanying this type of progressive rock music.  

At the other end of the scale is the simple and acoustic A Mio Figlio, a gentle ballad that describes the fear of accompanying a child into adulthood. Casu’s soulful voice really shines here, and her dark timbre fits the melancholy mood of the piece, while Martino Faedda’s sensitive acoustic guitar work is also delightful. Faedda goes up through the gears elsewhere on the album – there are a handful of excellent guitar solos, the most striking being the one in Termiti (a fine upbeat boogie, driven along by Manolo Ciuti’s bass). It’s in Ladyesis Pt 2 that Faedda really gets to spread his wings though. It’s an instrumental dominated by Faedda’s electric guitar improvisations, although there’s time for a nice Moog solo from Giovanni Casada too. Part one of the title track opens the album and is one of the more straight forward melodic pop songs but even here there’s a wild burst of piano playing in honkytonk style in the middle. In many ways, it’s these types of unexpected moments that keep cropping up that makes this such an enjoyable album to listen to.  

The album closes with Azazel, and it’s the standout cut to these ears. Emerging out of an uncertain beginning, the guitar fingers the main theme which then comes in on heavy guitar and organ chords. A lovely arpeggio guitar phrase sometimes breaks in and the slow-paced and lugubrious nature of the music means that we’re almost into doom metal territory.  The pace accelerates though for the frenzied middle section that concludes with a thrilling guitar solo over a piano backdrop before returning almost seamlessly to the opening material. It’s a long time since such a brilliant prog track as Azazel has come out of Italy. Maybe not since the 1970s!

Ladyesis is an enjoyable blend of progressive rock with jazz and Italian pop influences. It’s a tad on the short side (35 minutes) and English-only speakers might also find it frustrating that Casu sings only in Italian. Nevertheless, it’s musically an enjoyable listen – a must for prog fans in Italy, and worth checking out by those further afield.