The Alternate Universe of Italian Prog

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The party line among rock historians is that ’70s progressive rock was a uniquely British phenomenon, with minor prog annexes popping up in America and elsewhere. While it’s true that prog found its footing in England, the idea that it was the music’s only—or even main—stronghold is a patent falsehood.

While there were active prog scenes all across Europe in Germany, Sweden, France, and other regions, Italy became as much of a hotbed for it as England, if not more so. As in the UK, Italian prog grew out of psychedelia, with fuzzy guitars and organ solos giving way to swooping synths and complex suites. But Italian prog had a distinct sonic fingerprint that set it apart from its British cousin.

Aside from the obvious fact that most of the lyrics were in Italian, the country’s prog bands—with some important exceptions—tended toward a lush, symphonic sound that embraced classical influences and eschewed the blues modalities that popped up in the music of their British counterparts. The influence of Italian folk was also crucial, making for a more pastoral feel than commonly found in British prog.

The big stars of Italian prog—the handful of bands who ever performed or had records released outside of their homeland—included Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM for short), Banco, and Le Orme (pictured at top). But at various strata beneath that tiny top tier were countless other bands who were as equally inventive. Though the likes of Biglietto Per L’Inferno, Metamorfosi, and Celeste didn’t gain much attention in other countries, they’re a vital part of Italy’s proud prog legacy. The presence of contemporary bands like La Maschera Di Cera and Nuova Era, who are overtly influenced by their forebears, attests to the staying power of this singular sound.