Il Balletto di Bronzo - Ys. 1972 Italy

Going into 1988, I knew very little about Italian progressive rock. Nothing more than English language releases by “PFM” and “Banco”, and not having any idea those appellations were abbreviated. Even though I had become well versed in Krautrock, French underground electronic, Dutch, and even some Scandinavian prog - in addition to the usual English (and neo prog) suspects - Italy had just evaded me at that time. I had seen some of the country’s albums for sale in Goldmine, but had no idea what they were – beyond “progressive rock”.

In January of that landmark year, I had just graduated from college with my engineering degree and was… unemployed. Naturally the stock market had to crash in late 1987, and “entry level” job opportunities were very slim. Leave it to Ashratom to pick the perfect time to graduate. In any case, I still had a few dollars left over from summer jobs past, and with nothing else better to do (other than the odd interview) – I went off to seek out records. Of course I did. In one store I received a tip that up in Denton (about 40 minutes north of where I lived) they had some “real cool looking Euro stuff”. Zooming out of the store like a cartoon, I raced up there to spend the remainder of the day. I had brought very little cash with me, but fortunately most of the items were in the $3 and $4 range (some good stuff too). By the end of the day I was exhausted at looking at mostly common crap, when I got to the Y’s. And there a spine looked at me (yes, making it that much more difficult – everything was stocked like a collection). Il Balletto di Bronzo it said. Hmm… must be misplaced. I pulled it out. I felt like an archeologist who just spent a day on a dig, and I had just unearthed some unknown treasure. There was a problem though. This one was $8. EIGHT BUCKS? Oh shoot, if I bought this, I wouldn’t be able to eat, and I was starving to death at this point. And who are these crazy guys in the nutty getups, with this libretto booklet in Italian. It probably blows, and is some lame classic pop album. I’d been burned already plenty of times in the past in my collecting career. I stood there like a dummy for 15 minutes debating this (hard to imagine this today, eh?). In the end I did the logical thing and decided to… buy the album! I still don’t know what compelled me to do this. It was like a magnet.

I arrived home later that night, and fortunately mom had some leftovers so I wouldn’t keel over and die. After dinner, I beelined to my room, and plopped Ys on the turntable, dreading that my decision was a total bonehead move.

Whoa. What’s this? Very haunting voices. Maybe it’s an experimental record then. That’s OK too I guess. Well hey that organ and synthesizer sure do sound nice - and those vocals in Italian. Those vocals! Maybe this is something? And then, synthesizers go awry, and out blasts this acidic guitar and staccato drum rolls. I about passed out. This is what I’ve been seeking! And at the 6 minute mark, the rhythm section goes completely cockeyed with the Hammond and piano going nuts, with an added on frantic psychedelic guitar solo – followed by this most luscious mellotron and mournful vocals - which by then you practically had to wheel me out of the room. At that moment, I felt like I’d heard the perfect album.

It must be said that Ys definitely front loads the gadgetry, but the rest of the album is no slouch. It’s much more atmospheric, and heavy, almost doom metalish. The album is so thick and foreboding, but not without many moments of kinetic pacing. Imagine an early 70s Candlemass fronting Tarkus-era ELP, while singing in Italian at the fun house carnival, with Hammond, Moog, and Mellotron in the lead. Yea. You’ll see a lot of guys call this one “overrated”. And I attest that to the fact it really isn’t the romantic and classical Italian prog rock of PFM, Banco, Le Orme, Osanna, and the like. It’s something entirely different. Perhaps the bridge to Biglietto per L’Inferno and Raccomandata Ricevuta Ritorno – other completely insane Italian progressive rock albums that have a darker edge to them. For me, it’s a Gnosis 15 (the top tier of RYM 5 star releases) and it will likely always be a Top 15 to 20 album. Perhaps the backstory plays a role in that – but I think if most people are honest, it usually does in one’s personal subjective assessment of favorite music.

But back to January 1988, I still didn’t truly understand what I had – never heard of the band/album nor knew anyone who did. I had to call a couple of record dealers, who finally confirmed what it was, and what it was a part of – namely Italian progressive rock of the early 70s. And it was rare. As luck would have it, another obscure Dallas store had some unsold (re)sealed Italian prog albums, and I bought every one of them (they were all under $10) – while still unemployed mind you. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing, but I was possessed. And it all started with Il Balletto di Bronzo.

Personal collection
LP: 1972 Polydor
CD: 2001 Polydor (Japan)

I still own the exact album that I found that day. It was (and is) in mint condition. Amazing really. In addition to being a launching pad for my discovery of Italian progressive rock, Ys is also responsible for me getting into Japanese mini-LP’s. Initially I resisted the idea, since I already had many of them in jewel cases. But I was offered Ys for cheap in 2002, and after obtaining it, I was hooked. A decision I do not regret, despite enduring tiresome arguments to the contrary, and I love my mini-LP collection too!

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