Italian progressive symphonic rock band Syndone has matured into one of the finest acts in the European scene. The band’s style is a mix of symphonic rock and jazz-rock fusion that revolves around the sounds of multiple electronic keyboards, sometimes exquisitely distorted; the mesmerizing vibraphone; glorious chamber music strings; and charismatic, theatrical vocals.
The concept album Mysoginia (Misogyny) is Syndone’s seventh album. Vocalist and lyricist Riccardo Ruggeri describes the spirit of the album: “It emerges from its very single word, from people’s reactions, through certain looks, from a grimace. Humanity and its fight against female sex. Misogyny – of men and women – against those who can damage the power, against those who can give life but aren’t able to give love. A crime destined to go on for centuries, in which we are all immersed and accomplices. A story we must not forget, to respect all the victims and all the heroines. A tribute to those women who have suffered violence in our blind, bully and ignorant society. From Caterina de Medici to Ipazia… Look at yourself in the mirror, you cowardly man! You woman daughter of a cold mother! And rip out this evil from your heart!”
The current lineup includes composer Nik Comoglio on keyboards; Riccardo Ruggeri on vocals and acoustic guitar; Maurino Dellacqua on bass and Taurus bass; Marta Caldara on vibraphone and keyboards; Gigi Rivetti on keyboards; and Martino Malacrida on drums.
Progressive Rock Central talks with Italian composer and keyboard master Nik Comoglio, founder of Syndone, one of Europe’s finest progressive rock bands.
AR – What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
NC – The most important thing is the interaction between rock and classic. Syndone has always tried to merge this two components of music as best as it can, so that a real “Symphonic Rock Sound” could born. By my experience I’ve noticed that people likes more when this two genres are well defined in the album. So when there is “classical” it should be “very clean”; when there is “rock” it should be much dirty. This formula works better than a studied melt like we did in “La Bella è la Bestia”.
Then the other important element goes through the composition and the orchestration. Syndone is trying to rejuvenate and improve the progressive style using a clear defined musical score in which the “obbligato parts” are strictly the base for the whole sound. I think that, in Eros & Thanatos, the orchestra has been very important to drive our music towards a real symphonic rock album.
Last thing: the vintage keyboards! The sound of the old synthesizers recorded with new microphones and new recording techniques have helped us to create and define a huge new sound even without electric guitar.
AR – Who can you cite as your main musical influences?
NC – My musical influences come mainly from Jazz and Classical music. When I was a kid I always listened to my father’s old jazz LPs… then I progressed to the classical and the contemporary music discovering Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Ravel, Webern, Berg, Berio and so on; from there I moved towards progressive and rock music. Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Gentle Giant, PFM, ELP, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Queen… I grew up with them! They opened my mind to the melodic texture while jazz and classical drove me to learn the harmony and the unconventional music signatures.
AR – Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.
NC – We must go back to 1989. We were in the middle of the “New Prog” revival. I had a phone call from Beppe Crovella of Arti & Mestieri who asked me if I had some progressive material to recording. After a brief meeting with him I put together some ideas which were good at that time. Then a band was needed so I asked for a drummer and a bass man in order to form a “live trio line up”. We went to Electromantic Studio and in around a week (after a quick rehearsal) we made the album “Spleen” (1990). After two years in 1992 we recorded “Inca” always released by Electromantic.
After “Inca” we disbanded for some personal reasons as it happens in the most of the split groups but, first of all, for several problems and big arguments connected with the production of that period.
My music evolution began as an autodidact when I was fifteen; then, years later, I progressed studying piano and composition with Maestro Azio Corghi. I loved to analyze Bach and Mozart’s masterpieces scores and the opera of the most composers of early 1900s as well. My first gig was at the age of seventeen in a rock cover band.
AR – Your most recent albums are all concept albums. How do you come up with these ideas?
NC – It’s Rik’s [Riccardo Ruggeri] job mainly… He creates the lyrics and the album’s concept theme. I generally give him the rough basic line of a tune (in midi files) during the preproduction, letting the music inspires him to a new song or an idea of a new song. So that’s it! He always writes the lyrics very close to the impressions that my music evokes in me; this is the way we’ve been working together from Melapesante… we never changed because it works!
AR – In my opinion, Italy has one of the finest and most original progressive rock scenes in the world. Why do you think Italy produces so many first-class artists?
That’s true! Italy have had a lot of great progressive bands, especially in the “age d’or” (around the mid of ‘70ies) in which to be a progster meant to be an innovator, to be among the vanguard. Anyway, in Italy there has always been a big classical musical background among musicians (especially inherent to melody) coming naturally from the opera, from melodrama and from popular music. I think that this ancient kind of melodic music have influenced through the years the most part of Italian musicians who late have dedicated themselves to jazz, pop and progressive music.
AR – What keyboards and other instruments do you use?
NC – I generally use vintage keyboards: Roland Juno 60, 106, Jx8P; Wurlitzer and Rhodes electric pianos; Hohner Clavinet D6; Hammond A100/M102; Minimoog model D (or the new Voyager); Oberheim Matrix 1000; and in last album (Eros & Thanatos) a new Dave Smith Prophet 8. I like the huge sound!
AR – And what effects do you use?
NC – I never let the sound of my keyboards clean. Generally I love make my sound and “to dirty” it with effects like phasers, distortion and fuzz pedals. Even the amplifiers are important for the final sound… I have an old Marshall JCM 800 combo and a vintage Fender Twin.
AR – If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
NC – Speaking for myself, more than a band to work with I would prefer a single artist to work with and to create something new… I always would love to work with David Byrne of the Talking Heads.
AR – Do you have any upcoming projects to share with us?
NC – Not for the moment… we just came out with a new album (that’s Eros & Thanatos) which took two years of work. Now we are looking to the promo gigs.
Syndone – Eros & Thanatos (Fading Records/AltrOck Productions FAD-021, 2016)
Italian progressive symphonic rock band Syndone has been releasing consistently great albums. Their latest, Eros & Thanatos is a concept album about love and death.
Syndone’s sound continues to be characterized by the use of various types of keyboards, vibraphone, counterpoints, off time signatures, delightful Italian classical musical influences, and the intensely dramatic vocals of singer-songwriter Riccardo Ruggeri.
Keyboard maestro and composer Nik Comoglio uses pipe organ, distorted electronic keyboards, and masterful orchestrations, including magnificent mellotron. The band includes two additional keyboardists: Marta Caldara on mellotron and Gigi Rivetti on piano and electronic keyboards.
In addition to the classic progressive rock instrumentation, the sound on Eros & Thanatos is enriched by the use of a classical string ensemble, the Puntorec String Orchestra.
Two high profile guests appear on the album. Progressive rock legend Steve Hackett (Genesis) plays a knockout electric guitar solo on the epic last song, “Sotto un cielo di fuoco.” The other guest is Ray Thomas (Moody Blues) who plays flute on “L’urlo nelle ossa.”
The lineup on Eros & Thanatos includes Nick Comoglio on keyboards, pipe organ and orchestration; Riccardo Ruggeri on lead and backing vocals, vocoder, 12 string acoustic guitar; Marta Caldara on vibraphone, piano and mellotrón; Gigi Rivetti on piano and keyboards; Maurino Dellacqua on bass and Taurus bass; and Martino Malacrida on drums and percussion.
Special Guests: Steve Hackett (Genesis) on electric guitar and Ray Thomas (The Moody Blues) on flute.
Additional musicians: Tony De Gruttola on acoustic guitars and Pino Russo on classical guitar and oud.
Puntorec String Orchestra conducted by Fabio Gurian.
Eros & Thanatos is yet another beautifully-crafted masterwork by Italian progressive rock band Syndone.
Italy is experiencing an impressive progressive rock Renaissance, a new golden age, with some of the finest artists in the current international scene. Syndone is one of the gems in the new batch of rock progresivo italiano.
Odysseas, the group’s latest album was released at the end of 2014. Even though you can listen to influences from ELP, Banco, and National Health, Syndone has evolved into a fabulous original band featuring spectacular keyboard work by composer and keyboardist Nik Comoglio and Gigi Rivetti, along with the equally outstanding vibraphone by Marta Caldara. The combination of lots of keyboards (with plenty of distortion), the multifaceted vocals and vibraphone make an exquisite mix.
The current lineup features Riccardo Ruggeri on vocals and acoustic guitar; Martino Malacrida on drums; Maurino Dellacqua on bass, Taurus bass; Marta Caldara on vibraphone, keyboards; Gigi Rivetti on piano, moog synthesizer; and Nik Comoglio on Hammond organ, piano, and other keyboards.
Musically, this is symphonic progressive rock at its best with jazz-rock fusion segments and an occasional incursion into world music (one of the pieces has a strong Middle Eastern flavor). Odysseas is a tribute to Homer’s Odyssey where the concept of travel is seen as the goal of the human being, always tended to look to the future: “the true travel is not to discover new landscapes but in having new eyes.” (Marcel Proust)
Syndone combines exquisite piano and vocal passages with scorching electric organ and fascinating synthesizer melodies. The drum work is also attention-grabbing. There is a good reason for that. One of the guests is masterful drummer Marco Minnemann. The other high profile guest is flutist John Hackett, Steve Hackett’s brother.
Syndone was founded in late 1989 by Nik Comoglio to form an ELP style trio. “We wanted a name that would evoke all together sacredness, Turin, spirituality and scored grooves (like an old vinyl LP) so I thought of Syndone, with the “Y” to distinguish it from the famous relic and make it International at the same time, without being blasphemous. This name in fact immediately evokes Turin in any part of the world… and I liked this!” says Nik. [Sindone is the Italian name for the Shroud of Turin]
After two recordings, “Spleen” (1991) and “Inca” (1993), the group disbanded. Eighteen years later, Syndone returned as a sextet with a new line up. Syndone doesn’t use electric guitar as a choice. All distortion sounds are generated by keyboards.
In 2010 Syndone released a new album titled “Melapesante” (Fading Records), a concept album based on the idea of the apple fruit and its meaning in history.
In 2012 Syndone released the splendid “La Bella è la Bestia” (BTF) in which the band invited the great Ray Thomas, flutist and co-founder of the Moody Blues, as special guest in an audio track on the album.
Odysseas is an immediate classic, a masterpiece that sets the standard for state of the art symphonic progressive rock.