From Trieste in Italy, Proteo formed in 1996 as a mainstream rock act but soon moved into more progressive areas. After recording three demos their first album, Under A Red Polar Light, appeared in 2009. Republikflucht! …facing east arrived in 2013 so this review is certainly a little late but it is definitely a release worth pointing out.
With Republikflucht! …facing east Proteo have made a stylistic leap into more complex areas whilst retaining the accessible face of their previous work, but is the world ready for a concept album about the fall of East Germany and the Soviet Union?
Well, if it is delivered with this level of skill and panache then undoubtedly yes, and despite the potentially dour subject matter Proteo have successfully injected an enthusiastic joie de vivre into the music to make it both uplifting and compelling. The concept revolves around the segregation of Berlin and the influence of Soviet Russia on its people. As the sleeve notes, “the happiest day of a trip is the day of coming back. We dedicate these songs of hope to the people who suffered in the Cold War era”.
When the Berlin Wall finally fell in November 1989 freedom returned to the people of the East but it was a turning point for the whole of Europe, the effects of which can still be felt today. Constitutionalised by the government of the Deutsch Democratic Republic (DDR), ‘Republikflucht’ was the offence committed by those who tried to escape to the West and the album describes life in East Berlin and the Eastern Block during the Cold War in social, political and cultural terms, Proteo using their music to convey and reinforce the ideas of freedom.
After a lengthy and effect laden intro, Echoes Mankind (Part II) breaks out in a mix of ’80s Rush, Saga and New-Wave. Marco Paulica’s vocals are nicely delivered (in English) and the track well structured with tasteful guitar passages from Matteo Copetti. There’s an urgency about it, the piece being the result of reading Ryszard Kapuściński’s book Imperium which tells of the military grandeur and contradictions of the Soviet Union and how it affected those caught up in it, the song taking into account that the DDR itself was only a peripheral part of the Soviet Union.
The guitar takes a step into jazz fusion for Berlin, built on a musical theme that develops several times, which is based on the satire aimed at DDR leader Erich Honecker during the ’80s by opponents of the regime, the lyrics emphasising the climate of suspicion and control that oppressed the daily life of Berliners. The second part describes the grey surroundings and pomposity as seen through the eyes of outsiders who visited the city immediately after the wall fell, Berlin as a museum of modern art in which the people are trapped. Throughout the album the lyrics are both well observed and well written.
The playing is smooth and accomplished and the album well put together, taking its storyline as the backdrop upon which the band hang their perfectly weighted instrumental contributions. There is energy and ingenuity, the result being a highly listenable album even if you don’t fancy getting immersed in the concept.
The melodious and jazz inflected Eastern Fields is another lengthy piece that emerged from an instrumental embryo that was originally composed for the first album. The song is based on the vivid accounts of Tiziano Terzani and his travels from the Far East to Moscow through Asia and the immense Russian provinces after the fall of the Soviet Union. The final part features an excerpt from a speech where Ronald Reagan recites a poem by Domingo Ortega, using a bullfighting analogy to respond to critics of US policy and to highlight the country’s role (as bullfighter) in the war between the liberal West and communist East (the bull) – “The bullfight critics ranked in rows, filled the enormous plaza full; but only one is there, who really knows, and he’s the one who fights the bull”.
The shortest piece, Funny Girls Playing Double Dutch is upbeat with an easy listening vibe from the ukulele. A change to the feel of the rest of the album, it is very catchy and one of the first songs composed by Proteo after they came together. With some minor revisions to the arrangement and new words to fit the concept it forms a light-hearted oasis. The guitar of Copetti is again noteworthy.
There is almost a Celtic feel to Four-Leaf Clover, a song which tells the story of Peter Fechter, an early victim of The Wall who lost his life trying to escape from East Berlin. He carried a four-leaf clover pendant given to him by a girl who lived in the West and became a symbol for those who suffered the same fate after him. It’s another dynamic song of changing moods and driving instrumental sections, the guitar in the second part having an acoustic Steve Howe edge that works well with the keys, opening up towards the end where the band really fly.
The closing track, Republicflucht, is an ode to freedom from oppression of every kind, a celebration of the only “perfect” revolution that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall being accomplished without the shedding of blood. There is an epic feel and the lengthy guitar solo builds slowly to a classic prog crescendo which, fittingly, culminates in a homage to the old anthem of the DDR, Auferstanden aus Ruinen.
With prog dynamics and a jazz inflected funkiness, the performances throughout the album are excellent and the pieces put together with real passion and a sense of style. Republikflucht! …facing east is a particularly varied listen with a sincere message that has been delivered with real skill. Well worth checking out.
01. Echoes Mankind (Part II) (9:20)
02. Berlin (12:55)
03. Eastern Fields (11:52)
04. Funny Girls Playing Double Dutch (3:04)
05. Four-Leaf Clover (10:37)
06. Republicflucht (10:54)
Total time – 58:42
Marco Paulica – Vocals, Keyboards, Programming
Matteo Copetti – Guitars, Keyboards
Fabio Gorza – Drums, Percussion
Alessandro Surian – Bass
Diego Pernich – Ukelele (on Funny Girls Playing Double Dutch)
Record Label: Ma.Ra.Cash Records
Country of Origin: Italy
Year Of Release: 2013