In Spe, Fermata, Anders Helmersson, Il Baricentro, Libra…the list of bands I first heard thanks to CD reissues just grows. Labels who bring us now-classic recordings include Mellow Records, Syn-Phonic, Vinyl Magic, Cinevox Records (responsible for remastering Goblin's entire catalog), and, of course, Musea. Resurrecting long out-of-print vinyl releases onto compact disc not only arouses interest in bands which have lingered in inactivity for decades, but the bands themselves are afforded a much handier promotional tool in the World Wide Web—gone are the days of postcards and folded, stapled newsletters. With the immediacy and versatility of the WWW, news & reviews concerning any band are keystrokes away. I'm an old-fashioned guy, myself, I like reclining and flipping pages back and forth, but this is just the sign o' the times, and it obviously helps CD sales. The irony here is that Tantra's web site has been up for some time, presumably, but I found out about the reissue of Holocausto thanks to Exposé, my favorite prog and new music-oriented publication. My point is that when it comes to the progressive/retrogressive underground, the Web and good ol' printed matter still have a collaborative role in the grand scheme of things.
Tantra's web site provides a concise band history and details guitarist and founding member Manuel Cardoso's meeting with Musea president Bernard Gueffier in the mid-90s. That meeting would lead to reissues of the band's first two studio albums from 1978 and 1979--Mistérios E Maravilhas and Holocausto, respectively; publication of the band's very first concert from 1976, Live Ritual; and a new recording called Terra. Their third, 1981's Humanoid Flesh, remains in limbo.
Holocausto would've made more waves in the annals of European symph-prog if it had been released five years earlier; it's the best 70s Italian symphonic-progressive album never recorded in Italy. The band actually hails from Portugal, not a large country, and not one known for pumping out a great deal of prog—only José Cid and Forgotten Suns come to mind. So forgive vocalist Tony Moura's goofy mask, he's credited as a guest (and the singer in the band pix for Humanoid Flesh wears a different full-head mask, which resembles a Conehead). Don't let the word "mask" scare you—the music doesn't ape Gabriel-era Genesis, even if Cardoso's exquisite guitar-playing deftly evokes Steve Hackett's. Americo Luis' bass guitar possesses the same nice chunky tone Fabio Pignatelli conjures on Goblin's Roller. To-Zé Almeida's drumming could be described as Barriemore Barlow-meets-Alan White. Finally, the gleam in this jewel is keyboardist Pedro Luis (no relation to Americo), who replaces MeM's Armando Gama. Pedro brings "the right stuff" to the table with his Polymoog, Minimoog, Fender Rhodes, Mellotron, Hohner Clavinet D6, and ARP 2600 (not credited in the liner notes). Oh, he plays acoustic piano, too, we can't forget that.
"Om" opens the album with two minutes' worth of savory, spacey synth textures. A superb full-band section follows, with vocals briefly materializing three minutes in. The track experiences an abrupt shift at close to four minutes, bringing the uppity cadence to a complete halt. Juicy filter sweeps and somber piano carry the track for a bit before the other instruments gradually reenter the mix. Moura's vocals prove to be rather good, and he quickly makes up for his limited range . With less than a minute to go, Pedro fires off a volley of notes from his Moog units, Rhodes and Clavinet. This is characteristic of the entire album; Luis' role is a prominent one, and it's no surprise Cardoso, Americo and To-Zé wanted him. In fact, they waited for Pedro to finish touring with his own jazz-rock group so he could join the album-in-progress.
A cacophonic swell, punchy Moog bass, and Mellotron choir (courtesy of guest Pedro Mestre, who also appears on "II") kick off "Holocausto/Ultimo Raio Do Astro Rei." Moura begins to sing in a vaguely Zeuhlish fashion, but he doesn't hold it for long before reverting to some reasonably pleasant crooning. Pedro uses his Clavinet's distinctive attack to great effect for rhythm & soloing. "Zephyrus" is a wonderfully Goblinesque piece that would sound right at home in one of Dario Argento's "giallo" films – the wicked-sounding, wordless whispered vocals were no doubt inspired by the title track to Suspiria! This little homage is one of the album's best moments. Cardoso plays sitar on this, too.
My favorite piece may be "Talisma"; the intro reminds me of Libra, another Italian group who, like Goblin, recorded horror film soundtracks. At 1:50 we're treated to some nice Moog soloing reminiscent of Jurgen Fritz. The middle of this track even sounds a tad fusiony, but the bands charges feet-first back into the symph mold on the extended outro. Tony Moura lands the album's best vocal melody on "Ara," surprisingly! "Ped" is never far behind, spicing up the brew with a thick Moog bass sound growling in the background, and a dense analog lead. One of Holocausto's best qualities isn't just its cool, fairly murky 70s production, but the fact that the players don't get in each other's way. Alright, Pedro Luis' keyboards definitely overpower Manuel's guitar, but when you hear the former's exquisite Minimoog solo in "II" (or is it "JI"?), the album closer, you won't be able to help yourself. It's also the closest Tantra gets to progfusion. I won't spoil all of the fun for you, though. Just listen for yourself.