Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso were one of the most important Italian progressive rock outfits of the early 70’s, due in no small part to the fact that they were signed to ELP’s Manticore label from 1975 onwards, which meant that their albums got a much wider distribution than would have otherwise been possible. Consequently UK and US audiences would have been more aware of the band than of many of their countrymates. After that build-up it is therefore ironic that none of these albums appeared on Manticore, but were issued both before and after that period of their career. The first of these, ‘Darwin!’, came out in 1972 on the Italian Ricordi label, and is a concept album dealing with the development of mankind through the ages. With the track titles and lyrics being in Italian I cannot really tell you much about the lyrical content of the album, but must let the music speak for itself, and in this respect the album stands up as some of the best work from the band. Opener ‘L’evoluzione’ is built on classic prog stylings, with heavy guitar alternating with lighter moments from the two keyboard players, tempo changes throughout the song, and unusual instruments suddenly making appearances, like the alto sax halfway through. It’s thirteen minutes seem to pass in a flash, and the slightly shorter ‘La Conquista Della Posizione Eretta’ carries on with some more excellent heavy guitar battling with swathes of synth and delicate piano figures. The next five tracks are all of a more traditional length, and so ‘Danza Dei Grandi Rettili’ is an instrumental which combines jazzy guitar and piano with prog synth chords, and ‘Cento Mani E Cento Occhi’ is a storming ELP influenced synth-driven hard rocker. ‘750,000 Anni Fa…L’amore’ starts off as a piano-led ballad, but soon evolves with the appearance of the synths, before drifting back into balladry to close. ‘Miserere Alla Storia’ is a tour de force of keyboards – piano, organ and synth are all used to great effect on this up-tempo instrumental. The album ends with a short song which is more rock than prog, but still does not detract from the album as a whole. Despite not understanding a word of this, I can appreciate that it is a superb piece of work, and as it is generally regarded as the best thing that the band produced then this is where you should start if you want to sample the band.