It would be a massive understatement to say Italian artists have produced considerable contributions to Western art and culture over the past few millennia. Titans of classical art like Michelangelo and da Vinci come to mind, along with Italy being the birthplace of opera.
Tons of exciting psychedelic rock bands and artists have also come from Italy and continue to come from the land of Venice, Naples, and Rome. Perhaps the most interesting about Italian Psych Rock is that most musicians from the country have an ear for classical compositions, including famous Italian composers like Puccini, Vivaldi, and Verdi. This is partly why the Progressive Rock scene in Italy was so rich and varied during the ‘70s.
Another fascinating recent musical phenomenon in Italy is Italian occult psychedelia. The subgenre of Psych Rock was coined by a journalist in the Italian music magazine Blow Up in 2012. Thalassa is a festival that has occurred in Rome since 2013 to celebrate the weird Psych subgenre, a form of ‘hauntology,’ or reactivation of Italian collective memory. The genre draws upon Italy’s vast cultural history, including cannibal movies, spaghetti westerns, and supernatural folklore.
Modern Heavy Psych rockers from Italy also pull from foreign sources, such as bands like The Flaming Lips, Kyuss, and America’s Desert and Stoner Rock. But, for the most part, Italy’s Psych Rock and psychedelic music scene remains steeped in the rich tradition of its own country and its storied musical history.
Top Italian Psychedelic Rock Bands
Before I dive in, first a note about the list. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive by any means; it’s merely a sample of some of the best Italian Psych. I decided to mix it up and include bands and artists from past and present, along with some heavier rock acts and others not so heavy.
The list is a primer for Italian psychedelia, so feel free to comment with bands I missed or should be added. Listicles of any sort always draw debate (which is awesome!), so debate the merits of this list if you please!
Years Active: 2016-present
Essential Album: Cosmic Awakening (2022)
Subgenre: Heavy Psych
We’ll start the list with Lord Elephant because, damn, Cosmic Awakening blew me away. Hailing Florence, Italy, Lord Elephant began in 2016 and worked for almost five years on their debut album, which is also their only album so far. It was also released via the heavyweight label Heavy Psych Sounds, based in Rome.
Lord Elephant is one of the heavier psych bands on this list, and Cosmic Awakening offers a massive, epic sound. It combines all the greatest elements of blues, stoner, and heavy psych and packs a hell of a punch. The album was released in July 2022, so Lord Elephant is brand new to the scene. But I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about them.
Years Active: 2010-present
Essential Album: Altri occhi ci guardano (2015)
Subgenre: Italian Occult Psych
Squadra Omega describes itself as a “psych/avant/kraut rock collective devoted to free improvisation, psychedelic jams, and mind blow-ups.” I would emphasize the “mind blow up” part. The band is a music collective from Veneto, Italy, with the main members being Matteo Bordin and Andrea Giotto.
They’re incredibly experimental, drawing from various genres like ambient drone, cinematic, and space rock. Since releasing their self-titled debut in 2010, Squadra Omega has delivered free-jazz and heady music that is, to be honest, pretty damn creepy at times. Which is why it’s great! The band can be loosely associated with the Italian occult psych movement. If you like the experimental music of ambient icons like Brian Eno, you’ll dig Squadra Omega.
Years Active: 2006-present
Essential Album: Cosmic Ritual Supertrip (2020)
Subgenre: Heavy Psych
Heavy Psych and Stoner Rock fans probably don’t need an introduction to Black Rainbows. But we’ll give one anyway. Black Rainbows originates from Roma, Italy, and started initially as a group of three buddies who just wanted to play Heavy Psych and Desert Rock. They’ve come a long way since then, evolving into one of the biggest Stoner and Heavy Psych acts in not just Italy but all of Europe.
Black Rainbows is mainly a Stoner Rock band, having delivered six studio albums so far that are heavy on the fuzz and inspirations from legends like Kyuss, Fu Manchu, Black Sabbath, and Monster Magnet. But they throw in a good dose of psychedelia for good measure, and their most recent three albums have come from none other than Heavy Psych Sounds.
Years Active: 2008-present
Essential Album: Vyvyd (2021)
New Candys was formed in Venice, Italy, in 2008 and has gained a considerable international audience since then. They’ve toured across Europe and North America over the years and even opened for The Brian Jonestown Massacre.
These guys sometimes veer into alternative rock territory, but they have just enough shoegazy and hazy effects on most of their records to be properly psychedelic. New Candys has released four studio albums since 2012, and they’re currently touring America and playing Psycho Las Vegas.
Years Active: 1999-active
Essential Album: Idolum (2008)
Subgenre: Heavy Psych
Ufomammut formed in 1999 and has released eight studio albums of punishing Heavy Psych since then. These dudes could definitely be described as Psychedelic Doom, as they bring a distinctly Doom Metal style and combine it in many songs like “Satan” with distorted guitars and weird sound effects.
Ufomammut has riffs for days, and they’re the type of Psych Rockers designed for nightmarish acid trips. Their live shows usually feature hypnotic visuals and synced loops of videos, and their songs’ structure shares many similarities with Prog Rock. If you like bands like Acid King and Weedeater, then Ufomammut is a band you won’t want to miss.
Kill Your Boyfriend
Years Active: 2011-present
Essential Album: Killadelica (2020)
Subgenre: Post-Punk/Dark Wave/Shoegaze
Kill Your Boyfriend has probably the coolest (and weirdest) band name on this list, and the two-piece act from Venice, Italy, also has an interesting sound. Tracks like “The King” and “Neil” are mesmerizing and hypnotic, combining various electronic and other sounds into a frantic aesthetic.
KYB definitely has a futuristic vibe to it, but there’s no doubt there’s a good dash of psychedelia to their songs. It’s an angsty type of music that reminds one of the suicidal poetries of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. It’s good stuff.
Years Active: 1966–1982, 1986–present
Essential Album: Uomo Di Pezza (1972)
Subgenre: Progressive/Pop Rock
Le Orme (meaning “The Footprints” in Italian) is a pioneering band formed in Venice and was one of the most prominent Italian Prog Rock scene groups in the 1970s. They were one of the few Italian rock acts to succeed outside their home country, touring Europe and North America and releasing an English-language album at the height of their stardom.
The band split after a disastrous album in 1982, and they reformed in ’86 and are, amazingly, still active. Le Orme is usually considered the Italian version of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and most of their records have the whimsical, sunny feel of the ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelia from America and England.
Years Active: 2012-present
Essential Album: Cosmic Blues (2018)
Subgenre: Heavy Psych/Stoner/Blues
Black Elephant is another band from Italy’s fertile Heavy Psych and Stoner Rock scene. They’re fuzzier than The Muppets, adding a heavy dose of sludge and Sabbath-like riffs. Black Elephant is an extremely fun band, reminding me a bit of Clutch and the occasional bluesy vocals like ZZ Top.
They can best be described as ‘70s-era cock-rock, but they’re still fresh and inventive. They’re not a rip-off retro band by any means. And yeah, they bring some psychedelic street cred, too. “Cosmic Blues for Solitary Moose” is one track that reminds me of a good Jimi Hendrix bluesy freak-out.
Years Active: 1994-present
Essential Album: Invocation and Ritual Dance of My Demon Twin (2017)
Julie’s Haircut was formed in 1994 in Sassuolo, northern Italy, and they’ve put out several records of strange, noisy psychedelia over the years. The band combines several genres, a proper art-school indie rock kind of band.
The Neo-Psych, experimental rockers have garnered critical acclaim in Italy and across Europe, and they’ve also picked up some press in the United States. Like some of the other bands on this list, they seem to delve into the hauntology of Italian occult psych, creating some pretty creepy soundscapes.
Lee Van Cleef is a very cool Heavy Psych band from Naples, Italy, that actually started as a joke. If you don’t know, the actual Lee Van Cleef (who passed in 1989) was an American actor known for acting in Spaghetti Westerns directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone, such as The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The Italian Psych Rockers Lee Van Cleef are certainly no joke, though! They released an EP called Holy Smoke in 2015 that is fuzzed-out awesome sauce.
Rev Rev Rev was formed in 2013 and is part of a growing movement of Italian Shoegaze. And yeah, they throw in a good deal of psych, combining vintage vibes with lo-fi and melodic vocals. They also throw down and get heavy in some songs. Definitely worth checking out.
Sonic Jesus has been making tunes since 2013, releasing their debut album, Neither Virtue nor Anger, in 2015.The album is friggin’ long, 90 minutes to be exact, but it’s worth a listen. They have a droning, gothic, and heavy sound, taking listeners into the psychedelic underworld.
Mamuthones is another act from the bizarre world of Italian Occult Psych. The band gets its name from the masked men in the annual Sardinian carnival, a suggestive, ancient, and pagan ritual. In the carnival, the Mamuthones drape themselves in sheep leather and tragic masks. It is a weird and fascinating ritual, and the band is interesting, too. They remind me of The Talking Heads with the bizarro lead vocals and rambling instrumentals.
Crimen spent over a decade crafting their full-length debut album, Silent Animals. It was worth the wait. The album, and the ones that came after that, contain a heavy dose of kraut-inspired psych madness and fuzz.
Here are some links and resources I used while compiling this list:
- A History of Italian Rock Music (scaruffi.com)
- Discovering the World of Italian Psych Rock | Bandcamp Daily
- Italian occult psychedelia – Wikipedia
- Italian Psychedelia | GLOBAL PSYCHEDELIA
- Behind the terrifying masks of the Mamuthones, a message of solidarity and renewal (documentjournal.com)
Here’s the Spotify playlist I created with the Top Italian Psych Rock: