Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Malnatt - Principia Discordia (2012)

The accordion. That is the answer to a question you may, or may not, have been asking. The question? What sets Malnatt apart from the slew of other black metal bands coming out of Italy? But it isn't just the instrument made famous by two men with the last name Yankovic that makes Malnatt intriguing. With lyrics in the Bolognese dialect, an inherent sense of humor, and focus on innovation, this four piece is taking a fresh and avant approach to one of the most raw and misunderstood sub sects of metal. Moving into their second decade of existence, and moving away from the heavy folk influence that dominated their early work, "Principia Discordia" is every bit as entertaining as you would hope; and even more epic. The only real question that remains is what lasting impression we will have when the music is over and done.

It takes no time for "Manifesto Nichilista" to leave your head in a state of shock. A crystal clear mix rings through your speakers, carrying with it a mass of pounding drums and guitars. But this is more than standard black metal fare; the blazing speed and precision of the guitars leave you feeling like you are in the middle of a thrash exhibition. A never ending sea of kicks and snares fuels the fire, and a harsh vocal lets it all go up in flames. The first show of pure strength comes on "Lamor Sen Va," where a funk inspired bass line shines through a crowded but balanced attack. It is in the guitar work that the genius lies, with a catchy riff dominating our ears time and again. The variations from the typical are at a high here, spotlighting all of the subtleties that so often go unnoticed. There is something about the way an accordion syncs up with bass and guitar that is both amazing and awe inspiring. And with an outro that is as unearthly as this one, the momentum is like that of a runaway train. Leaning more to the traditional, "Il Canto Dell'Odio" begins with an absolutely deadly alliance of guitars, bass and drums, pulverizing you with every stroke. But as you move into the second half, you have a variety of changes coming at you. A catchy, almost intoxicating guitar melody trades blows with an aggressive chugging one. But even more incredible is the short use of clean vocals, with singer Porz showing off a bit of versatility along the way.

Furthering that notion, the opening moments of "Iper Pagano" show an excellent use of contrast, using clean guitar chords to lead into blistering passages of distortion. The vocals go deep, releasing guttural growls that may convince you Satan is speaking to you from below. And despite the heavy use of percussion, there is some kind of melody driving it all forward. Chanting vocals join the abrasive screams for a devilish harmony. A bizarre two minute interlude, "Intermezzo Erisiano," is a mood setter. With the sounds of a whimpering baby meeting with a haunting set of strings, and eventually consoled by a spooky music box, you are sure to experience chills. The choir that leads the track to an end is amazing, if not altogether terrifying. The synthesizers on "Nel Di Dei Morti" are absolutely key to making the track a success. With an added layer of eerie noise attached, you get the band at their absolute best. Every guitar riff comes through with clarity and crispness, which is what allows the band to wander off on tangents, as they around the midway point here. By avoiding stereotypical structures, there is room for beautiful melodies to be inserted. Following a great bass line, guitars ascend and unleash a chanting vocal section that shows off a daring melodic sensibility.

With a screeching piece of feedback and great set of rolls courtesy of drummer Lerd, "Don Matteo" takes over your consciousness. Easily standing out as the best track on the album, this is a showcase of every ounce of talent the four band members possess. This is an evolved take on black metal and its subsidiary styles, infusing a healthy dose of melody to a blissfully heavy track. Everything you could want from heavy music is contained here, from borderline operatic vocals, to the harshest of screams; earthquakes of percussion, both flowing and crushing distorted guitars, and a display of bass work that eclipses the majority of the genre. When things finally break down, a majestic outro of acoustic guitars leaves a lasting impression. As if a catchy guitar riff wasn't enough, the bass line that opens "Ave Discordia" might very well stick with you for days. With a sound that sounds like modern Enslaved, there is a balance between light and dark thathas to be heard to be appreciated. Chanting vocals are a nice touch, especially when contrasted with a verse of Italian screeches and growls. A highlight comes in the bridge section, where the top notch production can be fully sppreciated, allowing every note, string, drum, and cymbal to share equal time.

Showing off a blast of unbridled aggression, "Ho Sceso Dandoti Il Braccio" is the most in-your-face track on the album, beating you down with a tidal wave of distortion and rage. Don't confuse aggression for sloppiness, however, as the band remains as tight as ever, delivering near flawless instrumentation as every turn. You are left hanging on every note, including a sharp inhale before yet another low growling section. A perfectly designed clean to distorted bridge comes through on every level, giving you one last gasp before a flurrying finish. Just when you think the opening riffs of "Ulver Nostalgia" are going to be the beginning of a straightforward black metal affair, an amazing clean voice comes through. The combination is breathtaking in so many ways, a true joining of beauty and the beast. As if that wasn't enough, the instrumental that occupies the three minute mark and beyond is one of the most complete and enjoyable that these ears have ever heard. The bass and guitar work alone are award worthy. A short acoustic passage takes over most of the bridge, leaving you in the midst of a haunting lullaby before you the explosion wakes you. Without hesitation, you move directly into the final track, "Il Sentiero Dei Nidi Di Ragnarok," that is the perfect summation of the album. What better way to end things than with an overhwelmingly picturesque finish?

Music has been reinvented for me many times in my life. There are bands that simply amaze me (and you) with the way they take everything we know, and turn it upside down. On this day, Malnatt did it for me once again. There are moments where you are flooded by basic black metal tenets, executed to perfection; but these aren't what will stick with you. What lasts beyond the music itself is the notion that there can be, and is, so much more to be had in this and any other style. Melody and horror, humor and drama, light and heavy; they can all live together in a fractured harmony that elevates all, rather than tearing any one of them down. No gimmicks; no flash in the pan, one off experiments. The songs on "Principia Discordia" are good enough and strong enough to change the way we see black metal for centuries to come.


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