Tuesday 29 September 2015

Australasia - Notturno (Album Review)

Release date: September 21st 2015. Label: Apocalyptic Witchcraft. Formats: CD/DD

Notturno - Tracklisting

1.Nebula 01:39
2.Eden 06:05
3.Kern 04:27
4.Creature 05:25
5.Invisible 03:46
6.Haxo 02:39
7.Amnesia 05:35
8.Lumen 03:38
9.Notturno 04:07


Occasionally an album appears that is so well conceptualized and executed its very existence seems improbable in this era of singles and disposability. Notturno by Italian Post-rock act Australasia is one such release. An instrumental project of enviable depth and scope, the band boasts provocative influences which run the gamut from Ennio Morricone and Red Sparowes to the Cure and Tangerine Dream. Heroes like these make it clear the band has lofty ambitions. They succeed in fulfilling these aspirations and more on Notturno.

Australasia is the brainchild of Italian multi-instrumentalist Gian Spalluto. Notturno was preceded by a number of releases including a reverent cover of the theme to David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It is easy to detect Spalluto’s appreciation of cinema while absorbing these layered, moody tone poems which navigate scene changes like a sweeping camera. The nine uncompromising pieces on Notturno evoke nostalgia, loss and wonder, often within the same song. A listener might become simultaneously disoriented and stirred while submerged in Spalluto’s immersive soundscapes. Fans of Mogwai, Godspeed You Black Emperor and even Neurosis will find much to satiate them here. Cocteau Twins and Joy Division are also touchstones, though Australasia’s hazy, shoegaze influenced sound never becomes merely imitative.

Opening with the one minute forty second meditation “Nebula”, the group quickly establishes its penchant for vintage synthesizers and atmospheric passages. Unlike peers who use such moments as a lull to set up the next crushing movement, Australasia possesses a unified sound which includes bell like keyboard tones alongside dreamy guitars and precise, punishing drums. Another aspect which distinguishes them from the occasional excesses of the Post-rock movement is a focus on brevity and songcraft. Despite the non-presence of singing (for the most part) these are songs in the classic sense. Yes, they contain all the intense peaks and valleys that are the hallmarks of their genre. However, only “Eden” passes the six minute mark and most tracks are noticeably brief when compared to the lengthier compositions of bands like Isis or Russian Circles.

Creature” evokes the Smiths mingling with Disintegration era Cure as filtered through the psychedelic prism of an act like The Mars Volta. “Invisible” adds some keyboard pads that would not feel out of place on a release helmed by Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois. Its instrumental flow is broken by a soulful female voice midway through the track. The unexpected appearance brings to mind Clare Torry’s otherworldly vocal performance on Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig In The Sky”. “Haxo” is a brief interlude boasting a rhythm in the irregular 5/4 meter and an air of sustained tension.

Spalluto is a masterful guitarist and arranger who is unafraid to distinguish himself from the milieu. Rather, he seems to revel in his otherness. The sheer audacity of his willingness to try something as ambitious as this collection is testament to his clarity of vision. Expressive, emotionally resonant guitar harmonies give way to washes of electronics. Tightly wound and containing nary a wasted moment, the songs effortlessly avoid instrumental metal cliches. In fact, this illuminates the most confounding aspect of Australasia. Why does an act so wide-ranging and unique even feel the need to profess any ties to metal at all? Hypnotic mix and occasionally thick riffs notwithstanding, Australasia’s co-opting of the term Post-black metal feels a bit forced especially with music this fully realized.

Unlike the willfully crude aesthetic of some acts in the aforementioned genre, the production on Notturno is crisp and almost pointedly professional. An unaccompanied piano is the sole instrument on the closing title track. It weaves its way through a maze of subtly arpeggiated chordal variations before peacefully concluding. Here, as elsewhere, the lack of lyrics is no impediment to emotional impact. Websters’ defines notturno as “an 18th century piece for an instrumental group composed in several movements and resembling the serenade or divertimento”. Spalluto has updated the form to accommodate his own wide ranging musical imagination and we are the lucky recipients of his bounty.

Words by Ari Rosenschein