Thursday 20 June 2019

Burning Gloom - Amygdala (2019)

Country: Italy
Style: Sludge Metal
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 14 Jun 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook

I realised a couple of days ago that my next pair of reviews would reach a milestone: two hundred since the beginning of the year. I felt that ought to warrant something special to celebrate but nothing I listened to really fit the bill. I found good stuff, much of which I'll be reviewing in the days to come but nothing that really stood out as special. Until this.

Amygdala is the debut album from a sludge metal band based in Milan, Italy, who released a couple of others under an earlier name, My Home on Trees. On their Facebook page, there's a note that, after seven years under that name, they "have started a new journey, made of fires in the night, a dark road enlightened by flames."

That's an evocative way to describe a serious enough change in approach to warrant a name change, but it gets more and more appropriate as this album progresses. By the time it reached Nightmares, I found myself on that road. I may or may not also have been on fire. Certainly I was hooked.

Simply describing Burning Gloom as a sludge metal band isn't enough. Sure, that's much of what they do, but they don't sound like anyone else I could conjure up. The production is part of that. It puts Marco Bertucci's guitar well and truly up front so that the vocals of Laura Mancini have to battle for dominance. It sounds like the band performed the entire album live in a band member's garage and someone recorded it on a Walkman. Yeah, the mix is hardly optimal but it makes the band sound incredibly urgent.

It also sounds like they're performing ritual ceremonies as much as music. Tracks like Eremite, Warden and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder feel like they might have the aim of conjuring someone or something up out of the ether. Nightmares sounds like they did that before the song started and whichever demons were called forth promptly joined in with the musicians and I don't just mean on backing vocals. That's Mona Miluski from High Fighter.

This ritual approach, as much the product of the often tribal drumming of Marcello Modica as Mancini's powerful and driven vocals, brings occult rock promptly to mind, whether Coven or one of the myriad inheritors to their sound. This music is often hypnotic. Occult rock has a lot of Black Sabbath in it, but that's notable separately here, especially on Beyond the Wall. It's also combined with a minimalistic Danzig vibe, which was surprising but welcome to hear. I'd say Tool, except the rhythms aren't as complex and this is ritual in nature.

Mancini is so confident in what she does and the band, especially Bertucci, are so in our face, that it sometimes feels like I'm not in my office with the album playing out of speakers; they're playing live inside my skull and they've transported it somewhere that I don't recognise. Sometimes, like on The Tower, especially the escalating second part, it feels like my skull is too small to cope.

While it's certainly not going to be for everyone, I found it impossible to ignore this album. It's the antithesis of background music. I'm an active listener but I rarely find myself trapped inside an album like this one and I rarely find myself assaulted by the silence that follows its end. This album is alive. It doesn't want to be over and the silence knows that and shivers. It remembers the crashing riffs on songs like Warden and wonders how safe it is and when it'll be noticed. That's what makes this special.

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