Drama. It’s one of those things that, in the context of metal or extreme music, often feels clichéd like some sad self-parody, or just hackneyed and predictable. Things like the demonstrative highs and lows of symphonic or power metal and the cinematic tension of post-metal immediately come to mind, but rare are memorable instances of drama in genres like death metal or sludge. That was, until I came across Italy’s Nero di Marte. If there’s one thing their post-by-way-of-discordant-death-and-sludge-metal does well, it’s drama. Their skillful juxtaposition of expansive and meditative post- sounds with cacophonous progressive death (akin to an Ulcerate or Gorguts) has an iron sharpening iron effect, and coupled with guitarist/vocalist Sean Worrell’s impassioned bellows, they’re well-equipped to hit the emotional highs and lows.
Immoto puts it on display immediately. Opener “Sisyphos” spins tension-building threads that weave together in a three-minute (for lack of a better term) intro where Worrell is allowed to underscore eerie chords with emotional weight. His timbre is powerful, it’s a nice contrast with the spidery ringing of guitars. It’s this kind of balance and attention to detail on the micro level that give Immoto a sense of unpredictability, even when you can sense something is brewing. When the track hits at the 3:12 mark, it becomes something straight out of a horror score and feels like an appropriate payoff for the elongated build. Still, it continues to surprise, the ante is upped and upped again to such an uproarious clamor that it could pass for Baring Teeth or Sunless at their most voluminous (the addition of Hideous Divinity drummer Giulio Galati seems to have turned things up a notch). It’s a taxing experience, but it continuously evolves, retreading no ground until the reprise of the intro at the close.
The vast post-rock and atmospheric passages are vital to developing their dramatic mastery as well as bolster the overall psychedelic vibe of the album; they’re very Neurosis-y in that sense. Mammoths like the title track and “La Casa del Diavolo” are sonic fucking expeditions that consistently manage to impress at each climax, but they’re admittedly difficult to navigate with a few minutes-long delicate sprawls scattered throughout. Now, these atmospheric segments do a great job at lending balance and dynamics to the record, but they can start to feel long after repeated listens. Though they add to the scope of the record and ensure the numerous HUGE parts hit like Zeus slapping your face with a blue whale, some of these ruminations could be halved without anyone noticing.
The shorter tracks (two of which are still at least seven minutes a piece) like “L’Arca,” “La Fuga” and “Semicerchi” are more immediate, and comparatively feel distilled and even a little one-dimensional. Not that that’s a bad thing – there is a greater sense of focus on these pieces, and in turn, they feel more distinct. With these “short” tracks, Nero di Marte play more into their prog-sludge leanings with some heady grooves that would feel right at home on an Intronaut or The Ocean record. They resemble their work on 2014’s Derivae, but maybe not quite as dark or aggressive and instead more emotional, more experimental. Plus, their technical proficiency never gets in the way of solid songwriting, even as they become long-winded or structurally complicated. Again, the group’s sense of balance is totally on point.
The sequencing gets the most out of the album’s 68 minutes (yeah, this thing is long) by divvying up the sprawling tracks, but Immoto is still kind of difficult to consume as a whole despite the individual strength of these pieces. It’s just a huge album and an exhaustive experience. The emphasis on their psych and post-metal elements have escalated the dramatic nature of the record as much as they bumped up the runtime. Those with patience seeking adventurous post-metal with a little more edge (or on the other hand, tech death geeks looking to ease up with some spacey bits) might have an early-in-the-year addition to their 2020 short lists.
Immoto is available via Season of Mist on January 24.