I’ve waited months to write something about U.M.A. (Uomini, Macchine, Anime / Men, Machines, Souls), the debut album by Italy’s Progenie Terrestre Pura, which was released by Avantgarde Music in April of this year. To be specific, I’ve wanted to write something long, rapturous, and eloquent, i.e., something that befits the album itself. Having failed for so many months, and having fallen so far behind in writing so many reviews of albums that have meant something to me this year, I have reluctantly decided to write only what I’m capable of, i.e., something shorter than I intended, rapturous, and undoubtedly deficient in the eloquence category.
This isn’t my first exposure to q[T]p (which is how they prefer to abbreviate their name). I found (and reviewed) their first demo two years ago. Especially for a DIY effort by two people who had never met in person, it was impressive, but U.M.A. still represents a big step ahead. The basic approach hasn’t changed, but Eon and Nex have proved that they are capable of creating a 51-minute, largely instrumental, predominantly atmospheric work that exerts a powerful attraction from start to finish.
Over the months that have passed since U.M.A. became available, I’ve found myself drawn back to it, to get another fix of what it does. I think I’ll play just one of the album’s five long songs, usually the first one (which bears the band’s name), and invariably I find myself just letting the whole album run from start to finish. When I tell you what it does, this may seem surprising.
Much of the time the music sounds like a soundtrack to one of those beautifully filmed movies about the wonders of the Earth, something like Samsara, something haunting, gorgeous, and mystical. In those moments it could equally serve as the aural accompaniment to a trip through the cosmos, the observer pulled along by comets or pushed by solar winds, mesmerized by the sight of gas giants and the shimmer of distant nebulae. Slow, shining, and dreamy, these lush ambient passages are almost hypnotic.
I say almost, because although this atmospheric, trancelike electronica provides the album’s foundation, it’s not all the album offers. There are rough edges, too — moments when blast-beats erupt and (moderately) distorted guitars begin to grind or jab with a jagged edge, and even more scattered moments when harsh howls and roars well up from some cavernous space, distant enough that they seem almost ghostly but still tainting the air with a remnant of black metal vehemence.
Mixed in with the space-odyssey atmospherics you’ll find driving industrial-styled rhythms, rumbling percussion, and lead guitars that writhe like snakes in a pit. Even the more atmospheric passages are layered with a multitude of strange noises, sometimes building to a near-cacophony in harness with thumping bass lines and dual guitar motifs, one distorted and one ethereally clean. The guitar soloing sometimes becomes jazzy, and there’s even what sounds like a soulful sax sharing the lead role as “Droni” evolves.
I mention these diverse elements of the music because they play a significant role in maintaining the listener’s interest. But having said that, the album is much more entrancing than it is heavy, more thought-provoking than it is cathartic, more transcendental than pummeling. It is in many ways on the other side of the solar system from the kind of metal I usually prefer. The fact that I enjoy it so much may tell you something about the attraction of its unusual gifts.
Though entirely secondary to the spacefaring music, the song titles also pleased the sci-fi nerd in me. They’re in Italian, but if Google Translate has gotten it right, they mean “Pure Terrestrial Progeny”, “Over-robotization”, “The Red Earth of Mars”, “Drones”, and “Torn Synapses”.
Pick any one song to hear and stay with it to the end, and you’ll know whether U.M.A. is right for you. But do give it that much of a chance.
Here are quotations that appear on q[T]p’s “About” page on Facebook; they provide a window into what the band are up to:
“Part of the inhumanity of the computer is that, once it is competently programmed and working smoothly, it is completely honest.”
“With the aid of electronic computers the composer becomes a sort of pilot: he presses the buttons, introduces coordinates, and supervises the controls of a cosmic vessel sailing in the space of sound, across sonic constellations and galaxies that he could formerly glimpse only as a distant dream.”
Iannis Xenakis, 1962
“Time moves in one direction, memory in another.”
“The Zone is the Zone. The Zone is life, and the man who lives it either crushes or saves himself. It’s all up to the way one feels his own dignity and ability in discerning what is essential from what isn’t.”
“The virtual, strictly defined, has little relationship to that which is false, illusory or imaginary. The virtual is by no means the opposite of the real. On the contrary, it is a fecund and powerful mode of being that expands the process of creation, opens up the future, injects a core of meaning beneath the platitude of immediate physical presence.”
“It’s what YOU do to make the future.”