The Roman sludge/doom band IO chose their name with well-calculated intent, taking for themselves the appellation of the moon of Jupiter which is both the most dense of all moons in the solar system and, with more than 400 active volcanos, the most geologically active object in our system. It produces massive sulfurous plumes that climb hundreds of miles into the sky as well as gargantuan magma lakes, and it’s home to mountains higher than Everest. Keep those features in mind as you listen today to IO‘s debut album, Fire.
The album will be released tomorrow — May 21st — by one of the prime purveyors of ultra-heavy music, Argonauta Records. Not for naught does Argonauta describe the music as “hazy yet blistering”, a sound that “equals a cosmic trip into volcanic space dimensions, and without any doubt owns its parallels to an entire moon”.
Fire consists of four significant tracks ranging in length from 6 1/2 to 16 1/2 minutes, which collectively provide more than 40 minutes of humongous lava-flow riffs, skull-busting percussion, truly harrowing vocals, and an unearthly atmosphere.
As revealed on the new album, IO‘s sonic ingredients and songwriting strategies are relatively easy to identify, yet their simplicity in no way detracts from their impact — which is pulverizing on both a physical and an emotional level. Indeed, the trip through the album is like staggering through a gauntlet that tests the endurance of your spine and your soul.
As for the ingredients, the riffing is massive and fuzz-bombed, so heavy that they sound constructed from the bass alone and so corrosive that they might eat through lead. The speed of the songs ranges from mid-paced to glacially slow, and the drumming that helps drive the changes, and provides an electrifying vibrancy when the riffs are crawling, has the sharp pop of gunshots and the deep slug of mortar fire. And the vocals consist of a tandem of truly hair-raising screams — some of which are so protracted that it seems impossible a human throat could have made them — and monstrous, echoing roars.
As for the songwriting strategies, IO take those well-crafted riffs, which resonate in the reptile brain, and create cycles from them, with the repetition not only sinking them ever deeper into the listener’s head but also creating uneasy, mood-altering trance states.
The band also add melodic accents that contrast with the stupefying heaviness of those riffs. The first two tracks, “Third Eye” and “Fire Walks With Us”, begin with exotic guitar arpeggios with an Eastern flare. There’s also an interlude in that second song in which a clean guitar, backed by astral shimmering and perhaps ghostly singing, creates a wistful and musing resonance. The slow guitar melody that opens “Loki Patera” is hopeless and haunting, and the extended opening to “Poseidon (In Lava Sea)” — an electric and acoustic guitar duet that drifts over bubbling ambient sounds — is somehow both meditative and frightening. And there are hints of psychedelia that might bring early Pink Floyd to mind.
As the band maneuver through each song’s titanic movements the riffing heaves and lurches, writhes and wails, crawls and pounds with urgency, creating moods of menace and malice, desolation and despair, soul-stricken calamity and abject hopelessness. It’s not a very comforting journey by any means, but it’s still one that’s easy to let yourself sink into, and become mesmerized by it.
And with that, we give credit to IO‘s members — drummer Valeria, guitarist/vocalist Fabio, and bassist Stefano — and we leave you to the music, which we hope you’ll enjoy as much as we have.