Well, I’m no Progmistress and that’s a fact.
I understand very little about music and therefore I’ll be breaking one of Nanni Moretti’s golden rules by talking about Greek Epigraphy (i.e. things I don’t understand). But Heaven knows I’ve been waiting for this and when it finally got here… well, I was just too damn busy with not being unemployed and everything, and I missed it. That should teach me not to be too busy with things, and that’s one thing I will never learn. Anyway, since it seems we have half a day on our hands, let’s just take a deep breath and take our time to review a long awaited album: Ubi Maior‘s third endeavour, Incanti bio meccanici.
Now, everyone knows a friend is still a friend, even if we haven’t been in touch for years, so I might be partial to this.
But still, I haven’t been partial in admitting that I didn’t like Senza Tempo so much. Then again, I understand nothing at all about music and I’m strictly expressing my personal taste when I say that Incanti bio meccanici is a delightful album.
And let me just be clear: I didn’t like Senza Tempo probably because it was too difficoult for my ear, but that doesn’t mean Incanti bio meccanici is simpler, or less ambituous. Still, it speaks to certain cords of mine which are more sensible (or should I say less unsensitive) than others.
First of all, Incanti has epic and literature and magic and playful word tricks just as much as Ubi Maior’s previous works, but in a way is more similar to that glorious unparallel ballad that was Nostos‘ title track. And yet it has been said to be less dark, more symphonic, less traditionally Italian prog. Well, I don’t know about that, but still…
Teodora, the first track, opens with soft, romantic and malinchonic sounds, in a straight connection with Nostos and speaks about Calvino’s Invisible City. Teodora is one of the hidden cities of Chapter 9, along with Raissa, Marozia, and Berenice. Teodora’s citizens have been at war for centuries and they have triumphed against every invasion: birds were extermined only to leave a prolipheration of snakes, and when snakes were killed the city was overflown by spiders and flies, and insects and thermites. And then there were mice, the most vicious of them all. And this song brings them to light with extraordinary passion around 7:40, probably my favourite passage of this extraordinary suite. «Siamo i bastardi, siamo i reietti, siamo i colpevoli, i maledetti, bestie da marchio, catene, tortura ma non abbiamo paura di voi con le vostre divise stirate, occhi di plastica senza pietà adesso ascoltate: noi restiamo qua». You’ll not be able to hurt us, they scream. And then the song comes around, reprises the themes of its second section. It’s no more time to hide in order to survive. Teodora’s citizens were victorious and the city stands tall, with only books to remember the extermined fauna. People are celebrating (15:30). It’s time to rebuild the city to reign and shine again. Or maybe not? Previous species were chased away in an ancient time and they are now awakening, stirring underground, ready to take over the city. «Occhi curiosi nel buio che guardano, occhi rabbiosi di cani che cercano me». They carry an antique name. They are sphynxes and dragons, chimeras and hydras, but Ubi Maior’s song twistes the meaning of the novel (or at least chooses one of many possible intetrpretations): are they invented, and will another enemy be enough to keep the city united?
Alchemico Fiammingo is significantly less lenghty, but nonetheless equally intense. Violin and guitar, equally scathing, prelude to an unexpected sound. Its literary inspiration is Marguerite Yourcenar‘s L’Œuvre au noir or, more specifically, another city: the city of Bruges, ravaged by religion, war and plagues, where the old Zeno sets his feet. «Ha i capelli più bianchi, gli occhi più stanchi, nella sua mente ha un mondo intero, è uno strano straniero tra la sua gente».
In alchemical treatises, the formula L’Oeuvre au Noir, designates what is said to be the most difficult phase of the alchemist’s process, the separation and dissolution of substance. It is still not clear whether the term applied to daring experiments on matter itself, or whether it was understood to symbolize trials of the mind in discarding all forms of routine and prejudice. Doubtless it signified one or the other meaning alternately, or perhaps both at the same time.
It’s the nigredo, death and decomposition from which alchemy believes to be able to create life. The city of Bruges in Yourcenar’s novel is this: death, stirring. The main character seeks to elevate himself in an alchemic process but ultimately fails, after studying too much, learning too much, and too much for nothing. He is condemned, and Mario Moi takes the role of his accuser. «Sotto terra, in mezzo agli angeli, o fra i diavoli, su nel cielo. Cos’è giusto e cos’è vero è difficile. Voi sapete che cosa dire, ve l’ho detto che cosa fare: condannare con un pollice è più semplice. Siete forti, siete tanti, siete tutti qui davanti. Decidere è un attimo, ormai». Instrumentally extraordinary, with an unparallel violin.
I cancelli del tempo talks about a hidden city, a magic parallel world where an immortal beloved awaits. «Se ho calcolato giusto, tra poco mi apparirà: una città intera, non sembra vera e invece guarda, eccola qua. Ieri non c’era. Domani non ci sarà». It’s probably the most depictive song of the whole album, with a fresh sound and Mario’s voice dancing a clear path above guitar, keyboard and drums. Day by day, the city is described as a place without time, where eternal guests are living in joyous stillness, and it is said to be a homage to the legendary Kitezh, a Russian legend probably more famous because of Pavel Ivanovich Melnikov‘s In the Forests and Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera. And if you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend you at least listen to the Battle of Kerzhenets.
Lo specchio di Mogano closes the disc and, being another 20 minutes suite like Teodora, gives symmetry to this musical journey.
Another city awaits us: it’s Mahagonny of Bertold Brecht‘s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. and the musical opening is literally enchanting, probably the best minute of the whole album.
Mahagonny is a city of gold, where there are no prisons and work is unnecessary: the singer puts on the hat of Jimmy Mahoney, lumberjack longing for this city of wonders. «Venite tutti quanti. Venite tutti. Venite ad assaggiare donne e banchetti. È davvero la città dell’oro: cosa aspettate ancora? Cosa aspettate? È qui per voi». But of course Mahagonny is a scam: it’s a city where love is for sale, just as liquors, and everything is legal as long as you pay. Even a hurricane can’t hurt her. Until the mahogany mask falls, the entrapped Jimmy Mahoney sings for the sun not to come up, ending his last night. The world is always beautiful, if seen through a wooden mirror, but it just cannot last. It was beautiful to pretend to sail on a pool table. It was beautiful not to have money: just love, just true friends, just weed to smoke. But to be broke in Mahagonny is a crime, possibly the worts crime of all. Still, the song doesn’t tell us that and fades away, with jazz flavours that Kurt Weill would have appreciated.
And so have I.
note: the digital version of this album has no booklet and I couldn’t find official lyrics anywhere online, therefore I sincerely apologize for any misheard or misquoted lyrics. Still, nothing is more hilarious than a misheard lyric, so I’m hoping you’ll enjoy anyway.
If you don’t know Ubi Maior, please take your time to sit back and listen. Nevermind the reading.
Incanti bio meccanici is their third album. Their second work, Senza Tempo, was inspired by Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman. If your ears are unrefined and filled with travertine dust as much as mine, I recommend you at least listen to Desiderio (per cosa si uccide) and Distruzione (il mercenario). And then of course you should support them.