Friday, 23 May 2014

Dark Quarterer - The Etruscan Prophecy (1988) / 97%

Cannelloni & Manicotti Doom pt. IV: The God of Tits and Wine

Dark Quarterer, in my opinion, is Italy's best metal band. Perhaps this seems like a bold statement considering there's bands like Death SS, Mortuary Drape, Bulldozer or Lacuna Coil (ok, just kidding!) coming from the legendary Mediterranean country. But I stand here, proud of being a hip kid for liking such a cult band.

The Italian trio (back in the day, they have a keyboardist now) led by Gianni Nepi (bass/vocals) is often seen as the European answer to Manilla Road. Formed in the late seventies like Shelton's band, it took a long time before any material got released, I believe they were a cover band for a while. More than a decade really made the sound of their first two albums of the bands (released in 1987 and 1988) to be already well established. They're often saying that they created a sort of epic progressive heavy metal and I can definitely agree with that assessment. It's sort of mixing the epic charm of early Manowar without the unhealthy amount of cheese with some slight English prog or Rush influences (this airy narration in “The Etruscan Prophecy” reminds me of the epic tracks from Caress of Steel.) The true progressive elements will have to wait for their later albums to truly appear (such as War Tears and Symbols) though.

While the first Dark Quarterer albums can be seen as their proto progressive metal era, an era of exploration perhaps, it's no less of an extraordinary writing lesson in terms of epicness and richness. The songs are long, intricate and feature a high level of musicianship that will continue with the addition of their current guitarist in 2002 but Fulberto Serena (later of Etrusgrave) is quite a beast in his own right. He composed all the music on this album. Both the riffs and his melodic leads are enormous and he shines on the classical guitar interlude “The Last Hope”. This musical lavishness is omnipresent in their songwriting, they're as opulent as the Etruscan civilization before its downfall. Even if the songs are lengthy, it's not slow, it's coherently mid paced and there's no time wasted anywhere. Some songs may take two or three minutes to get going but you're never bored, it's essentially building awesome crescendos that are grasping your heart with their long-winded solos and I'm not asking for anything else than that.

Songs like the title track or “Devil Stroke” are the purest definition of epic akin to the colossal epic “Colossus of Argil” from their debut, people should use misusing this tag so much to describe everything with longer songs, lyrics about dragons or bands taking their pictures in old European castles. Powerful, catchy riffs with a primal production associated with these weird, unorthodox but completely awesome high, clean vocals singing about mythological stories. This is what epic metal is all about.

While it's mainly epic heavy metal, there's a sort of epic doom feel in the longer songs, you can feel a sense of similarity with bands like Candlemass, maybe it's because of the early power metal influenced vocals that most epic doom are using as well. I'm not just trying to justify their inclusion in my Italian doom series, I swear that they have doom elements even though it never was the main component of their sound. Fans of actual bands like Solstice or Atlantean Kodex could easily connect with Dark Quarterer and should really check them out before they decide to release a new album so they'll be prepared. I guess we're due even though they released a remastered anniversary of their debut two years ago, that's something I don't quite like, let history speaks for itself and not through modernized versions of your old compositions. I can understand the necessity for these musicians to redo their under-produced material but the recording is often part of the charm. Trying to recreate it seems sterile to me.

Compared to the Shark, Nepi's talent as a vocalist is undeniable (may the Manilla Road fanclub be understandable toward my criticism, I don't want Failsafeman to kill me.) His powerful vocals at the start of “Angels of Mire” when there's no instruments playing is so great, it filled me with so many emotions. Their music is so uplifting, oh my god. Even though he has a thick Italian accent, it's in no way cancelling the enjoyment I get from his vocals. He's certainly one of my favourite metal singers and should get the recognition he deserves, he melds poetry, power, originality and passion into a mighty mix. He delivers everything with so many emotions, he's like this great comedian playing one of the best Comedia dell'arte plays and putting everything he has everyday, under any circumstances. Screaming his lungs out, telling tales of old, tales of gold.

His lyrics are also impenetrably deep, they're romantic with a sense of urgency mostly unattained by non anglophone bands. Maybe the sometimes inapt English could scare some listeners but that's another proof of the existence of Anglocentrism. Sure, Italian lyrics (or even Latin like The Black) would had been cool but it's fun to relate to their themes and metal is a global phenomenon. The 80s weren't so kind to foreign languages, some bands like Pokolgép, Sortilège or Aria were doing it but it was far from trendy. Nowadays most of the bands using their vernacular languages are mostly folk, pagan or black metal bands, I think it's fun to hear the traditional sort of metal in Polish, Italian or even Japanese!

I consider this album to be almost perfect, perhaps falling short compared to their debut in some regards, maybe in terms of originality and vision but I do think they go hand in hand. “Angels of Mire” and “The Etruscan Prophecy” are maybe their two best songs but the debut seems to be more consistent. It's their Crystal Logic and The Deluge but compared to the Road, they never quite came back to this epic heavy sound and managed to use it as a foundation for their progressive metal days. Dark Quarterer is a band with a long career but not many studio recordings and you can really the dividing lines between their distinctive eras. It's fun to see a band that doesn't churn releases every two years without any feeling of exploration, great art shouldn't be forced and it's really what the Italians always did.

Long live Dark Quarterer and their unique, excellent epic legacy. They're totally underrated and that's unjustified. Praise the god of tits and wine for their well deserved appreciation.

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