Music and drama are perfect partners when it comes to telling stories. The ability to weave the carefully crafted threads of a plot along with shifting changes of mood, tempo and events by using the layers and textures of a soundscape gives the artist a broad, unfettered canvas on which to let imagination creatively play and dance. Asylum, the second album from five-piece Bologna-based band Art, positively delights in seizing the chance to continue the intrigue of a story originally started in 2016 with their debut album Planet Zero.
Nor do they shrink from grasping the moment with both hands. Opening track, No Way Out, is thunderously energetic, capturing your attention from the outset with an anthemic synthesiser refrain rising above a bedrock of gritty, riffing guitars. Yet just as the momentum begins to sweep you away, the music transitions to a thrilling staccato sequence, still bristling with energy and power, before transitioning yet again to a solo keyboard supporting a gentle, floating vocal.
The effect is mesmerising, particularly as the lyrical story then unfolds through the brilliantly ingenious use of subtle but constantly shifting rhythmic in-fills from the drums that gently increase or decrease the pace of the story-telling as and when the plot demands. It is a captivating lesson in how to use music to create narrative pace as well as sustain momentum without having to resort to more traditional recurring song structures.
The key to grasping what is remarkable about Asylum is precisely the intelligent use and positioning of transitions within each song, which in turn is what ultimately makes the album so accessible, open and inviting. Books don’t repeat themselves, and one of the things you slowly realise as you listen again and again to this release is that neither does Asylum. There is always novelty in the arrangements, ingenuity in the layers, thoughtfulness in the development and unfurling of the chord progressions and melodies.
The strength of the song-writing lies in the exquisite way the band play with the core building blocks with which they begin each track, always adding, embellishing, layering, and through all this, evolving and progressing the direction of the music. Black Mist opens with the voice of a reporter framed against a keyboard providing an atmospheric background; here the transition is marked when a gentle guitar solo emerges from the layers but then quickly segues again through a grumbling bassline with rolling vocal and echoed guitar support.
The pattern progresses and evolves again with B. Case where beautifully textured and multi-rhythmic layering of the instruments take turns to interleave and entwine around each other, allowing a shifting prominence to be given to each in rotation. The song clearly demonstrates the sense of organic evolution where the depth and energy of the music is sustained by each progression. The final guitar solo is utterly majestic – sweeping, proud and defiantly unapologetic.
New member Ivano Zanotti brings a striking diversity to the drumming, knowing exactly how and when to dictate the power, pace and tempo of each song. Diego Quarantotto, also a new addition to the band, brings a deft and imperious bass contribution which seductively coaxes and enables the other instruments to sparkle and shine. Add some scintillating contributions from guest guitarists Stef Burns and Vince Pastano and the overall mix exudes an enthralling dynamism which is both potent and enjoyable.
Despite the undeniable magnetism and sparkling charisma of the initial tracks, not everything achieves the same lofty heights. Room 46 tries perhaps a little too hard to change things up, playing with discordant soundscapes which don’t quite carry the same sense of purpose and focus. Likewise, the title track does nothing wrong but at the same time feels lacking in that sense of urgency and vibrancy present in the rest of the album.
In the end, however, these are really only minor niggles. The level of composition and the quality of writing to which we are treated is enormously demanding; maintaining that level of excellence and inventiveness is always going to be difficult across an entire album. Art have done a magnificent job of crafting an astute and discerning album which excels in the way it manages to create a seamless marriage of music and narrative to the point where the one supplements, completes and then develops the other.
01. No Way Out (7:07)
02. Black Mist (4:30)
03. B. Case (6:54)
04. Seven Stones (5:35)
05. The Doctor (4:54)
06. Room 46 (5:42)
07. Asylum (4:21)
08. The Box (4:57)
09. Hide the Light (5:37)
Total Time – 49:37
Denis Borgatti – Vocals
Enrico Lorenzini – Keyboards
Roberto Minozzi – Guitar
Ivano Zanotti – Drums
Diego Quarantotto – Bass
Record Label: Sliptrick Records
Formats: CD, Digital, Vinyl
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 19th October 2019