The Northern Italian city of Ravenna seems to be a hot bed of talent, which is presently crashing down on me in waves. This year alone has seen new albums from Nero di Marte, Postvorta, and Void of Sleep, with Ottone Pesante already looming on the horizon, and almost ready to break. I’m reviewing somewhat out of order in that Postvorta’s release came before Void of Sleep’s, but the latter is far more accessible and was thus easier to review, so although Void of Sleep was immediately engaging and Postvorta almost as opposingly off-putting, over repeated listens I think I find Postvorta’s latest album, Porrima, ultimately the more rewarding of the two, and an incredibly impressive release. There’s not a lot in it though, and to be fair it is like comparing apples and oranges.
The first thing I noticed was the title of the album. If you read my review of hubris.’s Metempsychosis, you’ll know I have a great interest in classical mythology. For those who might not otherwise notice, then, Postvorta and Porrima (also known as Antevorta) are – depending on the text – either two aspects of the goddess Carmenta, or her two attendants. Either way, they represent the future and the past, so their coming together as band and album title seemed to me to indicate this was a release of some note. I have to admit I was not familiar with Postvorta before coming across this album (and became aware of it only because of the associations with Void of Sleep and Ottone Pesante), but it would appear that this is not only a concept album in itself, but the final concept album of a trilogy! Now that’s impressive, and an album would have to be impressive to fulfil this role. But, as aforementioned, I do find this album incredibly impressive!
First things first, though. If you want to enjoy this album, you’ll have to set aside time to do so. Although it’s only five tracks long, they stretch out over an hour and a half. And because the album deals with death and grieving, it’s understandably not the lightest of listening experiences. However, it’s not unrelenting, and there are some truly beautiful passages spread throughout the album. Grieving is, after all, a not entirely negative process, and, amazingly enough, despite the lengths of the tracks, they all seem to fly by. There’s never a point where I feel any particular track is dragging, or unnecessarily bloated, or where I’m willing it to end. The album ends and not only am I not fatigued but I’m ready to go through the whole thing again.
The album starts gently with the sounds of waves, as Epithelium Copia eases us in. Although instrumentation is gradually added to the ambient noises, it’s not until the fourth minute before the band first really shows their heavy hand. When the drums crash in, its pretty cool. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I hear this, I still love that moment. The vocals are harsh, but not unduly so. I’ve never been a fan of harsh vocals, and if they are too extreme, no matter how good the music, I just can’t deal with it, but Postvorta stay on the right side of the line for me. Heck, I almost even like them! They ooze anger and malaise, entirely appropriate for the varying stages of grief.
My favourite moment of this first track, and possibly of the whole album, is when, after approximately seven and a half minutes of beautiful brutality, almost everything falls away but for the drums, and leaves space for guest musician Francesco Bucci (from Ottone Pesante) to play trombone. I love the use of brass in extreme metal but never has it sounded so hauntingly beautiful. After sharing space with the rest of the band, the trombone takes centre stage, its melancholy startlingly evocative. It almost seems as if it will lead the song out, before Postvorta explode back into action for the heaviest passage of the song. If you listen to just one song from the album, make it this one! It’s not necessarily the best, but it’s probably best at representing what you will hear if you dare to continue, in a relatively short time span.
The first of two twenty-minute tracks follows, but Vasa Praevia Dispassion never tires or bores. Through its length, it ebbs and flows between fury and near silence, the varying atmospheres showing that heaviness need not come from volume, nor power from fury. Ferocity and fragility need not be mutually exclusive, nor beauty and brutality. Much of the magnificence of Porrima comes from Postvorta’s mastery of dynamics, revealing interplay between, and duality of, the lightest of performances and the heaviest. There are bands you could compare Postvorta to, I guess, such as Cult of Luna or Callisto – but Postvorta are so much better in every aspect. In fact, as much as you could compare Postvorta to those bands you may as well add in bands like Radiohead, Oceansize, Sigur Rós, Ulver and Alcest. But the band don’t really sound too much like any of these, so much as taking aspects of them and refining them into their own sound, a sound that, as much as I hate to say it (because I fear I am starting to overuse an adjective already far too overused), is cinematic in scope, perfectly blending ambient, post-rock, sludge and doom into soundscapes that draw the listener in so adeptly, that twenty minutes fly by in what feels like only two.
Decidua Trauma Catharsis is the shortest song on the album, reaching only (!) eleven minutes, and has another appearance from a guest. Nicola Dona’s vocals are at their harshest on this song (right at my limits), and the clean and clear vocals of Francesca Grol provide an amazing contrast when they come in behind the blastingly heavy music and growls. Even so, I find this song, despite its relatively short length to be a little to unrelenting in its assault on my eardrums. It doesn’t quite wear out its welcome, but it’s the only track to come close. The final minute could not be a more welcome relief!
Relief sounds like it may be only short when March Dysthymia kicks in, but the song soon calms down and could conceivably be called catchy. It definitely has a groove to it, and after Decidua Trauma Catharis it’s a groove I’m happy to get on board. The guest appearance of Alberto Casadae is second only to Francesco Bucci in terms of impact. I absolutely love this spoken word passage.
The album ends with another twenty-minute epic, Aldehyde Framework, with an absolutely gorgeous extended introduction. As I’m aware of how long this review is (and it’s hard not to be, given the lengths of the songs, and the album), I’m not going to dwell on this song too long – but that doesn’t mean it’s not as worthy as the others. It closes the album as perfectly as Epithelium Copia began it, almost bookending the album with the ambient sounds of waves. However, where you might expect the song to end there, the last three minutes are instead the first wholly beautiful of the album, reminiscent maybe of Mogwai or Mono. The final stage of grief is acceptance, and here is acceptance in musical form.
Porrima demands a lot, and really only reveals itself after spending time with it, but it’s definitely time worth spending. And as many of us are in lockdown and have an abundance of time on our hands, there are far worse ways to be spending it. With many of us also grieving, there is a good chance that some might find listening to this a good way of helping deal with the grief. Completely accidentally, Postvorta may have released a perfect album for these dark times, and as Porrima is my introduction to the band, I will definitely be going back to listen to the first two albums from this trilogy of concept albums concerning birth, life and death. My only worry is that they will now have a lot to live up to, as Porrima is a monster!
01. Epithelium Copia (16:21)
02. Vasa Praevia Dispassion (20:47)
03. Decidua Trauma Catharsis (11:13)
04. March Dysthymia (14:41)
05. Aldehyde Framework (23:09)
Total Time – 86:11
Nicola Dona – Vocals, Guitar
Andrea Fioravanti – Guitar, Synths
Mohammed Ashraf – Synths, Guitar
Dario Foschini – Guitar
Raffaele Marra – Bass
Matteo Borzini – Drums
Francesco Bucci – Trombone (track 1)
Francesca Grol – Vocals (track 3)
Alberto Casadae – Spoken Word (track 4)
Record Labels: Sludgelord Records | 22 Dicembre
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 20th February 2020