Thursday, March 13, 2014

Blizaro - Strange Doorways (2013)

Italian horror/giallo films have always been distinguishable from their peers through the sheer, unsettling atmosphere they cultivate. Even the BAD ones, so it makes a lot of sense that Italo-doom or Mediterranean Occult metal exhibit a lot of the same characteristics; whether we're discussing Paul Chain's solo career or Mortuary Drape, there's always that elusive, permeable shadow of dread lurking over the scenery, as in a strange film like Fulci's The Beyond where victims seem to give themselves over to these outlandish fates, creeping out audiences even when the visual aesthetics seem 'cheesy'. I bring this up because John Gallo's Blizaro is almost assuredly one of the best musical acts I've heard outside of Goblin to draw upon that same well of psychedelic malevolence, though it by no means limits itself to strictly that one influence...stir in a heap of pulp fantasy or horror stories circa Lovecraft or Howard, soak it all in an acid haze, and you'd begin to form a picture of what Strange Doorways offers the listener tired of the 'doom standard' and seeking something specialized, trippy and sinister.

This is beautifully packaged...and I mean gorgeous, folks. Not only is Costin Chioreanu's cover so impressive that I inevitably had to own the t-shirt, but each of the interior panels he designed could have easily served the same purpose! This is more or less the entire body of Blizaro's non-Razorback works, so it earns some points instantly for its completeness. Pick it up with City of the Living Nightmare (2010) and the Wooden Stake split (2011) and you've got everything to date. Having heard that album, as I check out anything the 'Back releases, I can honestly say that the selections here, culled from a number of demo mini-albums and bonus materials, are either equal to or superior in quality. There's such a wealth of variation and experimentation here that I often felt as if someone had mixed me a tape of Zombi or Jon Carpenter outtakes and then dispersed some random Sabbath or Pentagram tracks throughout, and frankly the music is often so good that I can't tell you which I prefer...the pure synth adventures or the rock tracks. Thankfully there are plenty instances of both, hours of content covering all four of Gallo's demo releases (2006-2012), so much even that after numerous attempts to start this review I felt like I had to go back and delve a little deeper into each of the individual 'eras', because there's just no end to the charm.

Not that it doesn't come with a small handful of flaws (a few dud riffs or less trance-inducing synthesizer environs), or that every track is equally poignant and/or memorable, but Strange Doorways shrugs off that caul of mere 'collectivity' that most demo anthologies champion...this is genuinely great, not because its a band sharing its earlier imperfections and vulnerabilities with you, but as a coherent view into the workings of a solitary, otherworldly imagination. Warm, mildly fuzzy guitars offer not only a miasma of gloom, groove and downward spiraling depression, but the structures the guy uses are even 'innovative' in places, belonging more to the realm of 60s-70s progressive rock than they do proper metal music...whether they exhibit a Ghost-like ability to stick to your mind like sugar, or a more monumental grandeur somewhere between Black Hole, Cirith Ungol and Candlemass. Synth/ambient selections have a natural lo-fidelity to them that seems stripped directly from some VHS dub of an obscure Italo horror flick, but they're so epic that they also scratch my 'swords & sorcery' itch and I found myself writing a lot with them on in the background. Sure, I pen little stories and game materials to anything from opera to technical death metal to Immortal, but pieces like "Lifestream" or the frightful organs of "White Frijid Mass" seemed to directly fertilize the creative process that they, in turn, sprung up from. Arguably, others like "Sobering Through Darkness", where the two persistent musical styles are joined, are even more listenable.

Sure, one can probably tell that the constituent materials were recorded across a number of years and sessions; Gallo himself provides a brief history of each track in the liner notes. Yet I found that there was a lot of coherence and consistency over the broader range of content that it might have been branded just a new two-disc concept album transferred from demo reels and I mightn't have noticed the difference. John handles most of the instrumentation, joined by a number of his friends like Orodruin bandmates Mike Puleo and Mike Waske. Smooth bass lines and organic drums, zany blues leads and a smorgasbord of wet, evil riffs that range from friendly to freakish. The one component that took some getting used to was John's voice, which is basically an Ozzy-meets-Liebling pitch with some Messiah Marcolin theatrics, but ultimately I thought it was just the superb accompaniment to music so threaded and unafraid of employing sequences or atmospheres. Strange Doorways is something to truly be proud of, not only as a historical document of this project's musical transition from an 'idea' to a vessel of nuance and refined complexity, but as one of the best New York epic heavy/doom works I've ever experienced. If any more bands with the talent of a Blizaro or Realmbuilder pop up, we're in the very best of 'trouble'. 40 tracks, 2 and a half hours of pure escapism. Mandatory to at least check this out, and whether you're hearing this or the full-length first, the style and substance translate well across each.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10]

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