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I suppose I can consider myself fortunate to have only discovered Dark Quarterer within the last three or so years, since they seem to release an album to the world with about the same level of frequency as occurs a major shift in the Earth's tectonic activity, so I was able to track down their four extant recordings quickly and can see, "in a capsule of history", how the band progressed over a twenty year period. Here we have "Violence", the band's album from 2002. Will it be their last? Well, at the rate the band usually seem to work at these things I predict we might see a new album by the year 2010 at the earliest. The fellows must be getting pretty old by now, especially considering that they formed way back in 1974!
if there's one thing age ought to bring to a group of artists working as a unit it's experience and confidence, and Dark Quarterer have the ability to bowl us over with not only their self-assuredness but also with a formidable degree of instrumental prowess. They've always been on the high-end of the virtuostic scale for a metal band, particularly one that played a rather inaccessible type of "epic metal" and adopts a raw approach to their music on record. When I say "raw", I don't mean that the material sounds abrasive or harsh or that the recording lacks fidelity. In this context, I believe the rawness of Dark Quarterer stems from a very "live-seeming" approach to recording: few overdubs and even a willingness to let some slip-ups pass in the studio, for they're the sort of things you only notice after a great number of listens and which almost manifest as quirks rather than flagrant and irritating errors. Quirky is one way to describe Dark Quarterer anyway, and you wouldn't mistake them for anybody else, ever, especially after hearing Gianni Nepi's soulful singing, which I'll focus on at greater length shortly.
Despite their deserved reputation as a bit of an "oddball" band, one thing that I noticed the very first time I put this album on is that it's a rather dark record compared to the previous one, 1994's "War Tears", which saw the band adopting a slightly cleaner approach and even embracing a bit of fun in the totally over-the-top and hilariously great "Out of Line". Here it's all about death and madness and perversion and sadness, and it's all very challenging to listen to. This is decidedly far from simple music, both in terms of Gianni's interesting and cryptic lyrics and especially the progressive nature of the songs, which is at its height on "Violence". Never before has Dark Quarterer's love of classical music and a symphonic approach to arrangement been more apparent, but the timings of some of these riffs and the decidedly robust drumming owes more to jazz and progressive rock than anything else. Songs are long, winding, and composed to inspire more than a single emotional response through grandiosity or plaintive and painful melodies. Each piece of music is a journey that presents many facets and builds up to a grand climax, before bringing us down and often introducing new themes altogether. Each player is tightly woven into the work and they all are worth noting, even the keyboardist, who serves more of a background, atmosphere-building role than the other players and yet whose presence is absolutely essential to the proceedings. There's even a guest vocalist on here, a female who sings a subtle counterpart to Gianni in the last song, and though she's only featured for such a brief time, it's one of the more beautiful moments I recall hearing in more recent musical times. There are only six songs here and they all exceed the seven minute mark, except for the brief guitar/vocal piece that more or less divides the album in half.
"Black Hole, Death Dance" is probably the most up-beat sounding song on the album, and this one manages to be quite catchy, with a kicking drum introduction and vocal refrain that's almost poppy and will get stuck in your head very quickly. Dark Quarterer have flirted with this sort of thing before, and since they're experts and know what they're doing you shouldn't really balk at any of their overt experiments if you love the band as I do. I'm actually not all that keen on the way the album sounds as the guitar seems to need some beefing up and in contrast, the drums are extremely loud and "in your face"; plus they have a bit of an artificial sound to them, which leads me to suspect that maybe the drummer is playing with an electronic kit. Nevertheless, I can tolerate this .. I after all have Cauldron Born's "...and Rome Shall Fall", which is probably the worst application of drum samples I've ever heard on a metal album, and that's no exaggeration. Despite the overly loud drum attack, which becomes almost too distracting during the double bass sections, the playing is marvelously unpredictable and following this guy's beats is quite entertaining. There are a couple of moments where I think he makes slight errors, but I commend him for playing in such a busy and intricate fashion and the band itself for not trying to gloss over the little imperfections in the studio as I think this would be pretty close to what a Dark Quarterer performance would be like.
This relaxed attitude extends to the singing, which is as passionate and soaring as ever but which, as seems the norm for this band, conveys a certain naked honesty, despite the generous helping of reverb the vocal tracks are occasionally given. Gianni certainly hasn't lost much of his range at all over the years, and with maturity has come real emotional depth and expressive ability beyond most other singers in this realm. You can really hear this on the short "Calls", which makes me think of an Italian operatic aria .. not that you'd ever really confuse Gianni for an opera singer, but he is certainly the focus of these three minutes of music and the song seems to invoke the feeling of a mediterranean sunset, with a lone and woe-stricken man sitting by the ocean pouring out his heart in a raw, naked expression of emotion with the accompaniment of an acoustic guitar. You can hear his voice crack as he ascends slowly through his vocal register, and when he finally cries out "No more love!" and holds the note for five seconds before gliding effortlessly down the scale without taking a breath, I promise you, if you have a soul it will make you want to weep. The guitar subsides, and we are left with a reverberating whisper: "I wish I could forget. But I cannot." Call me a sentimental piece of shit if you like, but I've almost never heard metal sound so passionate and honest in its attempts to evoke genuine feelings of loss and betrayal.
The name of this album, of course, is "Violence", and following the painful reflection of the aforementioned track we get the longest, heaviest and most violent track on the album, "Rape". A jangly and jarring riff takes centre-stage during the opening verses and under it you can hear what sounds like a cowbell used in a most atypical way. I might almost say this part is made to be purposefully obnoxious, or at least off-putting, and in the context of the song it really works for some reason. The lyrics are written from the point of view of a rapist and have a mad yet plaintive feel, especially when things quiet down for an ominous reflective moment and Gianni tells his victim in an apologetic way about his reasons for needing to mount her. The second half of the song is supreme though, as things get slow and crushing; the rhythm guitar hammers almost continually on a single, obsessive chord while eerie, wah-wah soaked leads and vocal wails drift in and out of the mix and the drumming pounds remorselessly.
"Last Breath" and "Last Song" not only bare similar monikers, they're also singularly beautiful. The former is extremely dark and is largely dominated by a classical-sounding theme that quietly introduces the piece with flute and acoustic guitar, and returns at the song's climax with the accompaniment of choral singing and crashing metallic chords. The final piece is a work of reflective majesty and largely cleanly played, but with an absolutely stunning guitar solo near its conclusion. The woman's soft, melifluous keening in support of Gianni's lyrics is a really subtle and delicate touch that's certainly well-appreciated by me. The album ends slowly with the fade-out of a militaristic drum beat and I can do nothing but sit and reflect for a few minutes on the work I've just heard. Yes, if this turns out to be Dark Quarterer's final statement, it would be a fitting and worthy epitaph. Selfishly, however, I exhort the muses of inspiration to fill the hearts of these warriors with music once again.