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Ever since first hearing about Paul Chain, the eccentric Italian artist who played guitar for Death SS in what was arguably their best era, I've been fascinated and eager to hear what kind of individual and esoteric work this man and the myriad of musicians who have worked with him have created. It wasn't until a few years ago however that I finally decided to obtain something from his dizzyingly extensive discography, and that turned out to be the then-most-recent "Park of Reason", not because it seemed more highly desirable than anything in a repertoire that I was led to understand ran the gamut from traditional doom metal to electronica and Hawkwind-esque spacerock, but because it seemed the most available at the time.
Since then I've delved a bit further into the man's ouevre, and I can confirm readily that when it comes to Paul Chain, you really don't know what you're getting into until you slap the album into your stereo and sit back to let its soundscapes enter your ears. Much of his work has a very spontaneous, improvised feel, whether it's slowly shifting organ music, drony rock jams filled with wild guitar soloing or something else entirely. I'd say this is one of the more metallic offerings Mr. Catena has given us, and it's about half doom of a sort that's loosely interpretable as "traditional.
I believe that Paul Chain intends his music to be listened to as a full, album-length experience, and that the concepts of individual "songs" is almost completely lost on him. This idea is certainly re-enforced by "Park of Reason", which seems to follow each slow, hypnotic metal dirge with something altogether stranger and having more of a connection with ambient music or mystical Italian progressive stuff from the 70s and 80s than anything else. My woman commented that Paul Chain should do film scores, and I agree that this is certainly an area he could excel at if he so wanted. What would be great would be a film directed and written by Paul Chain featuring his music and developing on some of the existential and quasi-religious themes that are hinted at in his music. Pieces like "Continuous Fix" really remind me of the 70s group Jacula, although in the case of this album at least the feeling of occultism and darkness isn't quite as profound. Most of the less metallic numbers here are composed using processed guitar, keyboards (often employing an organ-like sound), and subdued drumming, while muttered and half-sung voices drift in and out uttering messages that are only on the edge of comprehensibility. I can't imagine why anybody would just put one of these on by itself to listen to for a few minutes, but in the context of the album, they work really well, and the set-up of contrast between each of the metal dirges and its subsequent piece of soundscape is something I find really effective. The mood of these sometimes very eerie ambient works differs from the cold and reflective, as in "Eight-string Sweep", to the downright harrowing and weird, as can be heard in "Stajness Klaus", five minutes of bizarre frequency modulations, wave-like rushings from one channel to the other and pounding piano and synthesiser that seem to fluctuate in volume. It's all very wild and decidedly not for those looking for any kind of easy or catchy listening experience.
Of course, Paul Chain does not shirk the metal on this particular album, either, and while the doom to be found here is decidedly slow, eccentric and devoid of catchy riffs or refrains, there are a lot of good leads drifting in and out and some quite claustrophobic and affecting atmospheres present. Comparisons to other bands are difficult, and I think that Paul Chain is free from most other influences in this genre, however, it is certainly clear that he listens to lots of Black Sabbath, and he and his musicians do cover Saint Vitus on here. "Sanctuary Heve" almost reminds me of solitude Aeternus with its vageuly eastern-sounding vocal melody, though I'm sure the resemblence is coincidental and the delivery really couldn't differ more from what the American band does. Indeed, Paul Chain's voice is something of an acquired taste, being rather thin, high and very far from powerful, but I believe it fits his music very well and having a stronger singer with more obvious presence would simply stick out like a clashing element in the picture and mood that Paul Chain tries to create.
I mentioned a Saint Vitus cover earlier, and it's a strange choice, to be sure, as the song originally comes from the 1995 album "Die Healing", probably Chandler and Company's most unheard disc even though it was the last album the group ever did and marked a brief return of Scott Reagers to the fold. Well, Paul Chain certainly puts his own slant on this one, without changing the simple riffs (all two of them!) in the slightest. How he does this is of course with his far less theatrical voice, by bringing in some low organ notes to back up the chorus, and most importantly by playing some of the most gorgeous, tear-jerking solos I've ever heard, and that's not an exaggeration. Imagine how Tony Iommi might play his heart out if his mother had just died slowly of a horrible disease and you might come close to this. Dave Chandler is certainly a master of psychedelic guitar freakouts, but Paul Chain really captures the Iommi tone and wah-wah character almost perfectly, while playing with a distinct style that is all melancholy and anguish.
Following the Vitus cover, things start to get just a little bit darker. We have the longest ambient piece on the disc, the twelve-minute "Wings of Decadence", which is mostly made up of quiet but often rather dissonant organs. If "Let the End Begin" is the coming of the reaper, this is the cold and unyielding afterlife itself as it conjures up a feeling of an endlessly desolate void-space and utter solitude. "Ascension of any Pound" alternates between a very sinister riff and the only almost up-beat moment on the entire album that is likely to get your head banging in that swinging way that Trouble often did in their earliest days while you feel your brain sizzling under the weight of that masterful soloing. Finally, if you don't have a balance control on your sound system (it seems that many modern ones don't!) you might find yourself cursing and fumbling while trying to figure out what the hell is going on once you reach the final track. I have no idea if Paul Chain wanted this to be a double album and when he discovered that the label wouldn't let him do it, he simply said, "fine, I'll figure something out!", but I will say that the notion of having each channel play a different track entirely is .. novel, to say the least, and a little bit sneaky. Are we intended to listen to them in tandem? I'm really not sure! They are both metal tracks, and mostly played at differing tempos! However, at times they really do seem to merge together in some strange way as the peaks and troughs of one seem to slide into those of the other, as though they were written to complement each other, and the title(s) seem to back this up. Will we ever really know what Paul Chain was thinking? Listening to this piece on headphones as I write this, suddenly it really does seem to make sense as a huge, heavy-as-hell riff pounds into my right ear while the metal in my left has stopped to be replaced by some oscilating organ chords .. but oh, woa, here's another riff in that ear, played at a much faster tempo than the right, and now I feel extremely disoriented. Thanks a lot, Paolo!
This is certainly not something you listen to casually, slap on at a party or play a song or two from before going out to the bar. You listen to this in a state of seclusion, without distractions, and possibly with the aide of your favourite psychotropic substance. Keep your mental pathways open and perhaps you will feel a connection forming between you and a man who's art is certainly one of the most challenging and individualistic in all of metal, as well as one of its best-kept secrets.