Not knowing much about this Italian group, from the description I was expecting some descent into utter Hell carved out by the collective sickness of something akin to Khanate meets the Axis of Perdition. Er… No. This is an altogether more gentle and romantic form of gothic despair.
The opening half of this epic collection, entitled Personas, is eleven tracks of heavily electronic gothic darkwave, languid and lush landscapes with crying female voices twinned to deeper male tones, moving forward at a stately, elegant pace. In places it is like a less classical styled Arcana or perhaps a much more symphonic Yendri, Monumentum’s later work wrapped up in something that inescapably but inexplicably reminds me of Black Tape For A Blue Girl woven through the less tempestuous moments of the masterful Elend.
Perhaps it’s the insularity. It is the kind of music that you would never dip into one track at a time; far better to set yourself adrift in the warm black waters and just let it lap over you as you slowly descend. So here we find the like of ‘The Lighthouse Keeper’ and ‘The Night Beggar’ alongside ‘ The Pain Sentinel’ and ‘The Love Slasher’, a collection of obsessive, destructive inner states kept in their own display case for study or experience.
This works with a deceptive simplicity, the rich and often sparse keyboard chords pulling you towards the voices as almost unnoticed the wall of noise closes behind you and slowly erases the outside. It is quite a beautiful world that Canaan create here; mesmeric, compelling, soothing in its slow warm hands. It is sumptuous mood music, lovingly and skilfully woven. Transporting. Not for everyone, or for every day, but an excellent piece of dark, drifting atmosphere and emotion.
The second half of this double album is Prisoners. Once more eleven tracks but of a different intent and simply numbered Prisoner 1 to Prisoner 11. Instrumental variations on the companion piece, here Canaan strip back the sound and slowly, judiciously drip an ethnic flavouring of rhythm and percussion down into the bones to create ambient pieces. Here and there I find reminders of earlier NIN approach to remixes circa The Downward Spiral, the hint of Dead Can Dance as ever, and the approach of the most gentle and restrained sides of ambient black metal artists like Midnight Odyssey or even (whisper it) Burzum around ‘ Filosofem’ in the use of dripping, echoing notes. This grows and creates a placidity which is curiously relaxing despite the dark echoes which form around the music. It does leave me pondering on the shift from Persona to Prisoner in a philosophical sense, the slow erosion of the personality into a certain uniformity which I guess is the intent, whether it is prisoners of the state or just of your state of mind. But instead of being beaten by a brutal regime this is the slow erosion by time and isolation and it still retains that bleak beauty of the first half of the album. I also believe it will end up being the one most played by me.
Downsides? Well, for me not many. Not many at all. You have to be both in the mind frame for this kind of flowing, often delicate music. The is no metal here, little even showing in the roots, no sudden outbreak of noise and fury to break up this long, long collection and you are more likely to sit through one complete CD or the other, depending on mood, rather than both together. I suspect that some will just not find the way into this labyrinth, and some won’t even see the point of such a slow, quiet journey. But there again the path less travelled often holds the most rewards they tell me.
This is not a work of destruction. It is more a subtle disintegration, statues turning to dust as you reach for them, memories fading to threadbare tapestries, hauntings. It can leave you so very quiet inside.
Often sparse, always sombre, this really worked for me and I can see Prisoners in particular becoming one of my favourite mood pieces for those solitary times. Frankly; rather excellent.