Hall of Mirrors - Altered Nights [Malignant Records - 2012]Anyone who follows the dark ambient scene closely will know that Italy, however surprising it may seem coming from a country more famous for its sunny beaches, overblown sense of fashion and culinary merits, has spawned quite a wealth of interesting projects over the last few years. ‘Altered Nights’, the latest album by Hall of Mirrors, is nothing less than a mammoth double disc distilling nigh on two hours of quality nocturnal mesmerism boasting some of Transalpine’s top-names in the field.
That it is being released on US powerhouse Malignant Records is already a token of quality of course but the fact that Andrea Marutti (Amon) and Giuseppe Verticchio (Nimh) managed to secure the musical collaboration of their fellow compatriots Vestigial (whose debut on Sweden’s CMI made quite a splash back in the day and whose second album is long overdue!), New Risen Throne (true masters of blackened ambiance) and Pietro Riparbelli (Livorno-based sound-multimedia artist behind the K11 and PT-R projects) makes this nothing short of a who’s-who of Italian dark droning-industrial and should have any self-respecting fan of the genre salivate with anticipation.
Having said that, it is no rare occurrence to witness super-groups fizzle like a wet fuse under the weight of expectations so how does the music fare in this particular case? Things start off in rather gentle mode with ‘The Meeting’, a nine-minute track that lifts off the musical veil little by little, adding new sonic elements as it slowly progresses towards a mildly harsher finish that will finds its echo later on in the disc. It seems to want to take the time to offer the listeners a glimpse of the aural canvas they will be treated to for the next two hours and, as such, serves its purpose in wonderful fashion, gently installing you into the general mood of the record while leaving you with the agreeable feeling that the best is yet to come.
The pièce de résistance then comes in the form of two twenty-minute tracks that really form the meat of disc one. ‘Invocation’, built upon the clever use of radio signals courtesy of Pietro Riparbelli and enhanced with a mesmerising flute pattern that plays in the distance, is both haunting and hypnotising. It features the same kind of crescendo that was used in track one and somehow evokes that memorable scene in the 1979 Soviet epic ‘Siberiade’ where the main character and his son lose their way in a boggy marshland while searching for oil.
The third track, the aptly-titled Magmatic Resonance, is like one immense transcendental build-up with a clear Vestigial touch. It follows broadly the same pattern as the previous tracks, only with a more pronounced sense of urgency, and is a clear contender for best song of the set. The fourth and last track then brings us back to quieter territory and rounds off the proceedings of disc one on a lighter note, albeit sonically only, since the ambiance that permeates throughout is clearly as disturbing as the rest.
Andrea and Giuseppe could’ve left it at that and delivered a more than convincing album but they probably felt that it was best to strike the iron while it’s hot and let their creative juices flow some more. Disc two consists of one single 45-minute track that evokes all of the above in one big chapter that travels back and forth between the various mental pictures produced by the previous tracks, alternating as it does between quieter and harsher soundscapes. It is both subtle and punishing, eerie and creepy, and while a difficult beast to absorb at first listen maybe, it still represents a perfect example of some of the best this genre has to offer.
Granted, ‘Altered Nights’ might not offer a completely new approach to the dark ambient canon, nor does it revolutionise the codes of what has now unfortunately become a well-established concept, but when music is done with such mastery and purpose of intent, it is difficult to not succumb to its mesmerising appeal. Do I really need to add this one comes highly recommended?