When Italy’s Progenie Terrestre Pura released U.M.A. four years ago, they offered a decidedly different, intensely hard-to-pin-down take on industrialized black metal. The programmed drums, use of synths, and heavily processed guitars brought Darkspace to mind, but PTP offered a different, less malevolent sci-fi vibe. They didn’t so much create images of you and all of your loved ones being slowly crushed as you passed the event horizon of a supermassive black hole, but sent you on a Five Year Mission, complete with wondrous adventure, some dangerous first contacts, and one big Crystalline Entity.
For a certain type of listener, the album created an instant love affair. Sophomore full length oltreLuna, then, has been the subject of more than your typical level of enthusiasm for some folks (like me), and it’s always great when such albums deliver on a band’s potential. This does that and more, showing true growth in songwriting skills while expanding the formula in a few key areas without veering too far off of the nearly perfect path of its predecessor.
U.M.A. was often unrelenting in its pacing, as if the entire album was a psychedelic trip through a wormhole from sci-fi cinema (there were ambient passages, sure, but they felt more like changes in volume than a shift in environment). OltreLuna, on the other hand, gives the listener ample time to stop and observe the surrounding cosmic objects, locations, and inhabitants. This is done both with the band’s heightened compositional prowess — that great combination of everything feeling natural while still offering surprises — and an even wider range of “extra” sounds (female vocals, synth squeals, heavy dubstep pulses, trip-hop drums, and some other less expected sounds we’ll get to later). Add in a meticulous, ludicrously detailed production, and far more noticeable vocals from newcomer Emanuele Prandoni, and you get an album that is simultaneously more accessible and deeper than the debut. Our hypothetical starship crewmen are more battle-hardened by their experiences, yet they have lost none of their awe for the universe.
The growth in composition displayed by PTP cannot be overstated. Each song’s wide dynamic reach offers a great backbone over which the band works the techy riffage, progressive structures, blasty malevolence, industrial fervor, and wide synthy expanses. The aforementioned extra elements are as essential to the experience as the more traditional metal ingredients, and every minute detail is perfectly placed. The band offers some real, actual hooks (spry riffs in “[.subLuce.]”), expertly crafts bits of tension and foreboding (the “to be continued” moment in the monstrous title track), and even gets a tad playful (quirky leads in opener “[.Pianeta.Zero.]”). Plus, the term “blast off” has never felt so musically apt, both in terms of the band’s space travel imagery and their tendency to emerge from mid-paced material into a maelstrom of blast beats and tremolo riffing.
Each song finds time to churn within twitchy claustrophobia, open up the view screen to all the stars within visual reach, and get just a little weird. Due to the band’s uncanny skills at keeping things fresh and their wide arsenal of other sounds (the bleeps, the sweeps, and the creeps!), each song offers a unique experience. A sneaky good album arc obviously helps, eventually delivering you to a destination that you didn’t know was in sight.
One of the most interesting aspects of oltreLuna is the addition of instrumentation that can only be described as “primitive,” at least in comparison to the album’s otherwise futuristic aura. Most significantly, the opening build of the title track utilizes hand drums, flute, and didgeridoo. If I was a man hellbent on applying my love of science fiction to such music — and I am — I would imagine that these moments represent our galactic explorers coming into (not-so-friendly?) contact with a primitive alien species. That the song absolutely explodes into a tempest after only furthers this impression. Look, you can interpret this however you desire, but if PTP didn’t want us thinking about space and stars and exoplanets and ETs and everything else, they’d probably use different cover artwork. And thank the heavens they don’t, because for the target audience, such artwork offers a key kickstart to the imagination, and is a definite enhancement to the experience.
Of course, without the music, there is no experience to enhance, and if you hadn’t already gathered, oltreLuna is pretty damned spectacular. PTP does this very distinctive style better than just about anyone else by being both immensely talented and far more unique than their closest neighbors. Most importantly, an already great band has levelled up in a big way, delivering on their considerable potential by dropping an absolute stunner.