“Progressive music is not only about shredding and odd times (that we absolutely LOVE) but also about not having any boundaries in the music that you express and play.”
When I do a review of a band that is new to me, some research is involved to familiarize myself with them, usually through their Facebook page and other social media outlets, though it’s rare that I immediately find a quote from them that inspires me to immediately start writing. Then again, there isn’t much very common about Italian band 81db. Moments after I had hit play on their third release A Blind Man’s Dream, I knew it was going to be one hell of a ride. By the middle of the first track I was struggling weakly to keep up with all the deeply textured nuances that they were barraging me with. By the latter end of said track, I threw my hands up in a ‘fuck it all’ manner and just let the music have its way with me. I still had ten tracks to go, it was a long night to say the least. Their biography states in the beginning “Time to challenge your idea of how heavy rock music sounds today” and boy did they ever challenge mine. They in fact took many long held ideas I had about heavy rock and blew them all to hell.
So who the heck are these guys? 81db came onto the scene in 2009 with their acclaimed debut Evolution. Following some extensive touring including opening for rock legends Deep Purple, they drew the attention of producer Silvia Massy(Tool, System of a Down) and released their sophomore album Impressions. Having grown into their sound and reaching a maturity level as a band, they were ready for number three. So guitarist Kostas Ladopoulos, vocalist William Costello, drummer Filippo Capursi, and bassist Viere Pestelli reached deep inside and busted out with a brilliant concept album inspired by the legendary film One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest titled A Blind Man’s Dream.
Musically, there isn’t a person in the world who could pin this album to a specific genre or sub-genre. The opening track Manicomium opens with some folk guitar, and then jumps into a brutally gritty explosion of riffage. Deep, harsh, and sick, the bass and guitar riffs ride hand in hand to deliver a thousand pound punch. Properly amped up, Costello enters with vocals to match, solid in range and technique, but emotionally filled with tension and rage. Then the band really goes off, jumping from one complex time signature to another, digging deeper and deeper, never letting the listener settle into anything resembling peace and comfort. They keep you on edge until, as I said in the opening, you throw your hands up and give in to it. Then the album spends the next hour or so tossing one to and fro, with brilliance, talent and technique.
The folk tones serve as a starting point for a good majority of the music, as with the second track Sirens. Then the band layers on the goods, the deep heavy chords, the beastly rhythms, and that deliciously rebellious lyrical tone. The total package serves perfectly to give total credence to the albums theme of a journey into and out of an insane asylum. The storyline is roughly akin to that of the movie and the legendary Ken Kesey novel, with a majority of the attention given to the musical aspects, which are nothing short of perfect. The next track When the Cat’s Away, my personal favorite, perfectly demonstrates all the insane tools that 81db brings to the table. This one literally leaves you twenty IQ points lower than when you went into it. It’s a back alley beating with coin filled socks. But they just don’t stop here, in fact they never stop. Song after song, they just bring so much intensity and thunder, yet each note is so skillfully executed.
The album rips off another few killer tracks before hitting a big finish, starting with Electroshock. Just a brief instrumental number, it sets up the scene with a quirky version of the infamous scene from the movie, seemingly to me at least told from inside the mind of the patient. Then it’s go time till the end. The last four tracks, each lengthy and bordering on epic, bring punch after punch that no man could keep up with. First is Alien Invasion, the most absurdly insane track on the album. This one is a first person singular view of schizophrenic level paranoia, both lyrically and musically. Next is Insane Wishes, which is the most “normal” of tracks on the album, yet easily the most emotionally charged. This is primarily a lyrically driven track, the deep and intense music serving to enhance the brilliantly delivered diatribe of the insane trying to come to terms with their insanity, finishing with some brilliant guitar work by Ladopoulos. Then comes The Great Escape, which thematically doesn’t really need an explanation, and musically is a hands down monster. The band seems to go even deeper into their bottomless bag of musical whoopass to bring forth yet another number that really lays it on thick. There is absolutely no chance of settling into this song, it just is so dynamic and diverse. When it gets to the actual escape, the background sirens and police chatter add to the building tension, and when the break point is reached, the song cuts off, leaving the listener hanging for the last track, A Blind Man’s Dream. Beginning in a more subdued state, this one builds in intensity second by second, the layers both lyrically and musically becoming almost physically palpable, as if you could pull them out of the surrounding air. There is no drawn out ending, no soft landing, these guys take us to the woodshed and smack us around till the very last note.
It’s not often that I am short for words to describe what a band does to me musically, but 81db left me in that state pretty much beginning to end. Pretty much every aspect of their delivery is spot on for what they were trying to achieve. Diverse and brutal guitar work, delivering thunderous chords, insane riffs, and blistering solos. The bass keeping it deep and solid, just relentless, drums perfectly keeping an insane pace, and filling every hole with brilliant crashes. The vocal delivery of Costello, living up to the insanity of the theme and the music so damn well. I have come across many artists new to me that blew me away with brilliant albums, but this is surely the first time one pushed me so far out of what I’m used to. 81db delivers an album that will surely satisfy an incredibly broad audience by bringing something utterly new and wonderful, and they earned every bit of what’s coming to them with A Blind Man’s Dream.