Album Of The Week: Havah Contravveleno
Fascism came back. The past year and a half has been a strange time in human history, when voters across Europe and North America showed a sudden passion for terrifying latent blood-and-soil rhetoric. Last year saw the UK vote for Brexit and the US elect Donald Trump, while far-right candidates took office all over Europe. No pundits saw it coming, and most of us just had to sit and watch, appalled, while dog-whistling goons seized power across the universe. Suddenly, it began to look like a cresting wave. Maybe that wave is dying down now; the most prominent far-right candidates in Europe lost their national elections this year. But the people who were elected are still in power, and we’re going to have to deal with their bullshit for years. In the United States, Nazis are marching in city streets while Trump and his associates are doing whatever they can to deport and disenfranchise anyone who isn’t white. And so one of the most effective pieces of art I’ve heard lately is one that calls back to the last time this happened, the last time the fascists grabbed power around the world and fed humanity’s darkest impulses. It didn’t go well.
Contravveleno, the newest album from the dark and brooding Italian punk band Havah, is apparently a concept album about Italian resistance fighters who did what they could to struggle against the forces of Mussolini and Hitler in their own country during World War II. Havah frontman Michele Camorani put research into writing the album, speaking with politicians and activists and people who were there at the time. The catalyst for the album was a story he heard from the Italian partisan Nullo Mazzesi, who told Camorani about being 12 years old, stealing guns from occupying German soldiers, fleeing through a cabbage patch while Germans shot at him. English-speaking listeners won’t necessarily get all that from the album. All of the album’s lyrics are in Italian. But even if you can’t understand the text of the lyrics, you can still feel the emotion in them, the coldness and desperation and intensity of this music written about one of the most fraught moments in recent history, during another one of those fraught moments.
Camorani has been conveying intensity for a long time. He’s led two bands, Raein and La Quiete, that built themselves cult audiences in America and elsewhere during the earlier years of this decade. Those two bands — both of which I’m pretty sure are still around, at least nominally — worked within the underground-scene structures of their time, and both of them did great things with the sounds that were in the air during their moments. La Quiete and, especially, Raein were (are?) screamo bands, but both of them also transcend the term. Raein belong to the early-’00s wave of bands — Pageninetynine, Orchid, Circle Takes The Square — that took the sound of post-hardcore and used it for the most expressive ends possible. That combination of sounds — clangor, melody, bloodcurdling wails, tingly post-Slint riffs — was capable of great grandeur even after it became Warped Tour bait. And Camorani’s bands always stayed firmly underground. Dudes in American bands would speak the names of La Quiete and Raein in hushed tones. Their records remain powerful.
But Havah are something else. Lately, there’s been a flood of new bands, bands put together by people who were once in DIY hardcore bands but who have been embracing darker, more theatrical sounds instead. They’re not screaming anymore. Instead, they’re making bleak, incantatory goth-rock, drawing on Bauhaus and the Cure and, especially, Joy Division. They’ve brought in synths and acoustic guitars and stalking-jaguar basslines. That whole thing has been happening on DIY venues and Bandcamp pages, and a lot of the bands it’s produced — Pawns, Cemetery, Voight-Kampff, the Estranged — are well worth your time. Havah aren’t really part of that wave. They’ve been putting out records since 2012, and Contravveleno is their third album. But Contravveleno fits aesthetically with what those other bands are doing and, to my ears, it’s the most accomplished record I’ve heard that’s come out of that death-rock moment.
Contravelleno is lush and expansive and pretty in its despair. For an album from a DIY-scene stalwart, it sounds gorgeous coming out of fancy speakers. And it dives completely into its bleak, morbid mood. There’s no real outward sign that this is music being made by a hardcore-underground cult figure; a few minutes ago, my wife walked into my office and, half-listening, asked if I was listening to the National. It’s not that lush, but I could see where she made that connection. Camorani sounds more like Ian Curtis on this album than he does like his old self. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not used to hearing gothic rock sung in Italian, but the vocals — especially when it’s not Camorani singing — take on a certain operatic flair. The guitars ripple and ring. The drums have a spartan enormity to them. It’s music that fills up a room, music that’s more about dread than catharsis. It’s dark music for dark times, and losing yourself in it feels good.
Contravveleno is out 9/15 on Maple Death.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Foo Fighters’ big-riff return Concrete And Gold.
• Hundred Waters’ shimmery, impressionistic Communicating.
• Gucci Mane’s guest-heavy feelgood trap crawl Mr. Davis.
• Open Mike Eagle’s expressionistic poverty-memories concept album Brick Body Kids Still Daydream.
• Ariel Pink’s woozy bedroom-pop scuzz-out Dedicated To Bobby Jameson.
• Rostam’s sighing, exploratory solo debut Half-Light.
• The Cool Kids’ crisp, funky reunion effort Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe.
• Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton’s sharp indie-popper Choir Of The Mind.
• Hot Water Music’s wizened, melodic punker Light It Up.
• Washer’s sloppy, hooky DIY rocker All Aboard.
• Michael McDonald’s grand, luxurious yarl-pop comeback Wide Open.
• Antibalas’ Afrobeat groove session Where The Gods Are In Peace.
• Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ grandfatherly folk-rocker The Laughing Apple.
• Lee Ranaldo’s comfortably out-there solo album Electric Trim.
• Au Revoir Simone member Annie Hart’s solo debut Impossible Accomplice.
• Jet Age Of Tomorrow’s self-released studio-funk exploration God’s Poop Or Clouds?
• Mini Dresses’ patient, deliberate self-titled album.
• Prophets Of Rage’s had-to-happen-I-guess self-titled debut.
• Gary Numan’s retro-futuristic new waver Savage (Songs From A Broken World).
• Ringo Starr’s solo LP Give More Love.
• Trent Reznor’s score for the PBS documentary series The Vietnam War.
• Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions Son Of A Lady EP.
• Michael Nau’s The Load EP.