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Area - Arbeit Macht Frei CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

4.27 | 634 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

4 stars Times of political and social unrest throughout history have proved a reliable jumpstart to creativity, throughout history. Perhaps these circumstances are present all the time, but it's obvious that there were many "hot spots" during the tempestuous years of the Cold War. If we zero in on Italy during the middle of this conflict, we see a nation struggling to gain an identity, and the characteristic battle between polar opposites on the ideological spectrum. Area emerged at this time, with the ambitious goal of capturing the atmosphere on the streets in addition to challenging themselves as musicians and individuals. They could be included as an embryonic form of the "Rock in Opposition" movement, because their approach was similar to what Henry Cow was doing at the time. From the outset, the Area sound was an all-inclusive free-for-all of influences and ethnicities - stretching from different Mediterranean styles, Balkan folk music, Arabian, avant-garde, classical, free jazz/improv, and fusion. This seemingly jumbled assortment of influences congealed beautifully into an adventurous statement of artistic aptitude waiting excitedly to jump from behind its cunning Dadaist smirk. I would seldom call what Area did here a commercial approach, but they created quite a buzz with "Arbeit Macht Frei."

At the time this album was recorded, the band was already demonstrating assurance of role and personality within the group. Vocalist Demetrio Stratos was very much the voice and image of the group, while keysman Patrizio Fariselli was the mastermind beneath their stylistic direction. Interestingly, it had only been a short time since Stratos' abandoned his attempts at becoming a pop star. When Area was formed, he decided to dramatically redirect his approach to singing, becoming one of the most experimental vocalists of the era.

"Luglio, agosto, settembre (nero)" opens the album and from the get-go solidified Area's place as musical and political daredevils. An Arab prayer or poem introduces the track before Stratos takes over, promptly joined by a tricky groove that takes a folk dance and gives it a jazzy kick in the rear. The middle section is filled with chaotic noise which gradually becomes more organized before that groove comes back. This is the type of track that is very hard to describe; you have to hear it yourself. Definitely one of Area's finest moments. "Black September" is also significant in its controversial dive into the political ring. It is notable for its' sympathetic treatment of terrorism, specifically the actions of PLO's and the "Munich Massacre" during the Olympics the previous summer. Regardless of their stance . . . or yours, or mine, Area's representation of the struggle is a powerful one and shows incredible depth of perception (unfortunately, I can't recommend an adequate translation although there are several experts on this site who may be able to shed more light than I ;).

Up next, the title track takes its name from a Nazi slogan, along the lines of "work sets you free." The lyrics are oblique and I get the feeling there's a clever use of wordplay that doesn't translate particularly well across cultures. After an intro consisting of various sound effects and drum rolls, a descending bass line emerges from the swamp and morphs into a funky rhythm after several brass transitions. These guys really nail it here; the performances are incredibly tight - on par with the best. My favorite part is around four minutes, when the "main" bassline comes in backed by Eddy Busnello's energetic saxophones . . . and of course there's Demetrio's excellent vocal performance complete with intense groans and even something that sounds like angry yodeling. By the end of the track, we get another funky bassline with freaky synth and guitar soloing.

"Consapevolezza" jumps out to an upbeat eruption of sax, bass, and electric piano before winding into many valleys and crevasses. Stratos performs more acrobatics, this time pounding each verse into the ground and accenting with that quasi-yodel - don't try it at home! The instrumental sections dart in and out of the verses, with unpredictable twists that are nonetheless welcome every time. We hear frantic sections interlaced with cool jazzy solos courtesy of Busnello. I'm amazed at how well Fariselli, Busnello, and Tofani translate the vocal line into a unison riff over top of the volatile tempo of Capiozzo and Dijvas. "Le Labbra del Tempo" follows in the same vein only with less structure. Most of the themes covered begin to appear and disappear quickly and often contrast the rhythmic backing; the resulting feel is dissonant yet approachable. The whole thing is really a mess to describe (in a good way, of course). After this, we get more jazz with "240 Chilometri da Smirne". It's hard to tell whether this was improvised or not, the musicians play extremely well off of each other, seemingly in free jazz spirit, and Giulio Cappiozzo is notably impressive behind the kit. The final track, "L'abbattimento dello Zeppelin" is the most chaotic on the album. Stratos lets loose with all kinds of shrieks and insane raving, whispering, and moaning. Not for the faint of heart.

I really want to give this one five stars, but I'm sure it's not for everyone, especially those who aren't into this relatively extreme approach and the tendency to experiment early and often. But to those looking for a taste of this crazy stuff, "Arbeit Macht Frei" is a good place to start, just edging out "Crac!" as Area's best work.

PA rating: somewhere between 4 and 4.5

The Jimmy Row Factor: 9/10 , A

jimmy_row | 4/5 |


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