Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Blizaro - Strange Doorways (album review)

Amazing cover artwork by Costin Chioreanu.
As anticipation builds for Blizaro's upcoming full-length 'Cornucopia Della Morte' on Razorback Records, Italian label I, Voidhanger fills the ... uh, void with this comprehensive retrospective of the bands extensive back catalog of demos and other unreleased works.  This two CD collection finds many of the band's greatest and perhaps most interesting works either on CD or made widely available for the first time.  It's not often you get such a complete look back at a band's works mid-(life)stream, so I've had nerd-ly fun delving pocket-protector deep into this one.  The 20-page CD booklet comes complete with an excellent and well-written essay by Revelation's John Brenner and a complete track-by-track breakdown by head honcho / composer / vocalist / multi-instrumentalist / genius John Gallo.  One of the funnest and most exciting nerd-ly things of all was ripping off the shrink wrap, throwing the CD on, pressing play for the first time, then reading the thank you's on the inside tray.  It was the first time in my life reading CD thank you's that, not only did I recognize a sizable portion of the names, but some are people I interact with on a monthly basis.  It may be no big deal, but I got a big kick out of seeing Gruesome Greg being namedropped in the thank you's of such a Big Deal collection (at least to me it's a Big Deal anyway).  At this point I should make it explicitly clear that this is not a greatest hits compilation but a collection of the group's four limited released demos, plus another album's worth of previously unreleased songs.  This makes it a kind of appendix to the band's widely available releases, the 'City of the Living Dead' album and their split with Wooden Stake, both on Razorback Records.

The 40-track double disc falls backwards through time, running in reverse chronological order and kicking things off with the nine songs found on the amazing 'Blak Majicians' demo album.  I managed to get a hold of a CD copy of the original demo from the band and it has been one of my absolute favorite albums of the year.  I wrote a manically raving review of the album during the summer and it caused a tiny stir on facebook which was very cool, but anyway if you read the review way back when and had it in the back of your mind to find a copy for yourself, well now you can.  It's nice to see such a great album get an 'official' release.

'Strange Doorways' then moves on to 'The Old Wizard of Winter' demo from 2009 and to the time from before Blizaro had been signed by Razorback Records.  According to the liner notes the entire 'T.O.W.O.W.' demo was put together by John Gallo in a single night working solo (as I believe much of 'Strange Doorways' is), as a Christmas present to his family, but he was satisfied enough with the results to release the material.  The title track alone is certainly worthy of the price of admission, sitting night-mare-like among the man's best work under the banner of Blizaro.  It's a frightening theme with a cold of chilly feel to it as suits the concept.  It, as well as the rest of the T.O.W.O.W. demo, is entirely instrumental with organ and analog synth dominating throughout.

Disc 2 starts off with the 'Blue Tape' demo from 2008, which features some of the strongest material here.  "Sphere 1 (The Mirror)" is a Cream meets Monster Magnet out-and-out rocker with a startling amount of driving force behind it.  To longtime fans who know and love the 'Blue Tape' this is nothing new, but I hadn't heard anything like this one from Blizaro before so the effect was dazzling.  And the truth begins to emerge that no two Blizaro releases are very much alike.  'Blak Majicians' and 'City of the Living Dead' each synthesize early metal and the music of horror films and are where Gallo begins to settle in to a definitive voice for this project.  The 'Blue Tape' is 8 of the most rock n roll oriented tracks released under the name of Blizaro, the drums are generally cleaner, more groove oriented while there's a whole lot of guitar worship going on, keyboards are used relatively sparely and mostly for interludes.

The next, penultimate section of the collection contains the entirety of 'Horror Rock', Blizaro's original 2006 demo, a demo that will always hold a special place in my heart.  You see, 'Horror Rock' was the first Blizaro music I'd heard aside from the song "Lifestream" [track 2] I sampled on an AudiObelisk podcast which became my introduction to the band.  I found the online stream for 'Horror Rock' with a mind towards buying anything by the band that I could download immediately.  I had no such luck but I ran into the old Bland Hand Records website where it was on stream.  It was another month before the 'City of the Living Dead' album would arrive in my mailbox and blow my mind.  Anyway, this was Blizaro's first release and it sees Gallo beginning to work out a complex vision of jazz prog, unabashed Goblin worship, Fulci-esque atmospheres and Paul Chain riffs.  The demo's not as successful at stitching all those elements together as Blizaro's later works are, but (and without meaning to tear anybody else down) it's still more creative, interesting and well, good than 95% of everything else you hear in this or any other era.

At the end of both of the discs are a selection of previously unreleased tracks in the barrage of styles Blizaro is known for, primitive doom metal highlighted by classic early 80's horror film soundtrack moments but showing some different sides too.  "Beyond Mystery" displays a sweaty and smokey classic rock sound during the middle section, making it stand out from the rest of Blizaro's output.  "The Watcher" is interesting because Gallo is playing a John Carpenter style synth drone on guitar with synth wailing overtop.  It's a successful experiment which hacks its way abruptly but perfectly back into the main riff.  Nowhere is the development of the Blizaro vision as clear as between the end of the 'Horror Rock' demo and the later recording, "Demonhenge" which abuts it.  The song was only recorded a year or two later than "It's In the Lighthouse" yet the two are worlds apart.  The 'Horror Rock' demos bear the distinctive markings of late 60's jazz prog, specifically the stuff coming out of the UK at the time, Gallo has learned to hide those influences by the time of "Demonhenge", creating a more confident sounding and distinctive package.  There are eight previously unreleased songs in all, as a group they tend to lean towards the lighter side of things but there's a cohesiveness there that's unusual for a bunch of songs recorded at various times during a roughly five year span.

But the best part of it all is, Blizaro isn't even done with you yet, with two more releases appearing on the horizon 2014 looks to be the year of Horror Rock.  The first of these is the (hopefully) imminent release of 'Cornucopia Della Morte', Blizaro's sophomore full-length release on Razorback Records, although no dates have been given.  The second is a CD of some earlier demo material in a DVD clamshell case sold exclusively at the Aquarius Records store.

'Strange Doorways' is an absolutely essential purchase for fans of Blizaro, horror and metal, 80's Italian-influenced doom or anybody looking for something a little different.  And if you haven't been lucky enough to track Blizaro down yet or hear the music, they will knock your socks off.

Highlights include: "Sacrifice", "Sphere 1 (The Mirror)" and "The Old Wizard of Winter".
Previously unreleased highlight material includes: "Demonhenge", "Beyond Mystery" and "One Step Into Oblivion (Sorcerer's Brother)"

Rating: 5/5

40 Tracks on 2 discs
Total Run Time: 2:29:55

John Gallo (everything on most tracks): Guitars, vocals, bass, Moog and organ, sequenced drums
with help from Mike Puleo, Mike Waske, Peter Vicar and Earl of Void.

Blizaro's current line up is:
John Gallo: Guitars, vocals, bass, Moog and organ, sequenced drums
Mark Rapone: Bass
Mike Waske: Drums

From: Rochester, New York

Genre: Horror, Doom, Prog

Reminds me of: Paul Chain, Maryland Doom, Goblin, Saint Vitus, Lucio Fulci

Release Date: October 30, 2013

Blizaro on facebook

GET IT HERE (or send email inquiries to Luciano at voidhanger@libero.it)

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