In 2008 Jannick Top sent a shock wave through progressive rock community with the release of Infernal Machina. The sound that he created on that album was absolutely unique, a fascinating collision of zeuhl, metal and primal screams. Now after ten years I found the same formula rediscovered and applied, again with astonishing result, by OH. (Olivia Hadjiioannou) in her new album Metallia.
Infernal Machina is not an easy listen. On the contrary, I would say it is one of the most, if not the most, demanding album in my collection. Even on the best of days I can withstand only about 80 percent of it, when I’m not in mood I give up somewhere after fifteen minutes of an hour long recording. Yet probably this is the same feature that makes it so memorable. The frantic repetitiveness combined with slow but steady falling into madness is a trademark of Infernal Machina. In this regard, this is one of the most extreme albums I own, right on the edge of being inaccessible, yet somehow always an enjoyable experience. There are couple of themes that are introduced throughout the album, each dominated by one instrument (screams count as an instrument here as well). Later these themes are merged together, one by one, as their intensity rises. By the end of the main section of the album (excluding Resolutio, which is a separate being), we have a fully constructed ‘metal zeuhl’ sound.
For many years I haven’t heard anything quite like it, until I heard Metallia. The heavy, frantic mood meets us from the first moments of track one, the Red Lion. It’s like jumping right into the climax of Infernal Machina, without warning. Olivia spares us the tedious process of building the sound, instead she explores the possibilities that it offers. In some way it feels like continuation of Jannick’s opus, a next chapter of the story. I did not find any indication that OH. was influences or indeed that she was even aware of Jannick’s work, but I would be very surprised if she wasn’t (although it’s not very uncommon for two composers to come up with similar ideas independently, a notable example is Henry Cow and Thinking Plague).
Either way, Metallia is a brilliant piece of music and even if it was inspired by some zeuhl classic it is only for the better. It offers six very intense and intricate compositions. Mercifully they don’t exhibit so much repetitiveness which is a great relief. There is just enough momentum in the evolution of each track to keep you interested and entertained. Each piece is different and explores a new idea, but they all share the same heavy sound I like so much on Infernal Machina. But of course it’s not identical, much more emphasis was put on the electric guitar at the expense of rhythm section which pust it a bit further away from zeul genre. The screams however, they are so much like on IM it’s uncanny.
Unfortunately the album is very short, much under thirty minutes. I personally like short albums, especially if they are demanding, but this one feels more like an EP than full album. I’d love to see one or two more tracks there. Other than that I have absolutely no complains, a flawless release and a great pleasure from first listen and it’s still getting better with every next one. I wish there were more such forward-thinking and adventurous composers out there. Hopefully OH. will inspire some!