In 1986 Fates Warning released Awaken the Guardian. This incredible album set a new foundation as well as a new boundary for the very new, exploding, and exciting progressive approach to metal. It was imaginative and provides to this day a great piece of musical escapism. The next year, near Milan, a few teenage friends would spend their time, as did countless other bands, covering songs by Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Queensrÿche and generally honing their musical skills. At one point they had enough of covers. The drummer Gianluca Corona switched to the guitar and wrote a song that was ambitious, creative, and quite dark. And so “Adramelch”, the song, was born.
The name would soon be used to name the band itself and encompasses fully what they were up to. Adramelch has a few meanings, open to interpretation – it could be either “God, the Tyrant King” or “The Tyrant God-King”. With that, a demo and getting on a compilation, the band managed to get themselves a record deal in 1988 for Irae Melanox.
I introduced this article by talking about Fates Warning for a reason: Adramelch is often called the Italian Fates Warning. Indeed, on the surface, it may seem like a very valid qualification, Adramelch is, like Fates Warning, a power metal band with a very progressive approach and displays similar elements as the US-counterparts of that style. That qualification is however reductive, Adramelch is not merely a copy with some vague charm to it. Already on this debut, the band showed a fantastic blend of influences that was not only filled with personality, strong songwriting and thematic cohesion, but also was arguably ahead of the curve.
The band namely did not just pull from metal idols in the USA or Great Britain. Of course they are present; on a song like “Decay” for instance, we can hear an intro that would not be out of place on Screaming for Vengeance by Judas Priest followed by a riff clearly reminding “Hallowed be thy Name” by Iron Maiden. The same goes for the song “Zephirus” where the Queensrÿche influence makes itself the most noticeable, but then, the music will surprise you with baroque notes progression, like the vocal melody at the end of “Decay”and maybe then you will start noticing that the whole album has guitar leads that play melodies directly inspired by composers such as Antonio Vivaldi or Arcangelo Corelli. The opening and the main riffs of the title track, “Irae Melanox”, are an example of that, marrying the immediacy and energy of power metal with the dramaturgy of what could be a Renaissance piece.
Usually when classical or baroque influences are discussed in metal, later European power metal bands come to mind, with their keyboard driven fast paced operatic style. Adramelch uses these influences in a very different way. Indeed, Adramelch predates acts like Rhapsody or Stratovarius and belong to a completely different world.
They belong to the world Italian progressive rock from the 70s, even if the music itself is quite different. Arguably, Rock Progressivo Italiano (abbreviated as RPI) was an approach more than an unified sound. A typical band would be Quella Vecchia Locanda that had a goal to marry the compositional and melody elements of classical music with the immediacy of rock. At the time, the band was also composed of teenagers with an infectious ambition and strong will to express themselves and push boundaries. All of these elements are present on Irae Melanox, making Adramelch the torchbearers of that approach in the 80s.
Sadly they were torchbearers for artists that discovered them often years later. At the time, Adramelch had a very hard time selling the album or playing shows which led to them disbanding shortly after. The commercial failure might have been due to the lack of promotion, the wrong time and place of release or the raw production, but that raw production adds the necessary bite and shroud of mystery. This album is built a lot around contrasts and the beautiful leads of the guitars combined with the roaring and screeching sound do fit the evoked themes. Looking at the cover, painted by the main songwriter and guitarist, Gianluca Corona, you can see a distant castle hidden in a gloomy mist. It is majestic, but at the same time menacing and it is these two adjectives that describe the music the best.
Take for example the opener, “Fearful Visions”, in which the solos introduce a sort of beauty with a menacing edge, with the deep and raw drums of sustaining this overwhelming effect while the epic, but bleak vocals of Vittorio Ballerio count the fate of oppressed peasants in the medieval feudal system. We find a similar dynamic on the title track, on which the oppression of the church is denounced, or on the closer, “Dreams of a Jester”, narrating the longing of an artist for freedom. The songs are often 6 or 7 minutes long, but they never feel that long. They are always keeping you hooked with memorable riffs and vocal choruses while using enough space and interplay between the instruments to paint the wished image in your mind. Not a single second on the album feels as if the technique is used for the sake of it.
Irae Melanox is an album about oppression and revolt, violence and sadness, dark beauty as well as beauty in darkness, all described in the simple but earnest medieval lyrics of Vittorio, inspired by the compositions and artistic vision of Gianluca, punctuated by the moody bass of Franco Avalli, and sustained by the steady drums of Luca Moretti.
Album rating: 90/100
Favorite track: Irae Melanox