Vibrant green fields, replete with young men and women frolicking with each other in their natural environment, adorned with flowers and flowing locks. Loose-fitting headbands and azure jeans which gently swell at the bottom. A world of love where acceptance is life, difference is disregarded and war is abhorrent. And drugs. A fucking shitload of drugs. Marijuana, hallucinogens, horse tranquilizers, anything their grubby mitts can claw at. Days spent in a paranoid haze, where rolling around in their own drool is deemed preferable to order and structure. Such halcyon days are fondly remembered by Sacri Monti on their self-titled début, featuring the mind-warping psychedelic rock of the 60s. There’s just one applicable question in this situation: should this be the soundtrack to chomping on your pills of choice?
My first impressions were great. I love this style, recalling Amon Düül‘s most mental moments in the complex layering, densely packed with noodling guitars, groovy bass-lines, heavily-distorted vocals, and backing organs and synths to fill in the few gaps. The guitar tone and vocals are comparable with King Crimson‘s “21st Century Schizoid Man.” The music is exciting in a retro sort of way, but with touches of modernity in the production (more on this later). I was thrilled with opener “Staggered in Lies” and eagerly progressed onwards to unfurl the mysteries contained within Sacri Monti.
How long this sheen lasts is entirely dependent on your tolerance for psychedelia. Even for a fan of the genre like myself, the material gets a little long. Though the album is an ideal length numerically, the density is eventually overpowering. It’s generally tough to distinguish individual melodies from the pack once everything has moved into the main shredding gear. I particularly noted this as the album reached its second half on “Sitting Around in a Restless Dream” and “Ancient Seas and Majesties.” I don’t mean the individual melodies are too similar, rather that the overall style obfuscates specific melodic or technical proficiency in the instrumentation. It makes for solid background music but it’s not something I can truly love. Riffs typically stand out when the songs are just beginning and the complete soundscape hasn’t yet been constructed, since mid-song breakdowns are brief and infrequent. Both Amon Düül and King Crimson have their slower moments to complement and highlight the mental ones.
I was pleased, then, to reach the closing title track. It opens quite atmospherically, with a delicate shredding guitar and comparative sparsity in the instrumentation. It does eventually pick up as expected, but a little context goes a long way to improving my enjoyment of the dense material. Moreover, the vocals here are injected with more emotion by the second half, seemingly elevated a little higher in the mix above the guitars. The last couple of minutes feature more focused guitar-work too, tangibly leading the record to a definite close. It’s a shame that Sacri Monti save the most sophisticated and direct track until the end, where I fear interest will have already meandered in the average listener.
Though the modern touches in tone are an important aspect in the core sound, I would argue that music such as this would benefit hugely from a more complete production job. I acknowledge that this may have been a conscious decision, but more nuanced mixing would accentuate particular melodies and mitigate the similitude across the album derived from its complexity. A greater dynamic range would further distinguish this complexity. So maybe this is the ideal soundtrack to your gratuitous drug use. “Sacri Monti” aside, the music benefits from sitting in the background, where examination of its specific merits is unnecessary. There certainly are merits to the sober listener, but these are diluted by the unrelenting density. Add a point if you’re a keen stoner.