I am a big post-metal fan. I have admitted to this before without shame, despite the unkind words that are thrown around about the genre, including in the skull pit by my fellow word slaves scribes. And, as a fan of the genre, I firmly believe that The Ocean, Cult of Luna and others have shown it can be so much more than ten-minute, riff-less songs that feature sudden eruptions of heaviness. Despite this categorical proof, a number of ‘post-metal’ bands appear not to have got the message. When Italian four-piece Nero di Marte formed in 2012, they had clearly read, received and possibly eaten the memo. Mixing post-metal’s atmospherics and melody with almost prog-like experimentation and an extreme metal aggression, Nero di Marte’s self-titled 2013 debut was excellent. Indeed, it was enough for Luc Lemay to invite them on tour with death legends Gorguts. 2014’s follow-up, Derivae, was almost as good.
Five years on and with a change of drummer – 2017 saw the arrival of Hideous Divinity’s Giulio Galati, whose work our own Iron One, Ferrous Beuller, recently called “impossible” – Nero di Marte are back with third album Immoto. They have not markedly changed styles in that time but they have learned patience, it would seem. Four of the album’s seven tracks clock in at ten minutes plus, and the record as a whole runs to just shy of 70 minutes. Although Nero di Marte’s playbook still includes some pretty extreme death metal moves (for starters see the breakdown about four and half minutes into Immoto’s opener “Sisyphos”), these are much more spaced out and, in some cases, dispensed with entirely. The 13-minute title track barely gets out of second gear, as it repeatedly eases itself from almost lounge-music languidness onto the cusp of a crushing post-metal crescendo that only arrives eleven and a half minutes in.
Indeed, throughout Immoto – which appears to translate as ‘still’ or ‘motionless’ – lengthy, atmospheric passages of rumbling guitars amble along at an oppressively casual pace behind Sean Worrell’s vocals. With some tracks delivered in Nero di Marte’s native Italian, and others in English, for me Worrell’s vocals have lost something over the last five years. Although never the strongest vocalist (he also plays guitar), Worrell’s hardcore barks and death metal-tinged shouts worked well enough on previous outings, recalling for me something like early Dillinger Escape Plan mixed with Converge. On Immoto, he introduces softer, croony not-quite-cleans (see the title track or “Semicerchi,” for example), more reminiscent of Disassociation-era Dillinger or – if you squint your ears a bit – Mike Patton but, for me at least, he’s not a good enough singer to carry this off.
Taken as a whole, Immoto is patchy for my money. The Nero di Marte that delivered the off kilter, proggy extremity of their debut is still there, alive and well on tracks like “Sisyphos,” “L’Arca” and the beautifully brooding “La Casa del Diavolo.” But the same band is now also responsible for the rambling first eleven minutes of the title track and the nothingness of “Irradia,” which is ideal if you’re having trouble sleeping. When he’s allowed to, Galati shows the same preternatural ability behind the kit that he does for Hideous Divinity but for much of this record’s lengthy runtime, he is on a leash. Questionable production and mixing choices also mean that a lot of riffs and bass work vanish into a sludgy mess in the heavier passages, while the very average vocals are too in your face, the latter stages of album closer “La Fuga” are a prime example of this.
With each release, Nero di Marte albums have got longer. Their best outing – the debut – clocked in at just under 50 minutes. The strong sophomore effort, Derivae closed in on an hour, while Immoto blows right through the 60-minute mark, with an attendant drop in quality. For any post-metal band considering writing a seventy-minute record, I would advise you to ask yourselves the following question: are you Cult of Luna. Assuming the answer to that will almost always be no, I would advise re-examining your choices. Immoto has some excellent work on show – the first 20 minutes are killer and among the best death-tinged post-metal you’ll find – but it is mixed in with some decidedly second-rate material. If you enjoyed Nero di Marte’s first two albums, then this is worth checking out but, if they are unknown to you, I strongly advise starting elsewhere.