I can’t think of many metal instrumentals I would pick out as album highlights but here’s one: Final Gates, from Running Wild’s 1988 pirate metal classic Port Royal. Written by, and showcasing, Running Wild’s new bassist Jens Becker, Final Gates is a cut above: avoiding the usual pitfalls of skippable atmospheric scene-setting or virtuoso showboating. Instead, it’s a track that stands on its own: creative and restrained with wonderful guitar solos and Becker going all Geddy Lee on some infuriatingly catchy bass lines. It’s a wonderful, funky odd-man-out amidst a bounty of power metal swashbuckling.
As the great philosopher-poet Paul Stanley once said: I think the daytime is a fine time… but the night-time is the right time! Australasia seem to agree. As you can maybe gather from the title Notturno, this album has something of the night about it. An almost entirely instrumental project led by multi-instrumentalist Gian Spalluto, it’s an evocative musical journey through the wee small hours.
A nocturnal quality isn’t exactly new in my listening but the music on Notturno is unusual in that it tries to evoke and express the nocturnal world of nature and the beauty of the night. It succeeds. There’s plenty of ghostly ambience and shimmering, starry synths but the album predominantly uses a tapestry of layered, distorted guitars which are often gothic sounding or employ black-metal tremolo techniques to add to the haunting, moonlit vibe. The layers are often discordant too, which helps evoke the scurrying, chirping denizens of the dark: most notably, and appropriately, in Creature. There’s a lot of tension and release too as these discordant passages often resolve into sweeter, harmonic areas to uplifting effect. It’s a technique that’s tempting to overuse but Spalluto wisely keeps all these tracks flowing and shifting into different styles and moods rather than relying on the constant epic build. Invisible is the only track here that does keep building, the climatic vocals (the only singing on the album) tipping it over into cloying territory.
But songs like Eden and Amnesia keep the balance just right, adding enough grit and driving momentum to avoid becoming too saccharine and Kern brings to mind Judgement-era Anathema, another band that skirt skilfully on the edge of mawkishness. The album is cohesive and well-paced, rarely outstaying its welcome and holds your interest remarkably well for a predominantly instrumental record. As the beautiful, nostalgic piano of the title track plays you out it’s hard to believe 40 minutes have passed. Notturno has added a welcome variety of colour and mood to my listening and is one of my favourite discoveries of the year. The night-time really is the right time.