Brazilian-thrash trio Nervosa brings the thrash on its second record, Agony. The record opener “Arrogance” rips like a scythe through a torso. There is a strong blending of early Sepultura and Death as frontwoman Fernanda Lira screeches like Chuck Schuldiner. The speed continues on “Theory of Conspiracy” with its blinding guitar riffs and ferocious drumming. Nervosa plays tight, never missing a step. “Intolerance Means War” is the initial single off the record with a riff that hits like a mallet with a few blast beats thrown in for good measure. It is a solid track filled with twists and turns. Things slow down a bit on “Surrounded by Serpents” with its descending, spiraling opening riff and pounding basslines. However, the band cannot slow down for too long and the songs speeds up.
Nervosa sticks to the basics on Agony as the songs are dynamic and nearly void of fluff. That does not mean that the songs are simple, but straightforward. The trio are excellent musicians and throw in several rhythm changes to keep you alert. Nervosa has studied from the temple of Sadus, Sepultura and Slayer and know how to thrash. Of course, where there is thrash, hardcore punk is not too hard to find. There are traces of the band’s hardcore influences throughout the album, especially on “CyberWar.” The production is solid and has a slight vintage feel.
Agony avoids the curse of the sophomore slump and should put Nervosa on the map. The songs are fast and heavy and Nervosa never overdo it. If you like thrash, speed metal or old school death metal then you should purchase this record. There is ecstasy in Agony.
For news and tour dates, check out Nervosa’s official website at http://nervosaofficial.com/site/eng-band/
Italy’s CONFRONTATIONAL recently released its first full-length album, entitled A Dance Of Shadows. This has been labeled as synthwave, as well as dark retro wave. I’d label it as addictive! I’ve been a fan and follower of the band’s mastermind, Massimo Usai [Max], for quite some time, so when this LP arrived, touting the names of some very esteemed musicians, I dug in with great anxiousness. I haven’t been the only one. It seems that a ton of people have fallen for Usai’s newest effort, and for good reason. Coming off of the Done With You EP, Max has created a truly cinematic, captivating experience. I sat down with him on Dec. 1 to discuss this creation, the involvement of his cohorts, as well as the band’s well-received performance at France’s Synthzilla Festival. Join us, won’t you?
First and foremost, Max, I want to congratulate you on Confrontational’s new album, A Dance Of Shadows, which was released on Oct. 1! I’ve heard it, I’ve reviewed it, and I love it. How has the reception been thus far?
Thank you for taking the time to check it out, Barry! Honestly, so far the reception has been absolutely mind blowing. I’m really grateful and honored to see the album being part of more and more collections on Bandcamp as each day goes by, and the YouTube version of the album hosted by NewRetroWave is already well over 18,000 views (at the time of this interview) since the initial upload on Halloween. Messages of praise are coming in from all over the world… I couldn’t be happier, really!
They all did, along with Bloody-disgusting.com, MetalRiot.com, TerraRelicta and Drive Radio and I am extremely grateful to all of the people involved. I think first and foremost the contributions by Cody Carpenter, Monte Pittman and Darren Travis certainly played a big part in raising interest. Secondly, the songs on the LP are very direct, have pretty big choruses and they showcase a wide array of my influences, which might have also helped. After years spent honing my craft through several projects, I finally found my dimension and I’m very comfortable with how I do things sonically. My unrestrained love for the 80’s is now something that works within the current cultural climate, which made way for the tracks to get noticed within the beautiful synthwave/retrowave scene. My metal roots probably also played a part, I think…
You’ve said that “the old ways stopped working, so I became confrontational.” Can you tell us about the origins of Confrontational?
I was being labeled that way by some people in my ex-band, for apparently wanting to cause distress by addressing issues I saw in the way the band was operating. We were actually not operating as a team at all, so I honestly confronted them with the hopes and expectations I had for that project. I did it face to face, looking straight into their eyes, with all of the passion that I’ve always brought to the music. Apparently, that was wrong to do. I realized then that things had to change for me to be able to make what I really wanted to do with my songs. A number of things had to also work differently in my everyday life, and since quitting that band a lot has changed in my life. It has been weird. I embraced confrontation as a catalyst for positive change. I started questioning a lot of aspects in my life. It’s been a really tough time, but I’d never go back… this is who I am now.
There’s definitely a cinematic feel to the progression of A Dance Of Shadows. If you would, tell us about your inspiration, both musically and lyrically, for this effort.
Music and lyrics are together as one throughout all of the album, really. Most of the songs came about in pretty much their final form, the most notable example being LIKE A CURSE – which really wrote itself upon waking up after a certain morbid nightmare I had. I’ve always been inspired by the works of my fave film makers, George A. Romero and John Carpenter, and around this time I’ve explored the work of two other incredible directors, William Friedkin and Michael Mann. I’ve been a fan of all of them for a long while but never before did I take the time to study them as in-depth as I did during these last months, while writing the album. Being exposed to their films made me realize I had something to say about certain things. So I went on and tried to convey those atmospheres into songs, in the most direct way I could.
Throughout this release we see guest performers, such as Monte Pittman (Madonna, ex-Prong); Cody Carpenter (Ludrium), son of John Carpenter; and Darren Travis (Sadus). How did you happen to get involved with these fine musicians? Furthermore, how did they end up playing the part they did on these particular songs?
I’ve been a huge fan of all three of them, directly or indirectly, for quite a long time. Monte Pittman‘s work with PRONG has always been a fave of mine and I was blown away by his latest solo album – THE POWER OF THREE. That album made me feel sane during really tasking moments of my life in 2014. Monte is not only a true guitar hero (the biggest of our generation, if you ask me), but also a killer singer / songwriter and a very generous human being. LOST THEMES, the Carpenter family masterpiece, is a highlight of John’s decades-long career and made me discover the talents of Cody, which I further explored through his solo project LUDRIUM. Cody is an incredible talent: a stellar musician, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and an author of really compelling songs. He’s also a real gentleman. And Darren Travis… well, what can I say about an absolute hero of mine? The first time I heard him sing on A VISION OF MISERY was total epiphany. I was 18 years old at the time and I felt he was speaking directly to me, of my experiences. Somehow we connected in person, and we have been friends since 2002. They are all incredibly inspirational persons. All of the collaborations with these beautiful people took place because of the way we connected through music – I got in touch and they liked my ideas enough to be a part of the album. I feel blessed and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for making it happen. They really made the album what it is.
You released a music video for “To Live And Die On The Air” earlier this year. The Romero influence here is quite obvious, but can you tell us about how the music and the images came together as they did?
I had the idea for the song while watching TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. by William Friedkin for the first time ever. I just heard the main section of the song playing in my head during a certain part of the movie that had no underlying score to it. My brain just heard these sounds come together, so I had to pause the film to get on my DAW (digital audio workstation) and write the parts. It was amazing. The day after that, I was listening back to the main structure and almost instantly got the idea to pair the music with a single pan shot filmed in slow motion, and that’s when the rest of the clip came together in my head. I’ve been working on it for more than five months with some incredible people, and I am very proud of the final result. It is filled with small references to not only George Romero, but John Carpenter and William Friedkin as well, as I really wanted to pay tribute to their influential work.
At one point, Crazed Pixel Comics was working on a Confrontational-inspired comic. Any news on that and if there will be a collaborated effort between it and the band?
I found out about Crazed Pixel Comics via Alex Murd’s incredible re-imaging of MARTIN, which was posted on a George Romero fan page on FB. We got in touch and expressed mutual respect for our works, exchanging ideas, thoughts and playlists. She came forth one day to let me know how much she enjoyed DONE WITH YOU, my first EP, and she went on to show me this amazing comic that according to her was completely inspired by the songs on the EP. You can actually find the digital version of the comic here. When I first read it, I must admit it felt as if somebody cracked my skull open to take a look into some of my most intimate thoughts – and coincidentally, some of the stuff I obsess about. I’m not sure how, but Alex captured a good portion of my psyche, re-arranged it and filtered it through ink and paper. I guess that’s what happens between artists who are fine tuned on the same range of frequencies… I’m blown away each time I read it. She’s a very talented author, I am a big fan of her work. We have been talking about the possibility of doing something together, and personally I would love to make it happen. Fingers crossed!
Not only is A Dance Of Shadows available digitally, but you have also made it available through a limited edition CD and cassette tape. There’s even a limited edition poster! I know that there has been a resurgence of love for vinyl records, but what drew you to make a poster and cassette edition?
Cassettes are definitely back, big time. Just ask METALLICA. I wanted to spice up the interest for collectors worldwide and have a chance to do something that I’ve actually wanted to do since starting out on music around 1998 (but that’s a whole different story). It was interesting to come up with the artwork for the different layouts and I wanted this to be a special occasion. It’s a very limited run of 50 copies, personally signed and hand numbered. As for the poster, the cover by BRANCA STUDIO (Barcelona based masters of doom) looks so damn good that it just had to be done. It conveys the perfect cinematic aspect and feel to the music. And I figured, with the digital album priced at 5 euros, you add 2 more and get a physical copy of something that looks gorgeous. Why not?
These days I’m trying to find out if there might be label interest to also release a vinyl edition. But it’ll have to be under proper conditions. If that won’t happen, I’ll try to get it done via crowdfunding after all of the tapes and CDs will sell out – it shouldn’t take long now at the current rate.
Confrontational participated in the Synthzilla Festival on Halloween in Lyon, France. What was it like to perform your material there and how was the reception?
Simply mind blowing, the very best performance of my entire life! The crowd was beyond amazing, incredibly receptive, totally into the tracks. I’d stare down the mic and see people singing together with me – it’s something I’ve never had the chance to experience before in such a capacity. A very humbling experience. The club was packed, the sound was flawless, the other artists on the bill were really friendly and professional. The staff was so great, the organizers are some of the sweetest people on Earth and they treated us like long-time friends. It was so beautiful and I just can’t wait to perform in France again, hopefully very soon.
What does the future look like for Confrontational? Tours, releases, and music videos?
As far as touring goes, we need to spread the word out there before taking the band out. There has to be some sort of notion of the music existing, for us to be able and book some shows. We’ve been blessed with the invitation to SYNTHZILLA and I’m trying to see if we can get booked into similar situations. Every little bit of help is vital, so I’ve been asking all of the new listeners to share pics of the LP on their social media to help spread the word. People seem to genuinely care about this music, so it’s really exciting to work together towards this common goal!
Right now I am working on the MAKING OF clip for TO LIVE AND DIE ON THE AIR, and it should be ready quite soon. I’ll also resume work on more upcoming videos soon. Finally, I’m also working on new songs – I can’t seem to stop doing that. I got 8 new track ideas and a working title for a new release. But I want to take my time before entering the studio again… I don’t want to rush it.
Thank you so much, Max, for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me! If you could say just one thing that you think would convince a skeptic to check out your music, what would it be?
DARK RETRO WAVE. Isn’t that enough? Thank YOU for having me here and for your time, Barry. It’s been a true pleasure, as usual!
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the debut EP Done With You from darkwavers, Confrontational. At that time, I described my musical introduction to the band as “vibrant, full, and undoubtedly addictive.” I continue to stand by that opinion, but upon hearing the forthcoming full-length LP, A Dance Of Shadows, I now have the daunting task of attempting to convince you that there are even more marvelous sounds on the way.
As Done With You echoed to a close A Dance Of Shadows reached out and took the mantle, moving forward with hammering beats, atmospheric turbulence, and synthetic corkscrew melodies. At least, that’s the opening track, “Shadowdancing,” which envelopes the listener immediately and draws them into their very own 80s-inspired movie soundtrack. But this time mastermind Massimo Usai is not alone, being joined on several tracks by some very remarkable and respected musicians. On the burgeoning “Like A Curse” we are treated to a searing guitar solo by Monte Pittman (Madonna, ex-Prong), which tips the song over the emotional breaking point and takes it to new heights. Sadus vocalist, Darren Travis, lends his voiceover skills to “Script,” which honestly had me convinced it was an excerpt of some David Lynch movie before noticing the track credits. Finally, Cody Carpenter (Ludrium), son of famed John Carpenter, joins Max on the tune “To Live And Die On The Air,” taking lead synth duties that provide a lively, retro video game-esque overtone to the darkened layers below.
When I make references to movie and video game soundtracks it is quite a compliment. The songs of good movie soundtracks flow together as seamlessly as the air, providing emotion, suspense, and levity to the scene long before an actor even makes it on the screen. It can fluctuate through dynamics with ease and is far from a flat, monotonous line. Classic video game soundtracks are much the same, full of captivating melodies and memorable moments that recur to us long after we’ve grown. Confrontational is not only aware of this, but it embodies it. With the sounds of this release in my ears, I feel as though I am passing from one scene to the next, playing out some unknown part which is manifesting before my very eyes. This is a release to listen to from start to finish, but I can already imagine that upbeat tracks like “Shadowdancing” and “You’ll Be Mine” could find a welcome home in a dance club as standalone tunes. A Dance Of Shadows is no ordinary album and Confrontational is no ordinary band. It’s a violent scream, a staggering silence, and a smirk upon your lips. It is completely infectious.
I’ve been a follower of Massimo Usai’s music for a long time, and it’s no surprise why. Here’s a man who has fronted a diverse number of projects, has received praise from the likes of Tommy Victor (Prong), recorded with Darren Travis (Sadus), and been part of studio sessions with the legendary group Killing Joke. Not only is he a competent multi-instrumentalist, but he is a confident behind-the-scenes man as well, versed in the roles of mixer and producer. Thus, it was no surprise to me to see him emerge once more with this new endeavor, Confrontational.
Confrontational has arisen from the ashes of noise rockers, Recs Of The Flesh, and dark-wave experimenters, Dahlia Indaco. Usai has focused on bringing together “a melodic approach to aggressively catchy tracks” through the use of “layers of synth, lush guitars, and pulsing beats.” What we’re left with is the debut EP, Done With You, a four track escape from the present into a world painted in post-apocalyptic colors. It’s no surprise, then, to see a cover of “Giving Ground” by The Sisterhood (a side project from The Sisters Of Mercy) make an appearance here, as the release would find a comfortable place as part of a soundtrack to many an 80s horror movie. Make no mistake, however, what Usai has made is far from a relic of the past; stagnant and stale. The music is vibrant, full, and undoubtedly addictive.
When I received this release, my music player auto-assigned its genre as “synthpop.” Honestly, I haven’t had much experience listening to bands in that genre, so I decided to go look up others that might fall within that spectrum. Artists such as Chromeo, Devo, and Owl City were on that long list. Each of these is largely different from the other, and Confrontational is just as far removed. The only thing that they have in common is the heavy use of synthesizer within their music, and even the way they incorporate that instrument differs from one to the next. While Chromeo might be best suited for a club environment, and Owl City has blossomed on the radio, and Devo…well, Devo is something to listen to in your basement, Confrontational is something to be felt.
I don’t know how to really describe it to you, but I’ll try. It’s like a building, burgeoning fog. It creeps in around your ankles and thickens until you can’t make out your feet any longer. Then it begins to rise. You’re nervous to move, because you don’t trust the ground to be there anymore. But the fog continues to rise, finally enveloping you. You sense a pulsing, as though your body is resonating with some unseen force. Then sparks of neon explode around you, catching fire to the air for a moment in time before dying off into darkness and being replaced by another in a myriad of color and design. Are you inside or outside? Are you awake or dreaming? Does it really even matter? And this is just the opening track.
Confrontational yearns to create an atmosphere as much as it desires to create songs with a killer bassline or entrancing melodies. And you know what? It succeeds on all fronts. These tracks are not simply one-off explorations into a chord progression, but pieces of a developing mood. Done With You is an introduction to a bigger story; the kind of music that weaves a fabric of notes together in order to move the listener to a new place of the composer’s imagination, and each of these songs is one step further towards that realization. Confrontational is a band that you have to let just carry you away, and I can’t wait to see where I end up.