Back in 2008, I was totally blown away by the full-length debut album Face the Sea of Darkness by progressive-rock instrumental combo Anima Morte, who label their style as "vintage Italian horror music from Sweden." That description is so accurate that casual listeners might have thought the record was a long-lost release from Goblin, Fabio Frizzi or any number of beloved Italian composers whose work is forever linked with legendary filmmakers like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.
Since then, the band has aligned itself even more closely to classic '70s and '80s Euro-horror than their well-known American counterparts Zombi... and their follow-up album The Nightmare Becomes Reality is solid proof. Read on for a detailed review of this masterpiece of vintage horror rock...
One thing that separates Anima Morte from most horror bands is their focus on the themes, styles and moods of Italian artists like Goblin (Suspiria), Frizzi (The Beyond), Ennio Morricone (Bird with the Crystal Plumage), Riz Ortolani (Cannibal Holocaust), and the De Angelis brothers (Blade in the Dark), as well as their peers Keith Emerson (Inferno), Fred Myrow and Michael Seagrave (Phantasm), while avoiding direct references to the horror movies that those composers scored. No movie samples, horror-based lyrics or tongue-in-cheek song titles here: their main objective is to capture the musical essence of the Italian horror genre, creating soundtracks to movies that never existed (although I really wish they had) and conjuring that beautifully surreal nightmare quality that master filmmakers like Fulci and Argento crafted through visuals and bizarre dream-logic storytelling.
The quartet of Fredrik Klingwall (keyboards), Daniel Cannerfelt (guitars), Stefan Granberg (bass, guitars and keyboards) and Teddy Möller (percussion) employ vintage instruments like Hammond rock organ, electric pianos, Moog synthesizers and Mellotron tape loops to recreate the musical technology of '70s and '80s progressive rock, then stir the pot with dark ambient soundscapes and just the right touch of horror effects to magnify the cinematic feel. One of their greatest strengths comes from instantly catchy melodies and hooky motifs – the same elements that caused so many great horror movie themes to become permanently stuck in our heads over the years – and that skill is honed to a razor edge on this release.
The straight-up horror elements emerge first with the intro "Voices From Beyond," an atmospheric synth piece sprinkled with whimpers and screams (I think the last one is the pre-title scream from Fulci's City of the Living Dead). The explosive track "Corridor of Blood" follows, summoning all the band's strengths by bringing together acoustic guitars, slippery synths, gritty bass, warm violin, Mellotron choirs and tremolo organ for a sweeping anthem of evil. "The Revenant" begins as a more ethereal piece, with Goblin-like keyboard arpeggios (very similar to the vibe of their classic album Roller) alternating with bursts of high speed guitar-strumming. "Contamination" is a moody mid-tempo number with piano and synths trading back and forth on a simple but memorable repeating motif, while "Passage of Darkness" is a darker, more menacing track with less aggressive keyboards but a very frantic drum line that infuses it with nervous energy.
"Solemn Graves" is a fitting title for the following cut, with its pensive, outdoorsy feel created by acoustic guitar and warm synth lines that call to mind a windy afternoon in an overgrown cemetery. "Delirious" briefly leaves the horror elements behind, running through the grassy fields of '70s prog-rock and calling to mind the epic instrumentals of Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman; but we're soon back on spooky turf with "Feast of Feralia," a darkly menacing tune that hints at Phantasm with its organ patterns, loping bass and eerie unnatural choirs.
The title track is one of the most chilling on the album, opening with synth strings forming a lush background for a haunting piano riff, before an urgent pattern of glassy synth triplets enters the scene, calling to mind Daemonia's updated version of Goblin's Suspiria theme. The 8-minute epic "Things to Come" paints a broader canvas of mixed styles (there's even a brief slug of psychobilly-flavored rock) but it feels intimate and tightly focused, with a sweet piano break midway through, and the melody is one of their hookiest. The album closes with the shuffling, repetitive "The Dead Will Walk the Earth," which doesn't quite live up to its Dawn of the Dead-inspired title, but the electronic zombie voice effects in the background are an excellent touch.
It's worth noting that this band is more than just a novelty on their home turf: The Nightmare Becomes Reality placed very high on the Swedish album charts, holding its own against even the biggest-name artists from the world's most far-reaching record labels. Even if Anima Morte's music remains a niche subgenre in other parts of the world, fans of classic Italian horror and vintage progressive rock should do themselves a solid and put a copy of both this and Face the Sea of Darkness in their permanent collections – not just in tribute to our favorite horror music composers, but also because these albums are so damn good on their own.
For a little taste of Nightmare, check out the clips below – including an excerpt from their studio recording sessions and a teaser featuring "Corridor of Blood," definitely the best track on the album.