Mike Patton: 'Laborintus II' – CD Review


Multi-talented musician Mike Patton is best known as frontman for Faith No More, but as I've mentioned before on these pages, that's just the tip of the creative iceberg; in addition to his many experimental rock & metal projects like Fantomas, Mr. Bungle and Tomahawk, hip-hop group the XEcutioners and alt-pop unit Peeping Tom, Patton has also scored feature films, video games and other media... but the list still doesn't end there. Lately, Patton has delved into ambitious vocal projects involving opera, avant-garde classical music and the works of legendary Italian composers like Ennio Morricone (whose name and works should be familiar to any self-respecting horror fan), and most recently he's turned his attention to an obscure piece by Luciano Berio, originally written in 1965 to commemorate the 700th birthday poet Dante Aleghieri. If you've been paying attention in literature class, you know Dante is best known for his frightening depiction of Hell in the epic poem The Inferno, arguably one of the first horror stories ever written. Berio translated the haunting works of Dante scholar Edoardo Sanguineti into a bizarre symphony entitled Laborintus, and in turn, Patton put his own unique stamp on the piece. The result is like nothing you've heard before, ever... and I'll tell you all about it on the flipside.

I've been a fan of Mike's work for decades now, and in that time he's covered just about every color in the musical spectrum, including a few they haven't even come up with names for. But none of my past experience with this eccentric genius prepared me for the insane experience that is Laborintus II. For starters, the album is split into three movements, ranging from five to fifteen minutes apiece, so this isn't just a needle-drop listen; the three acts are meant to be heard in full, in sequence, just as they were performed onstage in '65 (and later by Patton and Belgium's Ictus Ensemble in 2010). I'm not as familiar with Berio's work, though I do know he often incorporated elements of modern jazz and pop music into his compositions (something he has in common with the great Morricone); still, I get the impression that much of what I hear on this record reflects Patton's own input, especially the passages of dark ambient noise and effects, which he's employed so expertly in his many independent projects. But the centerpiece of Laborintus II is Mike's stunning vocal performance, which slides effortlessly from opera to jazz to mystical chanting, meeting every challenge (and there are plenty of those) in pitch, power and tempo, making transitions in style as easily as breathing.

Up to this point, you might think an abstract classical piece like this, even with a modern rock icon at the helm, is too self-consciously cerebral – you know, the kind of music hipsters talk loudly about in coffee shops. But I went into this record purely as a fan of dark, mysterious and challenging music, and in that context Laborintus II is truly epic listening... and, as it turns out, amazingly entertaining. Much like Patton, the Ictus Ensemble has a reputation for tackling surreal and bizarre musical projects, and as a team, they push all the boundaries between classical, rock, pop, jazz and folk music to create a fascinating nightmare landscape that comes across like a stage version of Takashi Miike's insane horror musical The Happiness of the Katakuris – only crazier and more violent, if you can believe that. The vocal and instrumental ensembles don't seem to play together as much as chase each other around the stage and beat each other to death, only to reanimate and flutter around like kill-crazy demons; women shriek like banshees as percussion pieces collide and explode in seemingly random patterns; brass instruments blare out at odd moments and sometimes the entire orchestra seems to rebel against the sheet music and bust into a comedy routine.

Much of Patton's vocal delivery here puts me in the mind of a doomed Lovecaftian ritual, with Patton playing the part of a slick rock & roll sorcerer, conjuring twisted trans-dimensional creatures which then begin to chase him around the altar, and I think the texture and feel of the Italian lyrics has a lot to do with creating that atmosphere. Although I know a tiny bit of the language, I'm not fluent enough to keep up with all this craziness, and maybe that's for the best; since Sanguinetti's writings and Berio's music were tied deeply into the popular culture and politics of Italy in the '60s, the mystical effect of the music might literally get lost in translation. Taken as it is, it comes across as the most colossal demon-summoning experiment ever performed, and in those terms, Laborintus II is spooky as hell.

Here's a sample, but listen at your own risk... bear in mind that by playing this, you're dabbling with potentially dangerous forces.