AREA — Arbeit Macht Frei (Il Lavoro Rende Liberi) (review)

AREA — Arbeit Macht Frei (Il Lavoro Rende Liberi) album cover Album · 1973 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Area's stunning ferociously original approach to music left me in awe.

"Arbeit Macht Frei" is my first taste of this delicious Italian prog band hailing from the eclectic golden era of the 70s; it simply was a delightful experience. The music is astonishingly different and wonderfully complex. One to savour for those who like music to be sheer adventure.

It begins slowly and then builds to the incredible 'Luglio, agosto, settembre (nero)' (July, August , Black September) "Forget your weapons and live in peace" a female voice pleads, "My love, With peace, with peace I have placed Loving flowers at your feet, With peace, with peace I stopped the seas of blood for you, Forget anger, Forget pain..." Then a strange male voice echoes the sentiment. The Arabian music flies out of the speakers and pins you to the wall with unrelenting power. The lyrics are in Italian but translated as: "Playing with the world, leaving it in pieces, Children that the sun has reduced to old age. It's not my fault if your reality forces me to fight your conspiracy of silence. Maybe one day we will know what it means to drown in blood with humanity."

Amazing lyrical power is accompanied by foreign sounding duel woodwind flourishes. The time sig picks up considerable pace and there is a great duel sax trade off instrumental with polyrhythms, sporadic tom tom drums and screeching vocals by Demetrio Stratos. His vocal gymnastics are well executed and become another instrument. It is chilling, ethereal but very emotional, almost screaming out in anger. The eccentric music is not for the squeamish, coming across as angry and volatile but it soon settles into a strange ambient peaceful section threatening to explode at any moment. The droning saxes are portentous and looming. Translated the final words are: "When you see the world without problems seek the essence of all things. It's not my fault if your reality forces me to make war with humanity". It ends with the main motif. In a word ? alarmingly brilliant!

The title track 'Arbeit Macht Frei' follows and typifies the approach of the band to unconventional music. Innovative virtuoso musicianship with always interchanging time signatures and mood swings. The insane sax work is reminiscent of the type of work Jackson did with VDGG or even King Crimson in the early years. There are some wild flourishes of polytonalities, and the drums simply take off. When the band is in full flight such as midway through the title track, it is the most compelling music you will hear. The bassline is awesome and really holds the track together and then it stops suddenly. The style of Stratos is similar to the vocal style of Grobschnitt or PFM for that matter. High falsetto in places but easy to listen to and utterly full of conviction.

Track 3, 'Consapavolezza', begins with some ominous sax and bass, with a clean guitar sound. The vocals are distinct complete with rolling R's. There is a beautiful instrumental break with scorching sax and ambient keyboards. These guys were not kidding! Intersecting passages of dark and light and always a quirky humourous streak breaking through. The drums are sporadic and jazz fusion influenced.

'Le Labbra Del Tempo' is a 6 minute improvisational jazz fest. It stops and starts at will and the drums struggle to keep up but somehow do. The urgent sax is accompanied by Stratos estranged vocals. It locks into an infectious groove, that takes detours and echoes the vocal rhythms. Metrical shapes take over and there is a keyboard instrumental and the drums spiral out of control. he guitar work is frenetic but suitable. The high strangeness of echoing keys are a feature and then it is again brought to some semblance of orde rwith an ambient section of melancholy beauty. Very heavy synth is a welcome change, Stratos sings in his own inimitable style. Once again the fast paced music takes over, a sax and guitar pysch-out.

'240 Chilometri Da Smirne' begins with high saxophone solo and an offbeat rhythmic metrical pattern of bass and drums. It is a strange blend of time sig metronome bending prog and jazz fusion. There is a strong bass solo that continues under screaming dueling staccato sax blasts and shimmering keyboards. A very full wall of sound is created and it goes haywire for a few moments then is pulled back together by the key musical motif. This is broken by a freakout section with organ squelches until it fades with a moaning sax. A sensual, gorgeous instrumental.

'L'Abbattimento Dello Zeppelin' is the weirdest track; a spoken wailing section with estranged sax and bizarre effects is unsettling, unnerving, macabre at times, but a solid way to end such a ground breaking album. The drums echo the vocals and explode into a cacophony of freakout noise, like the end of KC's '21st Century Schizoid Man'. An insane section with break out instrumental violence follows and then this oddity abruptly ends without warning.

What I love about this album is its unabashed unconventionality, and unashamed brutality towards music. Emotionally stirring and unforgettable, this is one of the best things to come out of Italy, along with Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Premiata Forneri Marconi. It is adventurous and intricate fusion to the Nth degree; music that will repel some and compel others. I was totally compelled by the sheer force, the unmistakeable vigour and energy of Area.

It is a definitive masterpiece!

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