Sunday, 22 February 2015

SICKLE, HAMMER AND GUNS


Area had been one of he most important bands of the Italian prog scene of the seventies. Their debut album, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, was released in 1973 on Cramps with a line-up featuring Demetrio Stratos (vocals, organ), Patrizio Fariselli (piano, keyboards) Giulio Capiozzo (drums), Patrick Djivas (bass), Paolo Tofani (guitar, synthesizers) and Victor Eduard Busnello (sax and reeds). The musicians came from different experiences and the overall sound of the band was an incredible and “revolutionary” cocktail of influences ranging from Mediterranean folk to free jazz and rock, always characterized by a strong political commitment. Their producer and advisor Gianni Sassi, co-founder of the independent label Cramps, took care of the lyrics and of the art cover and could be considered a kind of guru for the band, almost an additional member. Thanks to him the band could meet and collaborate with some exponents of the artistic avant-garde as John Cage. Area’s music is challenging and never banal, the lyrics are strong and in some way shocking but never vulgar...


The “explosive” opener “Luglio, agosto, settembre (nero)” (July, August, black September) deals with the Palestinian issue and terrorism and was inspired by the Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics. It’s a seminal, controversial track, but it’s not exactly a song against terrorism. It begins with female narrative vocals in Arab (1). “Forget your rage / Forget your pain / Drop your weapons / Come with me my darling / Come with me, let’s live / Our cover will be the peace...” (2). Then, on a progression of organ chords the particular voice of Demetrio Stratos soars describing the horror of powerful politicians playing dangerous games and the consequences of their acts... “To play with the world / Smashing it into pieces / Children that the sun / Has already turned into old men...”. Then follows a section inspired by a Balkan melody where the vocals state the refusal of resignation and of an unbearable peace that is the equivalent of submission... “It’s not my fault if your reality / Compels me to move war to this guilty silence / Perhaps one day we will know / What it means / To drown in the blood the whole humankind... Read in history all my pain / Look at my people / Who do not want to die... It’s not my fault if your reality / Compels me to move war against humankind...”. A chaotic section follows before a more melodic part and an instrumental reprise of the previous “Balkan” melody. In the early seventies Area supported the extreme left wing Italian movements that were characterized by strong anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism. In the lyrics what prevails is a feeling of empathy with terrorists. Times have changed and today former members of Area point out that they are now against every form of violence but also that the problems generating the hate leading to terrorist attacks are not solved. To complement comprehension of this track I could suggest seeing Seven Spielberg’s film “Munich”...


Arbeit macht frei” (Work makes you free) is a track against capitalism. In the booklet you can see a picture which portrays an elegant businessman with the head of a bird of prey and the words “Arbeit macht frei”. This slogan was placed at the entrances of a number of Nazi concentration camps but here it could refer to modern factories where workers are employed on assembly lines and treated as slaves. The piece opens with a drum solo and experimental sounds, then a repetitive bass pattern comes in. Try to imagine Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times” while listening to the frantic rhythm section and to the sax evolutions... “In your miseries you will recognize / The meaning of an Arbeit macht frei / Bleak economy, daily humility / Always push you towards an Arbeit macht frei / Awareness will make you see / One more time / What is Arbeit macht frei...”.


Consapevolezza” (Awareness) is a dramatic call to revolution. Jazz rock and exotic atmospheres lead to a hypnotic rhythm pattern from where suggestive vocals soar inviting you to take a lift and go up in the sky, open your eyes and see what’s happening on earth... “You will see all the bleak reality... All the love reduced to nothing... Smash merciless against the wall / Your morality that wants to keep you imprisoned among mediocrities... Start up and take power!”.

Le labbra del tempo” (The lips of time) is another great, complex track featuring jazz and Mediterranean suggestions where the voice of Demetrio Stratos is perfectly at ease. It’s an obscure reflection about life, time and the need to fight for your rights overcoming fears and superstitions... “Inside me / I feel that a deaf rage is rising...”.


240 chilometri da Smirne” (240 kilometres from Izmir) is an instrumental jazz rock track where all the musicians are allowed to showcase their great musicianship.

The last track, “L’abbattimento dello Zeppelin” (The shooting down of the Zeppelin), is conceived as a criticism against the music business and depicts conceited, haughty bands flying through the sky swollen by the wind, drunk with power. Here the vocals are ironic and theatrical... “Everyone says that it’s my fault / Everyone plays with the body deflated by the wind / That has no memory / Everyone says that it’s my fault / The wind says that I will die...”.

(1) In the booklet they say that the voice was “stolen from a Museum in Cairo” although some other sources say that the voice was that of an Arab girl, a strip-tease dancer who used to work in Milan near the studios where the album was recorded. See D. CODUTO, Il libro degli Area, Auditorium, Milano, 2005, p. 70
(2) I found the translation from Arab to Italian on the forum of the site www.arlequins.it


You can listen to the complete album HERE