Listen! Do you hear? Is it the soundtrack to your favorite video game boss-fight? Is it the marching band of our new robot overlords? No, it’s Armonite, with their high-fi, sci-fi, cinematic sonic barrage “And The Stars Above”.
Founded in 1996, but reformed in 2015, the Armonite core consists of Italian prog-rockers Paolo Fosso and Jacopo Bigi, yet prominently features Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin and a collection of other musically mad men and women.
That madness enough can’t be stressed enough. The compositions of these classically trained musicians come off like Frankenstein’s cyborg. Sparking circuits of synth and electric sound effect are soldered grotesquely, yet seamlessly, into organic tones of violin and piano. Simultaneously captivating and disturbing, like many cases of madness, the brilliance is evident.
Look first to “The March of The Stars”, which features the haunting child-like vocals of Maria Chiara Montagnari before vaulting into a heavy hitting, high stakes pulse. As if entangled in its own combat, the march dodges through orchestral stabs on a bouncing bass line reminiscent of Muse’s 2009 track “Uprising” before dropping off into brief shamanic toms.
“Next Ride” follows, carrying the energy forward deterministically through rise and fall arguments of violin and electric guitar. Mouse patter click tracks, jazz shuffle, and fleeting ghosts of cell-phone chimes intersperse to create a subdued urgency.
Subdued yields to rousing as the third track “District Red” threatens to incite full panic. Between violent chops of violin, raid sirens, and an interlude that takes a cautious dip into major key hopefulness, this piece captures the emotional range of a dystopian refugee camp before machine-gunning to a sudden end.
Positioned perfectly for resolve, “Plaza de España” enters with a yearning piano melody that shines into an uplifting dance complete with castanets and jangling tambourine. More than the rest of the album, “Plaza de España” seems to answer a folk tradition, making it accessible without sacrificing any of the compositional boldness that characterizes other cuts.
Speaking of tradition, a healthy appreciation for such appears doubly on the tracks “By Heart” and “By The Waters of Babylon”. Armonite based these compositions on the virelai “Douce Dame Joile” by Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377), and a canon by Philip Hayes (1738-1797), respectively.
“By Heart” boasts a pleading violin melody and an industrial backbeat that together evoke intensity comparable to Lindsey Sterling. In comparison, “By The Waters of Babylon” parachutes somewhere between eerie and comforting, like a flying fish repeatedly striving skyward.
Other notable tracks include “Blue Curacao”, a confident, ascending piece of righteous mania that garnered an honorable mention at the 2017 International Songwriting Competition, and “Freaks”, a ghostly bit of black magic that would feel equally at home in a Hogwarts hallway or UFO tractor beam.
Yet, none of these myriad descriptors can truly capture the full experience of “And the Stars Above”. Well suited for the turmoil of our Information Age, this is a vast, geographic album that reads like a map of uncertainty.
It is no wonder that Armonite has taken to covering soundtracks of beloved shows and games such as Game of Thrones and Skyrim. This is a group that truly has a penchant for fantasy and landscape. Their music transports. Beware. The place you will go with “And the Stars Above” is as enthralling as it is alien. Excitement is accompanied by the shadow of hostility. You will feel alive but occasionally afraid in Armonite’s mad embrace.