Deus ex Machina: Imparis (2008)
Despite being around for over 20 years with an underground fan base in the progressive rock world, it's only been since Cinque (2002), released by the intrepid Cuneiform Records, that Deus ex Machina has begun to garner broader attention. Cinque set the standard for an Italian group that combines the best of Gentle Giant's contrapuntal idiosyncrasies with a distinctive fusion jazz bent, an unmistakably Mediterranean sound and a vocal concept that may take some getting used to, but is equally definitive. Imparis, recorded over two days in 2006, is a generous double-disc set that combines a CD of largely new material with a live DVD from Paris' Le Triton club, also including 70 minutes of bonus material that traces DeM back to 1993 and its second, self-titled album.
Pared down from Cinque's nonet, it's a leaner six-piece featuring bell canto singer Alperto Piras delivering lyrics in Latin or Italian. An operatic voice in a progressive rock context may be an acquired taste, but on Imparis Piras' occasional over-the-top tendencies are tempered, making it a better entry point for the uninitiated. Hearing Piras bending notes in powerful, bluesy fashion on "Cosmopolitismo Centimetropolitano," first heard on Equilibrismo da Insofferenza (Kaliphonia, 1998) and the only track to appear on both the CD and DVD, is a strangely compelling experience.
DeM's references are so varied that it's sometimes difficult to know exactly what it wants to be, yet that very eclecticism gives Imparis its weight. Episodic writing makes it possible to combine knotty, riff-based passages, near-funk and open-ended improvisation within the confines of a single tune, with "La Diversita di Avere un'Anima" moving seamlessly through numerous landscapes while providing ample opportunity for violinist Buonez Bonetti's vibrant soloa unique blend of Jerry Goodman's visceral energy and Jean-Luc Ponty's sophisticated melodicism. Guitarist Maurino Collina takes a brutal, metallic solo that leads into a brief feature for keyboardist Fabrizio Puglisi, where his predilection for analog synth textures is clear; equally so during his fiery trade-off with Collina on the dramatic "Il Testamento dell'Uomo Saggio."
Bassist Porre Porreca and drummer Claudio Trotta rarely get solo spacethough Trotta gets an extended workout on his five-minute intro to "Cosmopolitismo Centimetropolitano" on the DVDbut they're fundamental to DeM's forceful and often knotty rhythms. Whether it's the gradually building dynamic of "Giallo Oro" or the fiery, fusion-centric "Il Testamento dell'Uomo Saggio," they stoke DeM's engine with the ideal confluence of groove and complexity.
Everyone in DeM is a virtuoso, yet they curiously manage to avoid bombast, despite there being no shortage of high velocity playing throughout. Traces of King Crimson, Giant, PFM and other '70s prog demi-gods come together in DeM, and what's perhaps best about the DVD is the opportunity to follow Deus ex Machina's from its more prog-metal beginnings to the more sophisticated group it is today. The buzz has been out about Imparis for a couple of years, and the mix of strong new material and energetic performanceslive and in the studiomakes it well worth the wait.
Track Listing: CD: La Diversita di Avere un'Anima; Giallo Oro; Il Testamento dell'Uomo Saggio; Cor Mio; La Fine del Mondo; Cosmopolitismo Centimetropolitano. DVD: Rhinoceros; La Diversita di Avere un'Anima; Giallo Oro; Dove Non Puo Errserci Contraddizione; Il Pensiero Che Porta Alle Cose Importanti; Cosmopolitismo Centimetropolitano (drum solo); Cosmopolitismo Centimetropolitano; Interviews: DeM speak, Fabrizio plays (Giallo Oro); Paris Backstage; Excerpts from Manresa, Spain, 2002: Il Pensiero Che Porta Alle Cose Importanti, Cosmopolitismo Centimetropolitano; Excerpts from Chapel Hill, USA, 1996: Ad Montem, Hostis; Excerpt from Italian TV, 1996: Res Publica II; Ad Montem 1993 video clip.
Personnel: Buonez Bonetti: violins; Maurino Collina: guitars; Alberto Piras: vocals; Porre Porreca: bass; Fabrizio Puglisi: keyboards; Claudio Trotta: drums.