Area
Arbeit Macht Frei


5.0
classic

Review

by J.C. van Beekum USER (20 Reviews)
June 9th, 2020 | 27 replies


Release Date: 1973 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A timeless work of sonic mastery.

With protests manifesting themselves the world over in light of the malignant police violence that resulted in the death of G. Floyd on the 25th of May 2020, it is becoming abundantly clear that the corona epidemic isn’t the only turbulent crisis to be imposed upon the world this year. Amidst all which has transpired over these past few weeks, an inclination was elicited in me to return to an obscure record that was also released within a period of the most raucous political turmoil:70s Italy. It perhaps more perfectly than any other musical release from that era, captures the political spirit of resistance that manifested itself across Italy: it was a period of cultural explosion, anti-authoritarian activism, mass labour movements, violent clashes between police and far left protesters as well as the decade in which the Italian communist party reached its highest ever vote tally in 1976, a political victory that would simultaneously spell the advent of its doom a mere two decades later (John A. Marino et al. 2020; Weston 2017). Even though it must be recognised that there exists a historical gap of roughly 50 years, between those protesting police brutality across the globe at that advent of the 21st century’s second decade and the Italian communists that brought Italy on the precipice of a revolution in the 70s, they’re in more ways than one fighting a battle against similar underlying forces: the same economic system that has been as intertwined with worker exploitation and austerity measures as it has been with racialisation, slavery and the oppression of non-white ‘races’ (Bhattacharyya 2018; Patterson 1985; Zwolinski and Wertheimer 2017; Delanty 2013; Leong 2012). Nevertheless, we’re not just here to discuss politics, we’re also here to discuss the brilliant album that 70s Italy birthed: Area’s Arbeit Macht Frei.

The historically astute might have immediately noticed two important things concerning the title of this Italian band’s debut release: its moniker is evidently a German expression and a rather significant and charged expression at that: it is the very sinister apothegm which was displayed above the entrance of the infamous Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. The phrase itself roughly translates to: ”work sets you free”, and one can certainly imagine the absurd historical providence of such a creed. Area however, appropriates the phrase in accordance to an altogether different purpose, thereby completely turning the meaning of the phrase on its head. For these Italian artists the phrase is an ironic mockery of the illusion of the volitional character of labour under a capitalist system, a political vision most clearly exemplified within the lyrical content of the record’s title track. This type of anti-capitalist anti-authoritarian attitude does fit quite appropriately with the democratic communistic attitude characteristic of the Italian communist movement, a political disposition most overtly present in the movements staunch opposition to fascism (David Broder and Fulvio Lorefice 2018; Bruno Settis, Simone Gasperin, and Gian Mario Cazzaniga 2018). It's also a disposition more generally present within the album’s lyricism: the band is disinclined to beat around the bush and shows a willingness to clearly express their political convictions, a designation applicable to the lyrical content of all but the 5th track on the record: the entirely instrumental ‘240 chilometri da Smirne’. Politically charged lyrical content aside, Area musical style is as subversive and rebellious as the band’s polemical, radically left-leaning libretto.

The band’s musical template can’t really be comfortably situated within any specific musical domain: instead, their sonic paradigm is comprised of many constituents, from an avant-garde form jazz-fusion, a touch of progressive folk (ala Comus), a hint of blues, a zest of brutal prog and math rock, a more than insignificant influence from classical music and their own unique brand of avant-garde Italian progressive rock. In fact, it is perhaps from that last constituent of their sonic palette that the band derives their deceptively light-hearted and whimsical character. For, although the band’s evidently serious and often melancholic prose is not be ignored, it must also be said that the band’s music displays a permanent sense of playfulness, a sense of musical whimsy perhaps mainly permitted by each member’s astonishing virtuosity, but a sense of musical whimsy nonetheless. One only has to conduct a cursory listen of the first few minutes of ‘Le labbra del tempo’ to see the bands romantic melancholia juxtaposed alongside their pastoral yet progressive fancifulness. It’s a capriciousness that can merely be admired: a maelstrom of musical and emotional shifts, an unerring dynamism.

From Giulio Capiozzo lightning-quick, hyper-precise syncopated drumming, exemplified most clearly in his fantastic drum solo at the advent of the record’s titular eponymous track, Patrick Djivas’s silky-smooth, fast-flowing bass lines to Eddie Busnello majestic saxophone playing which I’m willing to say toes the line between Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, his unexpected burst of copper fury and sudden frenetic squawks always brimming with sonic fury. Multi-instrumentalist Demetrio Stratos’ idiosyncratic vocal deliveries (and occasional organ playing) display both an unmistakable expressiveness as well as an impressive level of restraint, control and technique. It is this cohesive blend of extravagant individual dexterity and elating sonic fancifulness that is deeply ingrained within every single song and imbues this record with such a peculiar sense of euphonious vitality, even during the album’s most vociferously cacophonous moments. Not to be overlooked, is the fiercely progressive, yet superbly bluesy playing from Patrizio Fariselli, whose fuzzy guitar work blends in seamlessly with the contributions of each other member, especially his extend guitar solo during the first leg of the records closing track, perfectly showcases his undeniable capabilities as a musician. In short, the group is a well-oiled, meticulously constructed machine in which each member manages to perfectly fulfil each of their respective roles.

Compositionally, every component of the record’s musical puzzle is immaculately slit in place: every crescendo, every moment of boisterous sonic frenzy, every interlude and musical downturn, every tempo change, every metrical permutation, every instrumental solo, all combine in the most felicitous manner within each track. From the opening track’s Arabic voice recording, which resolves, only to make way for Demetrio’s incredibly emotive opening vocals, after which the musical madness commences: with the typical yet atypical Italian progressive rock whimsies, interspersed with Demetrio declaring, if it can be distilled as such, that violence begets violence (how prescient). Then, the track suddenly increases rapidly in tempo, meanders, twists, turns, reprises its earlier themes with thrice the fury before resolving into a few seconds of deafening silence. A masterful opener and a small taste of what’s to come. Capiozzo’s quick portentous drum solo, makes way for distorted slithers of synth, bursts of fluteesque sounds and a continuously repeating bass line, before the saxophone and guitar announce themselves upon the musical stage. What follows is something akin to genius: Area take you on a musical journey of unrelenting fervour, twisting, turning, spiralling up and down a musical landscape adorned by glistering piano chords, mellifluous bass lines, snappy drumming, squawking saxophone and scintillating yet manifestly bluesy guitar antics. Yet, there's also ‘Consapevolezza’ with its absolutely gorgeous and profoundly melancholic ending saxophone solo, ‘Le labbra del tempo’s’ with its syncopated math-rockesque drumming and absolutely maniacal second half, 240 chilometri da Smirne with its avant-garde jazz/fusion tour-de-force, featuring that aforementioned Alyeresque saxophone madness, groovy as can be drums and bass and L'abbattimento dello Zeppelin, a song which one could indeed sonically typify as Led Zeppelin on an inordinate amount of acid. A characterisation especially applicable to the track’s vocalisations, which will be sure to both confuse and amaze. In short, all of these tracks pack their own ravishing and invigorating musical punches.

What’s more, the record’s production, especially for something released in 1973, is nigh-perfect: appropriately walking that fine line between adequately polished and mind-numbingly sterile. The drums sound about as snappy as one can imagine, the saxophone sounds exceedingly brisk, incisive, clear, the bass punchy as hell and Demetrio’s vocalisations soar across the record’s musical décor without ever being overly oppressive. Every instrument is awarded the perfect amount of space within the mix, receiving it’s moment in the spotlight at exactly the right moment. At the same time, even during the Arbeit Macht Frei’s most confounding and rambunctious climaxes, is the contribution of each instrument peradventure decipherable and definable. Here, I would be remiss, if I did not also extend my credit to the stellar engineering job conducted by Ria Gaetano. Ultimately, the album’s sensational production is merely another testament to the fact that everything seems to have perfectly fallen into place for this record to reach the musical, emotional and creative peaks that it indubitably reaches.

As am I writing this review it becomes increasingly clear to me, at risk of sounding needlessly pretentious, how befitting this record’s ideological and musical spirit truly is, even a near half a century after its original release date: at every turn Arbeit Macht Frei displays an inexorable rebelliousness and an implacable resistance towards those forces who would constrict both its musical vision and philosophical underpinnings. In this sense Area’s debut release is worthy of all the accolades and praises I have so loftily heaped upon it: it is without a shadow of a doubt a monument to the subversive potential of musical expression, and while Area’s wish for an upheaval of Italy’s status quo was never fully realised, the anarchistic spirit their music so beautifully encapsulates clearly lives on today, now with increased vehemence, and will hopefully continue to live on in perpetuity.

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Bibliography:

Bhattacharyya, Gargi. 2018. Rethinking Racial Capitalism: Questions of Reproduction and Survival. Rowman & Littlefield International, Limited.
Bruno Settis, Simone Gasperin, and Gian Mario Cazzaniga. 2018. ‘The Fate of the Party’. 23 January 2018. https://jacobinmag.com/2018/01/italian-communist-party-togliatti-berlinguer-hot-autumn-students.
David Broder, and Fulvio Lorefice. 2018. ‘Italy’s Past Glories’. 28 February 2018. https://jacobinmag.com/2018/02/italian-communist-party-pci-togliatti-rifondazione-comunista.
Delanty, Gerard. 2013. ‘Age of Austerity: Contradictions of Capitalism and Democracy’. In Formations of European Modernity: A Historical and Political Sociology of Europe, edited by Gerard Delanty, 273–86. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137287922_14.
John A. Marino, Marino Berengo, Martin Clark, Giuseppe Di Palma, Paola E. Signoretta, Melanie F. Knights, John Foot, et al. 2020. ‘Italy | Facts, Geography, & History’. Encyclopedia Britannica. 6 September 2020. https://www.britannica.com/place/Italy.
Leong, Nancy. 2012. ‘Racial Capitalism’. SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2009877. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network. https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2009877.
Patterson, Orlando. 1985. Slavery and Social Death. Harvard University Press.
Weston, Fred. 2017. ‘Italy on the Brink of Revolution - Lessons from the 70’s’. In Defence of Marxism. 22 September 2017. http://www.bolshevik.info/italy-on-the-brink-of-revolution-lessons-from-the-70-s.htm.
Zwolinski, Matt, and Alan Wertheimer. 2017. ‘Exploitation’. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Summer 2017. Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University. https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2017/entries/exploitation/.

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“[The] crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

- Antiono Gramsci (philosopher & founding member of the Communist Party of Italy)

P.S. Black Lives Matter!



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user ratings (85)
4.3
superb
other reviews of this album
e210013 (4.5)
One of the most talented and creative prog bands in the 70’s. This is an amazing debut....



Comments:Add a Comment 
MementoMori
June 9th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hello potentional visitor:

If you have any constructive criticism of the above review, please be sure to mention it.

If you want to have a taste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YyfhTQWEXo&list=OLAK5uy_mCc5WWkQJg_OaYPxjmmLGzJ_MXcAQPAoE

Also: Yes I recognize this review is fairly political, however this par for the course with an outfit like Area. Moreover, you don't have to be a communist to enjoy this band, the lyrics are in Italian, so you'll be fine I'm sure.



SandwichBubble
June 9th 2020


13796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Oooooohh, a review for this.



One edit:

"...meticulously constructed machine in which member manages to perfectly fulfil each of their respective roles"

Should it be each member?

e210013
June 9th 2020


5242 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I need to say a couple of things about your review:

1st: I'm very happy to see another review about this great band. Unfortunately, it's only the second one on Sputnik. I had the privilege to be the first one with the review of "Crac!". And I'm even happier because your review is about their debut, which is considered by many their best work, in spite of I maybe prefer "Crac!". This is a pity, because Area is undoubtedly one of the best Italian prog bands, and for me is the most original and the most creative of all. I even dare to say that they're a single band in the world. I'm very confortable to talk about them because I know very well all their works with Demetrio Stratos. But, I must confess that I had never courage to check the other two albums without him. It's the same with The Doors. I never checked those two albums without Jim Morrison. I cannot face both bands without their frontman.

2nd: I've no problems with the ideology of any band if the music is great, which is the case. That is the same with another great Italian prog band of the 70's too, I mean Museo Rosenbach. As you probably know, Museo Rosenbach was accused of right-wing inclinations for the Mussolini image in the front cover collage on an all-black background and because Nietzsche inspired their lyrics. Unfortunatelly, in the same Italy, in the same time, Museo Rosenbach was ideologically victim of that. So, all depends of the prevalent ideology at the time. And again I don't have any problems with the lyrics too. Fortunately I can understand relatively well the Italian.

3th: I must confess that I read your review with very interest and I liked it very much. It's a bit different, a bit political and probably a bit too much extensive for the most people. Still, I think you did a very intersting work. So, any positive review about this great Italian prog act deserves to have my pos. Besides, I'm a great fan of Italian Progressive Rock. Some of the best prog is written in Italy, even in these days.

SandwichBubble
June 9th 2020


13796 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Also yeah, no problem with a "current events" review. We all gotta get our licks in.

MrSirLordGentleman
June 9th 2020


15343 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Essential album that definitely needed a review. Nice work!

MementoMori
June 9th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@SandwichBubble: thanks so much for pointing out the error. It has been corrected. I though it was about time this record received a review.

@MrSirLordGentleman: thanks for the compliment. The record is indeed an absolute classic.

@e210013: Firstly, yes, Crac! is also a bonafide masterpiece. And, no they never reached the level of this record after. That being said Crac! and Maledetti come pretty close to AMF. I personally also don't have a problem generally with the ideology of Area, but I'm an anarchist, so of course me political opinions tend to align with democratically minded communists. Although I can understand why one might be more inclined to seperate art from artist, I at the same time, cannot deny that the ideology of a certain period of time or the specific ideology of the members of a band can effect both the music and especially the lyrical content, and if you find that element of musical expression important in relation to your enjoyment of it, I can understand why, if you were say, a conservative, you might be less inclined to listen to this band. Nevertheless, I hope that anybody, regardless of political beliefs at least gives this record a shot.

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
June 9th 2020


3055 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Absolutely love this review, would like to see more like it on this site. Kudos.

I spotted a few grammar-type errors that I'll point out when I've got the time, but otherwise just great great stuff. Keep it up

MementoMori
June 10th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

@MiloRuggles: Thanks a bunch, your reviewing work on this site is nothing short of admirable. I'm goingt over the review again today, since I did indeed also notice quite a few grammar errors. Nevertheless, be sure to point out any grammatical mistakes.

OmairSh
June 12th 2020


17625 Comments


Mammoth review m/. Need to check, sounds interesting

MementoMori
June 12th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks so much. Be sure to give a couple of listens (it's only 37 minutes), it's also insanely weird, so be ready for that.

GhandhiLion
June 12th 2020


17646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I never expected this to get a review. pos

GhandhiLion
June 12th 2020


17646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I wish this was brutal prog and math rock. I would have 4.5'd it instantly.

parksungjoon
June 12th 2020


47235 Comments


id 4.5 u instantly

MementoMori
June 12th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Much appreciated Ghandhi. It has elements of those genres I'd say, however I specifically used 'diminishing' terms in relation to discussing those influences. If you're really looking for math-rock and brutal prog mixes, in case you're unfamiliar: check out Yowie, The Flying Luttenbachers, Upsilon Acrux, Ahleuchatistas, Ruins, Sajjanu, Ultralyd, Grand Ulena and Ni.

Egarran
June 12th 2020


34342 Comments


"I'm looking for a phrase that will instantly start a fight."

"avant-garde jazz/fusion tour-de-force"

Ding!

MementoMori
June 12th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Crying right now.

GhandhiLion
June 12th 2020


17646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks for the recs, I have not checked half of those.



I think you mistake Brutal Prog for Avant-Prog. It is impossible for Brutal Prog to exist before No Wave and the band Ruins.

MementoMori
June 12th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

The term was coined by Weasel Walter from The Flying Luttenbachers. Their first record was released in 1994. But I feel as if music combining the sonic excessivity of hard-core punk, noise music, free jazz and if they're really spicy extreme metal/grind with the cerebral musical approach of math rock and avant-garde progressive rock predates Ruins. Or at least, there are musical moments from records released before 1994 or even 1988 that somewhat fit that description.

MementoMori
June 12th 2020


910 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Granted, I tend to use the term Brutal Prog interchangeably with moments of transdisciplinary cacophany, which I suppose is somewhat stretching it.

GhandhiLion
June 12th 2020


17646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

There was some bands that did that, but they were not brutal prog as they were primarily hardcore bands.

Also, brutal prog is unrelated to math rock. There are a lot of similarities and bands that combined the two though. (Hella etc)



edit: I see what you meant with math rock.



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