❉ New York synth maestro takes the listener on a series of gentle slides into the darkness…
Salvatore Mercatante is a New York based electronic composer, probably best known amongst synthwave enthusiasts for his mock horror soundtracks, Il Lamento della Strega and Il Mistero, La Profezia. Those releases were revelations, analogue synth masterclasses in the creation of mood and menace, taking influences from everything from Italian Giallo to Hollywood horror hits, but adding elements from the musician’s own artistic palette to create something more than mere pastiche.
But where those album were best described as menacing, sanguine, and dangerous, full of brooding synths and hidden voices (check out the single heavy notes pinning the sampled fragment of voice on the track L’ultima Rituale, for instance), his new release – and his first to be available on physical media – The Foundations of Eternal Sin is an altogether colder and more clinical proposition.
Mercatante has described his vision for the album as being about ‘humanity falling from grace and losing the pillars of what makes us human’ and described the passage through the tracks on the album as a journey. It’s a grandiose concept, and one which requires effort, concentration and willingness to engage from all involved. The potential difficulty is one which is plainly recognised by the composer. It’s reflected in the track titles, where Mercatante has supplied waystations for the listener – the Cave, the Obelisk, the Citadel – in amongst the more metaphorical titles, and in the music itself.
And there is a difference in the feel of the tracks, depending on titular category. In those which are named after objects and places there is a distinct decrease in movement, and an altogether more static sensation. Individual notes stab down in flurries of short bursts rather than gliding past in long-held, single sounds. Conversely, there is a greater and smoother flow in those tracks whose titles suggest emotions and activities. There’s a sonorous, liquid quality to tracks like Betrayal of Benevolence and Obsolete Code (a particular highpoint of the album, incidentally), which is missing from The Cave, The Obelisk and The Citadel.
Though that’s not to say that one approach is better than the other.
Because what this does is create a listening experience which is slightly schizophrenic, shifting track by track from warm, rolling synth sounds soaked in reverb to sharp, crisp ones which at points seem entirely untreated. It’s clearly deliberate, too. Only in the third track, Loss of Identity, do the two approaches come together, with fat, rounded notes giving way to a tinny synth line and a smear of discordant drone. Everywhere else, the contrast is too clear to be accidental.
And it’s this which really brings Mercatante’s vision to life and is the album’s triumph – because what could be more suggestive of the present problems humanity faces than a series of gentle slides into the darkness, punctuated by moments of solidity and possible respite which seem too sharp and jagged to grasp?
❉ Salvatore Mercatante: ‘The Foundations Of Eternal Sin’ was released by Castles in Space (CiS066), 4 December 2020. Available as an Ash Grey Mixed Vinyl and Digital Download. RRP £20.99. Distributed by Forte Distribution. Bandcamp Page.
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas