1. Down In Shadows [Part I] (8:03)
2. Day After Day (4:42)
3. Colour (3:01)
4. O.Y.O [On Your Own] (6:26)
5. Wait (5:20)
6. C18H21NO3-30 mg Kodeina (1:44)
7. Down In Shadows [Part II – Including Crime] (10:54)
Walter F. – voices, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, loops and devices, synthesizers (vocoder)
Danilo A. Pannico – acoustic and electronic drums, percussions, piano, marimba, kaos-harmonica and glass, Farfisa organ, loops and devices
Adina Bajenica – soprano voice (6)
David Jackson – sax, flutes, devices (2,4,7)
Marco Allocco – cello (1,3,6,7)
Trey Gunn – Warr guitar and soundscapes (1-7), touch bass (1)
Named after the Greek goddess of night, N.y.X. is a project by a duo of talented multi-instrumentalists, Danilo A. Pannico and Walter F., based in the north-western Italian region of Piedmont. Their recording debut, a self-titled EP released in 2005, was followed in 2009 by Down in Shadows, their first full-length CD, released on Electromantic Music, the label founded by Arti e Mestieri’s keyboardist Beppe Crovella.
I first encountered N.y.X. last year, when reviewing Trey Gunn’s double-CD compilation I’ll Tell What I Saw, which included “Down in Shadows [Part I]”. The presence of two legends of progressive rock such as Gunn and former Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson aptly represents the nature of N.y.X.’s musical offer, which seems to straddle the line between tradition and modernity. Indeed, VDGG (who have had a strong following in Italy since the early days of the prog movement) are by far the most noticeable influence on N.y.X.’s music. This is not to say that N.y.X. sound derivative, but rather that their compositional approach parallels VDGG’s skillfully achieved balance of slow-burning melody and unbridled chaos (as exemplified by their magnum opus “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”).
Those who still believe that Italian progressive rock is for the most part sickly sweet and heavily keyboard-laden with operatic vocals should get ready to have those convictions challenged when listening to Down in Shadows – a concept album dealing with the topics of loneliness and betrayal. Not surprisingly, and quite fittingly, the music is dense and often aggressive, packed with riffs and martial drum beats, interspersed by ominously rarefied pauses – in which electronic effects and treated vocals hold sway – and almost deceptively melodic, laid-back moments. Walter F.’s idiosyncratic vocal approach often brings to mind Peter Hammill or Adrian Belew, as well as emotionally charged Italian prog singers of the classic era such as Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella. The fluid, eerily reverberating soundscapes created by Gunn’s touch guitars temper the more upfront moments, while David Jackson’s signature style enhances the music’s expressive potential.
Clocking in at under 40 minutes, and featuring seven tracks between 2 and 11 minutes, Down in Shadows is a quintessentially eclectic effort that packs a lot in its unusually compact running time. “Down in Shadows [Part I]” opens with the understated sound of a carillon, eventually exploding into harsh riffs and supercharged drumming – like King Crimson on steroids; a magnificent, Eastern-tinged Warr guitar solo vies for attention with Walter F.’s dramatic vocal performance. The much shorter “Day After Day” continues on a similar path, blending the mainstream overtones of its low-key, acoustic beginning with the unabashed experimentalism of the second half (complete with the sound of a ringing phone and subsequent recorded message). “Colour” and “O.Y.O. [On Your Own]” offer more permutations of those melody-noise dynamics – the former driven by piano and cello, the latter conjuring reminiscences of Eighties King Crimson with its subtle tempo shifts, while the vocals definitely channel Peter Hammill.
On “Wait” the haunting soundscapes expertly woven by Gunn’s Warr guitar merge with slightly breathy, sensitive Hammillesque vocals with a touch of Roger Waters; from an instrumental point of view, the track reminded me of the approach adopted by Herd of Instinct on their 2011 debut album. The short almost-instrumental “C18H21NO3-30 mg Kodeina” – in which a soprano voice is backed by cello, piano and eerie feedback effects – introduces “Down in Shadows [Part II]”, a nearly11-minute tour de force with a dynamic, VDGG-inspired, vocal-driven first half , a subdued middle section that makes good use of cellist Marco Allocco’s tango background, and an instrumental third half in turns chaotic and atmospheric. The vaguely sinister tinkle of carillon reappears at the end, bringing the album (and the story) full circle.
Three years after the release of Down in Shadows, N.y.X. seem to be very much on hiatus, with the two artists pursuing other projects. Hopefully an album that shows so much promise will not turn out to be a one-off, even though the current non-mainstream music scene is anything but easy to navigate. However things develop in the N.y.X. camp, Down in Shadows is a worthwhile effort, highly recommended to fans of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator, as well as followers of the variegated “modern prog” galaxy. A special mention is deserved by the stylish CD booklet, which includes a stunning upside-down photo of the chandelier in the entrance of Antoni Gaudí’s iconic Casa Batlló.