Admittedly, Italy’s contribution to music lies exclusively in the out-of-this-planet hallucinogenic prog scene of the 70s. On the contrary, our neighbors seldom appear in the history of extreme metal genres in Europe, with the exception of few brilliant examples, Sadist being one of them. This band, despite releasing some astonishing progressive death metal albums, for reasons that I am unaware of, never drew wide attention. Possibly, international career was never among their main goals, let alone their decision for a 4-year hiatus from 2001 to 2005, after the unsuccessful, nu-metal experiment of “Lego”.
The absence helped Sadist return to the path that was really meant for them to follow. Their second era, away from the unsuited for them, modern, American sound, is nearly as quality as their first two albums, drawing fans’ attention who are always aware of weird underground releases.
Sadist is Tommy Talamanca’s personal musical journey, the band’s songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and only current founding member. Tommy was always open to a wide array of influences from technical bands like Coroner and Atheist to jazzy delicate experimentations. In “Spellbound”, Sadist’s eighth album, he remains on the same pattern, delivering another concept album, after the excellent “Season in Silence” and “Hyaena”.
As the track titles imply, the album refers to Hitchcock’s famous movies. Hence, before hearing the record, we should assume that “Spellbound” comprises elements which are most common in the films of the great English director; suspense and horror. Indeed, Tommy composed an album that could be considered a huge part of Hitchcock’s filmography in musical form, an altranative soundtrack of a classic film-noir.
The main parameter that transforms Sadist’s music into a horror set is (what else?) keyboards. Those familiar with previous albums know that keyboards are an inextricable part of Tommy’s creations. Actually, Sadist wouldn’t exist if keyboards hadn’t been invented! In “Spellbound” keys have an even more prominent and critical role, setting the pattern of the horrifying atmosphere. That’s evident from the very first moment of the opening instrumental track, “39 Steps”, with creaking sounds and keys creating a sense of mystery, of an unknown, approaching danger, while the violin leads us further to Alfred’s world of melancholy and decay.
Keyboards are almost everywhere, sounding in many cases rather blunt and old-fashioned (in a retro sense) than neoclassical and having multiple uses; leading the melodies, remaining at the background, or participating in consecutive switching with guitar parts. In this respect, worship the magnificent keyboard lines of “The Birds”, probably the album’s hit, or the “questions & answers” musical game between keys and guitar in “Frenzy”, a song that represents exactly the term “diversity in death metal”.
“Spellbound” offers mainly mid-tempo compositions, with songs featuring the usual structure of revolving atmospheric and death, technical parts. Sadist reveal their more cruel side in certain cases, like in “Rear Window” or “Stage Fright”, featuring crushing, up-tempo riffing and intense drumming. However, their uniqueness remains in atmospheric parts where they experiment to the borders of jazz; keyboards interweave with discreet bass lines and free drumming in gently, unconstrained jamming gifts that escape from death fields and fondle our ears. “Notorius”, the traditional instrumental track that acts as a breather at the middle of the tracklist, offers the above elements in a superlative level. Tommy’s lead solos complement effectively the essence of freedom he wishes to convey, especially in the second part of the album.
Technical riffing is present once again, setting the overall tone in “Rear Window” and “Frenzy”, while “I'm The Man Who Knew Too Much” excels through its slow, doom, torturous riffs, before exploding suddenly; however, Sadist fool us again, as their avant-garde nature transforms the song into something totally different.
Regarding vocal duties, Trevor’s performance improves over the years, becoming more and more expressive since “Season in Silence” onwards. His voice, either guttural or shrieking, is what we would expect from a band of that specific orientation. Rhythm section expresses and serves completely Tommy’s musical vision; Spallarossa is able to vary his drumming accordingly, showing his precision in intensity and delicacy in atmospheric parts, while death or psychedelic bass lines set the foundations effectively.
Overall, “Spellbound” is not a new peak for the band. One can find even more diverse guitar work and technicalities in their second era (actually, I missed the solos of “Sadist” and “Season in Silence”), or the unreachable first two albums (“Above the Light” and “Tribe”). However, their long-term achievement is variety, as none album is similar to the others. If the single words that best describe “Season in Silence” and “Hyaena” were “coldness” and “tribal” respectively, then “Spellbound” is surely “eerie”. Without hesitation, the album is definitely the best option for a curious fan to become aware of the band’s hidden discography.