Hailing from Sardinia in Italy, Memento Waltz formed in 1994 and have laboured in ignominy for long years honing their craft. Following a string of demos and EPs which were released intermittently over the course of two decades, only this year have they released their first full-length album proper, the self-issued Division by Zero. The perseverance that must have been required to keep working as a unit for so long is duly reflected in the music itself, a head-spinningly complex cocktail of extreme technical progressive metal of the sort that requires the utmost rigour and dedication from its practitioners. Owing an obvious debt of inspiration to the similarly named early 90s cult act Psychotic Waltz, as well as the various projects of the Jarzombek Brothers and touchstones like Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence, it’s demanding music for a very circumscribed, self-selecting audience.
Absent are the concessions to accessible melodicism of more well-known progressive metal acts like Dream Theater – the listener is kept consistently off-balance by constantly shifting rhythms, unusual time signatures and abstract counterpoint. The songs mostly hover around the five-to-six minute mark and are comprised of what feel like dozens of constituent passages, proceeding according to distractive, impulsive logic resembling the thought processes of someone really, thoroughly stoned. Byzantine drum fills, finger-tapped guitar patterns, sections of slap bass and the brittle, piercing wails of vocalist Marco Piu all coalesce into a kaleidoscopic melange, seemingly designed to frustrate attempts to decode it.
In the hands of self-indulgent musicians, this would all amount to so much theory and technique for its own sake, but Memento Waltz, to their considerable credit, seem to have more of a purpose in mind than that. As is the case with better examples of this style, the fragmentary, disjointed nature of the sound creates a sort of nervous, paranoid energy. Having four highly skilled musicians simultaneously playing melodies that only seem to bear tangential relations to each other is quite the disorienting, alienating experience, like not knowing which way is up, but it occurs as a deliberate effect. So too does the way that each passage feels truncated, starting before its logical beginning and stopping before its end. The listener is purposefully being kept off their feet, not being allowed to catch their breath.
Delirious technicality can be tiresome if it’s done thoughtlessly, but played right, it can be intoxicating. The virtuosic performances retain enough texture and melody that they occur as admirable rather than masturbatory. Individual phrases bespeak personality in a way that the monotonous drudge of modern technical death metal (this subgenre’s evil cousin) never attempts – delightful moments like the cheerful bass lick at the start of “A New Beginning” feel like they were written and performed by human beings, not computers. It’s that human touch that makes us more amenable to appreciate dazzling performances, and make no mistake, the performances are dazzling here. Guitarist Livio Poier and drummer Gabriele Maciocco both exhibit expert command of their instruments, although Memento Waltz’s MVP must surely be bassist Giuseppe Deiana, whose demented manipulation of his fretboard puts me in mind of Atheist’s late, legendary Roger Patterson. Though his may be the least showy performance of the group, Marco Piu also deserves credit: his sharp, crystalline voice falling somewhere between Geoff Tate and Chris Salinas.
Unfortunately, Memento Waltz’s chosen sound may be less viable today than it was when they were first starting out, with many of its most prominent practitioners such as Spiral Architect, Spastic Ink, Blotted Science and Canvas Solaris not having been active now for several years. It’s a damn shame, too, because Division by Zero is a worthy and admirable addition to that canon. Plenty of modern metal bands hold themselves to a high standard of technicality, but not all manage to make such a virtue of it. This record is one of the more pleasant surprises I’ve had this year.
02) Opus Alchemicum
03) Europa (Jupiter II)
04) Achilles’ Paradox
06) A New Beginning