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Joey Molinaro’s “The Mephist” Is a Menacing Construction of Relentlessness and Flawless Execution

Bringing together metal and classical music is an old trick that is almost inevitably associated with some degree of pretentiousness, mostly due to its common lack of creativity and edge—both qualities that are quintessential for both genres. That ‘band with orchestra’ approach has turned into another way of wrapping up recycled content and ideas. Going deeper into the core, completely dismantling both styles and reassembling the parts to create something unique to pave the untrodden paths with is what’s desperately needed to make the metal/classical amalgam function and generate new possibilities.

When it comes to making the cogs of both genres spin in unpredictable new directions, Joey Molinaro might just be the man who has struck gold. This young Pittsburgh-based violinist virtuoso is known for reinterpreting the extreme music genres (punk, black, and thrash metal, and even grindcore), capturing their very essence and re-channeling it through his fierce performances. As both his previous recordings and highly energetic live appearances can attest, intensity and rawness are pivotal in this man’s communication with the audience.

Joey Molinaro

Intensity takes another exciting form on Molinaro’s 2012 release, The Mephist. A six-minute EP released on a limited cassette by Auris Apothecary (a non-profit label notorious for their eccentric choice of formats), The Mephist is a format that brought in a number of possibilities to play around with. Physically, there could not be a better way to merge the D.I.Y. mindset that saturates everything Molinaro does performance-wise with this background in classical music as a discipline. We’re looking at a coloured tape with a black-and-white collage that resembles inserts that also include sheet music for all of the violin parts of the record. Those ‘crass meets class’ aesthetics  communicate artistic ambition immediately.

When it comes to the music itself, we are introduced to the more experimental edge of Molinaro’s music. Retaining the recognisable metal influences found on other releases, The Mephist, focuses on utilising his playing style to compliment the record’s themes. With six instruments at his disposal, the man manages to provide enough sonic diversity to make a convincingly grim statement.

An outburst of siren wails, police radio transmissions, and background noise introduces the record with a feeling of inescapable distress. In a moment, ‘Glossolalia kicks in with string-slashing violence, enhanced by drawn-out trumpet notes, harsh yelled, vocals and pounding foot percussion. Like the operator of some chaos machine, Molinaro crashes all of the track’s components against one another, producing disjointed, rusty rhythms that occasionally spawn forth metal-style seizures. Loud and gritty stuff, indeed!

Joey Molinaro | Credit: Justin Matousek

Police sirens fade for the second time,  giving way to more of his trademark violin assaults. ‘Young Ghosts’ is the track where violin takes a confident step ahead of other instruments, displaying the vigour and precision of a classically trained musician. Arguably, it would be strange to talk about instrumental ornamentation in the classical sense—there are no pretty swirls and melodic frills here. Yet, the presence of small nuances—perhaps more akin to splinters and shards of glass—in Molinaro’s playing is perfectly audible.

‘Pangram in Calligraphy’ takes a different path, delivering a lengthy instrumental piece of minimal amplified violin drones. The claustrophobia and fierceness of the previous tracks find their rest here, leaving the listener alone with Molinaro’s primary instrument, this time spewing sickly dirges and demanding attention to every movement of the bow. Tension that has been progressively built throughout the record reaches its final chapter as ‘Thieves’ creeps in with a brain-drilling Twilight Zone-type melody. Molinaro is merciless here, releasing the fury of all the instruments at his disposal. Almost from the beginning it feels like this atonal construction of a track is about to fall apart; the vocals sound strained with desperation and the foot pedal slams its way through the corridors of string-woven madness until a short blasting passage finally pushes the record towards its breaking point.

There’s no doubt that a great deal of intensity has been packed into these six minutes. Molinaro crafts compositions that are as relentless in expression as they are flawless in their execution. The label’s press release underlines the destructive, rebellious nature of the album aptly dubbing it, ‘anthems of social unrest’. The vicious intimacy of Molinaro’s performance reminds us of the growing corruption that lines every corridor and corner of today’s world.

Bearing traces of conceptual work, The Mephist does not communicate by means of developing an elaborate narrative, but rather by translating into music and then putting on display what is already there, giving no reasons or conclusions. The traces of this impartiality could also be seen in the record’s title, as Goethe‘s Mephisto isn’t believed to be the devil’s incarnation, but a messenger—a demonic servant doing his bidding and drawn to those whose souls are already tarnished.

Besides having some references to religious symbolism and baroque characters, The Mephist does not rely on pathos to make its ominous statement. Abstract as it is, the record is an honest exploration of intensity—both as a concept and as a physical manifestation.

Track List:

01) Throwing Bricks & Study Nonviolence I
02) Glossolalia
03) Throwing Bricks & Study Nonviolence II
04) Young Ghosts
05) Pangram in Calligraphy
06) Thieves

Written by: Dennis Gudim
Label: Auris Apothecary (United States) / AAX-078 / Tape
Abstract / Experimental / Noise