Rooted in timeless folk traditions that find a harmony within the Carnic Alps of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, carried by a language near lost to time, and seasoned with smatterings modern instrumentation, the songcraft of Massimo Silverio captures an elegance and lamenting beauty that sits in an irrefutable league of its own. Releasing a couple of EPs to date, and notably a bilingual collaboration with Welsh outfit Adwaith (‘Nijò/Yn y Sŵn’), the artist has steadily cultivated a lifelong collection of timbres and images that tie intrinsically with his homeland, and thus his mother tongue Carnic Friulian. This musical identity is what fuels the furnace of his debut effort ‘Hrudja’.
The album, aided by the production knowhow of Manuel Volpe (Rhabdomatic Orchestra) and musicianship of Nicholas Remondino (LAIMEE., McCorman), takes its title from the ancient Langobard ancestor of ‘grusa’, a Friulian word meaning ‘crust’ indicating the crust of a wound; in one sense a metaphor for rebirth, in another a memory of something that is disappearing.
Fittingly, ‘Hrudja’ deals in the currencies of tradition and modernity. On the one hand, classical and folk instrumentation pair with the unique sonorities present in the language, possessing timbres and tonal shapes that inform hushed yet striking vocal melodies. In turn the arrangement is infused with moments of electronic colour; embellishments of warped synthesisers, industrial percussion and the urgent hum of distortion tastefully encroach upon, but never truly mar, a persistent thread of antiquity.
Tracks ‘Cruire’ (frost/death) and ‘Šcune’ (cradle/life) – one of many opposite pairings littered across the album – are both constructed around traditional Friulian songforms called ‘villottes’, though are shaped by a palette of modern inflections. The former makes use of tattered prepared percussion, off-kilter synths and contemporary production, while at its core sits a stark lamentation, the unresolving progression lending the song a tense and spiralling uncertainty that feels deep-rooted in folk sentiments. The latter shares a similar ebb and flow between new and old; its meditative drone and mantric vocal forging a serenity and optimism that gestures towards nature, while the gradual introduction of reverse echoes inject a sense of modern psychedelia.
Dualities like this characterise the essence of ‘Hrudja’, thematically enhancing and tying each song together with a marked sense of intrigue and intellect. While Fruilian is refreshingly the album’s central language, inclusions of English lyrics in songs like ‘Algò’ (somewhere) and the bilingual ‘Colâ’ (dream/falling) help to tell a minority yet universal story, reflecting in honesty a world where languages near-forgotten are met with those most dominant. Moreover, a sense of strength and defiance that comes with dense, dissonant moments across the album are always beautifully contrasted by the sombre fragility of Silverio’s hushed and proximate vocal.
This is certainly true of the album’s opener ‘Šchena’ (back/father). The track from the get-go is spearheaded by moody, resonant string stabs which maintain a sense of drama and apprehension throughout, whilst Silverio’s mournful and in a sense claustrophobic vocals repose above the cacophony, his rich yet whispered delivery right up against the diaphragm of the microphone.
A pairing that represents one of the closest ties with the album’s titular theme, tracks ‘Piel’ (skin) and ‘Grusa’ (crust) both explore a shared space of pain and healing. ‘Piel’ is premised as a live folk-leaning song, its finger-picked acoustic guitar and expressive Buckley-esque vocals are direct and unaffected, gradually meeting with subdued synth arpeggiators, dissonant fuzz and rugged percussive clattering on the underside of its coin. ‘Grusa’ on the other hand is a notably gothic inclusion, accented throughout by subby thuds and a low chugging bassline. Its vocals, in contrast with prior inclusions, are hauntingly reverberant in character, toying with deeply emotive light and shade atop a growing crescendo of chittering electronic percussion and clean, accented electric guitar.
It would be remiss not to turn attention to the sonic outlier that graciously bookends the album, the counterpart of its opener. The stripped back closing jewel ‘(Grim)’ (womb/mother) seeks out what is most pure and most sincere, dialling back to Silverio’s delicate vocal and soft-strummed classical guitar, the image framed by a suitably lo-fi recording aesthetic, and backed by a chorus of crickets gently chirping. Here we can picture most vividly an alpine landscape that’s teeming with natural beauty, an aptly quiet and considered resting place for the drama to subside.
Across the breadth of ‘Hrudja’ Massimo Silverio demonstrates himself as more a sculptor than a painter, uncovering fresh forms in ancient stone and using the cracks of what has come before to steer the path of his creation. The arrangement throughout is bold and striking but fundamentally minimalist, allowing airs of elegance and fragility to breathe above an underbelly of darkness and melancholia, the result being a body of work that is beautifully considered and strikes an impassioned, timeless sincerity.
Words: Kieran Macdonald-Brown