The Venetian Book of the Dead
I don’t know about you, but a mental alarm always goes off for me whenever I hear that a work of art has been based on a genuine, human tragedy.
Images form of a journalist / photographer horde descending on a disaster zone, like vultures around a corpse. There’s also the inevitable ‘charity single’ rushed out by some mega-bucked star or other to do as much for their minted conscience and bloated bank account as the regular people whose lives have been destroyed.
The difference here is that members of Unfolk - a collective of musicians based near Venice - have lived through the disaster they describe and continue to live with the consequences of the chemical nightmare perpetrated daily, for years, at the vinyl factory in Mestre; lethal working conditions and careless dumping of toxic waste into the nearby lagoon, covered up by the factory owners until the 1990s.
So, it has an unquestionably righteous morality, but what of its music? The term ‘unfolk’ is well-chosen, for here we have music with a traditional ‘unconscious’ yet a completely 21st-century execution. Mandolins trade with industrial synths, gentle rhythms rumble beneath glitch and soaring guitar. You may hear the swoops of Pink Floyd, the sonic landscapes of Vangelis and the industrial bass of Joy Division, often in the same track. Supplying the words and voice is England’s own Kevin Hewick, whose heartfelt contribution recalls Roy Harper with its deceptive simplicity and emotional punch.
The album will ensure the victims of Mestre will not be forgotten. One hopes that it will go some way to prevent similar horrors in the future.