Morrow vs. Hajduch: Umberto’s Prophecy of the Black Widow

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Umberto: Prophecy of the Black Widow

Umberto: Prophecy of the Black Widow LP (Not Not Fun, 10/26/10)

Umberto: “Red Dawn”
[audio:|titles=Umberto: “Red Dawn”]

Hajduch: Horror-disco producer Umberto has become a quickly rising star since Chicago label Permanent Records gave his cassette/CD-R debut, From the Grave, a proper CD/LP release last year.  Now he has returned with Prophecy of the Black Widow, an LP-only release courtesy of Not Not Fun.  And though From the Grave cribbed liberally from 1970s horror-soundtrack juggernauts Goblin, the music this time around is much closer to everything great about John Carpenter‘s soundtracks, especially Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog.

Morrow: I’m glad that there has been a resurgence of progressive Carpenter-style film music, because I think that the genre is important and that the younger crowd needs to be exposed to it.  And there are plenty of modern musicians incorporating elements of this style or transforming it into something new and exciting.  I get kind of bored, however, with the albums that essentially are replicas or straight homages.  I’m far from an expert in this area, but I have to lump Umberto in that category.

Musically, Prophecy of the Black Widow is pretty strong.  “Red Dawn” has a stirring melody that is later surrounded by sinister vintage synths and gritty distortions, and “Widow of the Web” follows with punchy bass grooves and discordant wails.  But I feel like I’ve heard every one of these songs before.

Hajduch: In his defense, Umberto’s albums are designed to look and sound as much like proper film soundtracks as possible.  (Prophecy of the Black Widow actually has a song titled “Someone Chasing Someone Through a House.”)  But despite the cultural touchstones and referential song titles, I feel that the music stands on its own without the aesthetic trimmings.  (It damn well better, because there are only 500 physical copies floating around.)

To me, Umberto’s production style and ear for tone are pitch perfect.  The hollow, echoed snare and midrange bass guitar work perfectly next to deep, ominous analog synths.  Each track establishes a palette and a motif, does its thing, and gets out of the way.  It’s not broad pastiche or slavish imitation, but rather an example of how to breathe new life into a 30-year-old template.

Morrow: Well — I’m not hearing the new life.  Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini by Secret Chiefs 3 — that breathed new life into Italy’s famous giallo genre of horror and erotica.  And on top of that, the musicianship was insane.  Maybe my standards are too high!

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