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Italy is a beautiful country. It is the perfect destination for a vacation, full of breathtaking scenery, great food, and artistic masterpieces. Living there, however, can be a different story. I say this as someone who has lived here for 30 years with direct experience of its everyday conflicts and contradictions. Our political system is completely fucked up, our economy is in ruins, and nobody seems to care that much. Out of all the usual generalizations those abroad make about Italy, one thing is certainly missing: we are more than a little pissed off.

This feeling unavoidably influences many facets of our culture and society. Music, in particular.

Anger drives the Italian music underworld, which has been seething for years in the shadow of mainstream music where everything seems to be going along fine. The underground metal and punk bands fight false respectability with an aggressive musical approach. Lyrics aim to reveal their disappointment and to increase critical thinking about the society among their audience.

In the 1980s, bands like Raw Power, Wretched, Negazione, CCM, Indigesti, Kina, Peggio Punx, Impact, and Upset Noise vocalized a social unrest that has never echoed as loudly, musically speaking, as it has in recent years. The current Italian underground punk and metal scene looks to the major foreign groups like Converge, Neurosis, Napalm Death, Infest and more, but it is certainly the offshoot of bands that have created a musical and cultural watershed for this country, with their attitude and lyrics both in Italian.

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Cripple Bastards are foremost among them. Their song “Italia di Merda [Shitty Italy]” from Your Lies in Check, their first full-length released in 1996, tells in a few words exactly what is the atmosphere in this country:

Anni di tristezza, cazzate in televisione, Divertimenti imposti... discoteca e stadio / Il tuo misero sfogo nella totale sottomissione / Italia di merda / L'Italia del perbenismo, l'Italia dei leccaculo é la patria dei coglioni che non usano il cervello.

Years of grief, pissoffs on TV, force-fed entertainments… nightclubs and arenas / Your wretched outlet in total submission / Shitty Italy / Prissy Italy, ass-kissing Italy is the country of dickheads who don’t use their brains.

This year, Cripple Bastards mark their 30th anniversary with a box-set called The Outside World plus a new album coming out via Relapse Records (with a contribution by Zazzo of Negazione). For the new record, they also worked at Fredman Studio with the legendary Fredrik Nordstrom (Dimmu Borgir, At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames, Soilwork, Arch Enemy, etc). [Full disclosure: I am employed by Relapse records, to whom Cripple Bastards are currently signed.]

Extreme sounds between death metal and grindcore underpin the work of Hierophant who, under Season of Mist, continue cranking out gems like their latest album Mass Grave. They have evolved from the furious, pounding D-beat of their self-titled debut (2010) to a revolutionary modern death metal sound. They remain a concentrate of rage and fury that will level everything its path.

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One band that has always understood the power of blending together black metal riffs and grindcore’s rage with darkness and negativity is The Secret. Originally from northeast Italy, The Secret signed with Southern Lord Records, and recorded at Kurt Ballou’s Godcity Studio to produce great albums like Solve et Coagula and Agnus Dei. The band will reunite at Venice Hardcore Fest 2018, one of the peninsula’s most important underground festivals, which hosts Integrity and other important bands this year.

The city of gondolas and canals is also where Slander cut its teeth. This hardcore band, in four years, signed with FOAD Records and played a world tour, performing in Africa and the Middle East. Although their last album, Calunnia, is not as exciting as their previous Bad Weather, Slander are an example of how well Italian groups can play, making the world take notice and bringing underground music to all parts of the globe.

When it comes to Italian punk and hardcore, Storm{O} and Horror Vacui have gained recognition in recent years for their talent and attitude. The former, under the German label Moment of Collapse, merge the ferocity and velocity of old-school hardcore with the darker melodies of post-hardcore, and continue to surprise with their potency. Ere, their latest album, is a treasure that places them directly among the best Italian albums of 2018. Horror Vacui’s philosophy, on the other hand, treds on the musical and cultural border that links dark punk with goth. They call their music “vampire punk because we are punk rockers with a do-it-yourself attitude who simply play anything considered dark music." The band also describe themselves as strictly anti-fascist and anti-sexist. In their new album New Wave of Fear, they take on the sounds of horror-punk with a fervency that makes them stand out.

Italy has plenty of bands that mine the vein of slower and heavier sounds, like Ufomammut. Active since 1999, Ufomammut signed under Neurot Recordings to inscribe their own brand of doom, making it a style unto itself, proudly standing apart from bands associated with that genre.

Drilling down the tunnels of deeper and more hopeless doom, Fuoco Fatuo (meaning “will-o’-the-wisp” in Italian) emphasize cold and dark atmospheres in their latest full-length album Backwater, released by Profound Lore. In the short time since they formed in 2011, they have established themselves as the visionary funeral (death)-doom colossus they are today. Some bands will just think that as long as they play slow and their guitars are heavy they will be successful within the genre. Fuoco Fatuo know better than that, with their last record they pushed themselves to seek a unique way to play funeral doom. Suffering and despair are emotions that each one of us has dealt with and the band creates the atmosphere of dread and solitude that sadness often brings.

Messa are another precocious young band. After their debut album Belfry and European and American tours, they will release Feast For Water in April via Aural Music. Messa play evocative doom metal with a dark jazz twist. Deliciously haunting vocals, Rhodes piano and 1970s fuzz guitars combine to conjure a sound that is all of their own. With influences as diverse as Windhand, Bohren Und Der Club Of Gore, Urfaust, and John Coltrane, the band has moved from the droning occult doom of their first LP Belfry to a darker and more atmospheric approach.

Like Messa, Grime originated in northeast Italy, but their sound is rooted in the sound of a decaying swamp filled with trash. They formed in summer 2010 and between 2013 and 2018 the Italian commando had the honour to share the stage with bands as Obituary, Graves at Sea, Eyehategod, and Eagle Twin. Grime also appeared at Heavy Days in Doomtown, Roadburn, and Desertfest London. The band will enjoy forces with Virginia's Cough for a West Coast tour, sure to be one of 2018's filthiest sludge feasts.

Their latest album Circle of Molesters, released by Argento Records, is a great work comprehensive in its darkness. Grime’s music is for people who don't enjoy lies and don't believe that it's all going to work out in the end. Their slow groove is filthy and vicious, with guitar riffs sharp and covered with rust, and a rhythm section that hits with the unstoppable power of a mud avalanche.

These are only some of the many bands enlivening the Italian underground scene with their passion, shouting out their disappointment with a society that doesn’t represent them. The message is what counts, and as Negazione say in their song "It’s Hard": “It doesn't really matter how big your goal is, as long as you're aware of what you're running for, and when we're gonna get it, it's gonna be the moment, more than ever.”

—Marika Zorzi

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