Bruna - Desolazione Rurale

I'm a mathematician by heart but, after completing my PhD, I wasn't able to obtain a postdoc. Luckily, my contingency plan went well and, since the end of 2017, I'm happily employed outside of academia. However, I miss sorely research. For this reason, until 2021 my main hobby was writing academic research papers (I have almost 20 publications and a couple of papers still in peer-review).

At the end of 2021, after my first daughter was born, it became clear that this hobby wasn't sustainable anymore. The sheer amount of time and energy required to be a parent was simply too much to keep such an intense side activity. For this reason, after some soul-searching I decided to try and get back into making music. I have taken piano lessons on and off from primary school until the first years of university, and I had a great experience playing metal covers with friends in the years before my PhD. Then, in 2012, I put music on hold to pursue higher mathematics. Maybe, after ten years it was the time to go back to that passion. With that hope, I bought a new synth and started listening to the kind of music I might wanted to make on my own. I can't exactly tell what lead me to Dungeon Synth: it was probably Summoning, that I knew since the end of high school, plus some luck in Spotify recommendations. One of the artists I discovered in such a way was Bruna.

In the process of acquiring a taste for DS, I admit I didn't immediately recognize the profound beauty of Sylvan Passage. Nevertheless, something about that album kept beckoning at me, so I revisited it again and again. And, one bit at a time, all its beauty and nuances revealed themselves to me. Finally, one day, when I had already written a handful of songs for what would become Wanderings and Vistas, I gathered courage and reached out to Bruna for advice about Dungeon Synth. It turned out that Alessandro, the artist behind Bruna, is not only very talented, but also one of the kindest and most helpful persons I've ever met. We quickly bonded over music, and we started sharing WIPs and advices. Plus, he invited me in a terrific DS community, that we still frequent daily.

The more I delved into Alessandro's music, the more I became aware of features that just click with my musical sense: melody-driven songs, effective arrangements, very appropriate sound design choices, plus the occasional surprise here and there... and, as an unexpected side bonus, the more I enjoyed Bruna, the more I yearned to go out exploring the hills near home. This wanderlust was inspired by the evocative music, but also by the aesthetic choices in titles, and by a mysterious liner note about music from the preappennines mountains (I've looked and, since then, the album description has been edited). Much later, Alessandro told me that indeed Bruna's music is deeply rooted in his region: for instance, the titular tower of the opening track to Sylvan Passage, plus Mount Venus and Devil's Pit from Tales from the Dormant Mountain are real places near his home. The passion for his region and its history surely show across all of Alessandro's music.

While I was working on Wanderings and Vistas and, later, on The Last Embers of the Fire, I was yearning for more Bruna music. Alessandro shared some old Bruna demos, but it was clear he had his eyes set on the future: month after month, he worked on widly different material, and I knew he was hatching something wonderful. Finally, in August 2023 he shared the fruits of his labour.

Verso l'Alba was earth-shattering: articulate compositions leaning towards metal (and punk, I should add, since I know of Alessandro's roots in the genre), a real guitar among the instruments, great drums, and a terrific control of synths. The journey from darkness to light through the desolate rural areas added the wonderful connection with the territory that, more than any sound or technique, is Alessandro's signature.

It's hard to overstate the significance that Verso l'Alba had for me. In August I was in the midst of a revolution of my own: the work on Golem Dreams (and the encouragement I received from Alessandro and Featherandbone) unlocked some inner floodgates I didn't know were closed shut and, at the time Verso l'Alba dropped, I had just started working on Sumarið Þegar Hjartað Söng, a metal-influenced album of my own. In my frenzied composition spree (at first, I worked on it literally six hours a day for a week straight, and then tried to match that intensity in the subsequent month), I picked up some energy and some technical details from Verso l'Alba, and of course from Alessandro's precious feedback (the advice of slightly tweaking drum patterns at the end of a song is one of his many suggestions). To this day, I think of Verso l'Alba as a big brother to my Sumarið Þegar Hjartað Söng.

Another reason why Verso l'Alba is so dear to me is that, along with Key XII: Grottos & Groves, a Woodlands Spells/Hidden Passage split (and my own Sumarið Þegar Hjartað Söng, I have to admit), it's one of the three albums I reached out to on the night my second daughter was born.

Then, in November 2023, in Italy there was a tragic murder of a young woman that shook the consciences of millions of people. Day after day, I grew more and more restless about this event, until I finally reached out to Alessandro and shared my urge to do something against gender-based violence and in support for the survivors. He was immediately sympathetic with this idea and, thanks to his and his partner's dedication, we've been able to set up a compilation in support of Casa della Donna (House of the Woman), based in Pisa, Tuscany. It's a cultural center, library, and a support and hospitality center for survivors of domestic and gender based violence. As I write, we have gathered music from more than 15 artists (including Erang, Elyvilon, Ithildin, Balin, Angel, and many more), and Barrow Hoard Records has graciously offered to produce the compilation into a digital and physical release. I feel privileged of having so worthy companions in such an important quest!

January 2024 was a month full of challenges: Alessandro and I were setting up the compilation and supporting all the artists that pledged to join it, and we had a lot going on in our lives. Nevertheless, Alessandro was always kind, thoughtful and helpful whenever I reached out to him for advice or feedback (the cover art of Arrhythmias would have been way worse without his suggestions). On top of that, he completed the draft for the next Desolazione Rurale album. It's chock-full of exciting ideas and makes some steps in interesting new directions that I wouldn't have expected. When we will finally hear the final version, I promise it's going to be fantastic. On top of that, Alessandro also has one or two "secret" projects where he can explore slightly different genres and workflows (here's a hint for you: one of such secret projects can be reached through Hilltop Esoterica's YouTube page). To my amazement, he's like a king Midas of music: every genre he touches becomes gold to my ears.

I could talk about Alessandro and his music for days. In the same spirit, I could talk your ear off about other music close to my heart! For instance, when I mentioned guitars in Desolazione Rurale, I immediately thought about other great projects with the same feature: Empty Throne Amongst the Stars by Disquieting, some experimental DS albums by Bartizan Chill, and even Crossroads by Hole Dweller (the fact that it has a mandolin instead of a guitar makes it even more unique).

Driven by the desire of letting the artists know why I love their projects, and of helping people connecting to some of my favourite music, in 2024 I will try to put to paper some of my thoughts on artists of special significance to me. As you have seen, I won't do straight reviews of albums or projects, but rather focus on my journey with them. There won't be a fixed schedule to these contributions, as time is always the tyrant. However, I'll do my best to cover at least four or five more artists through the year. I hope all the others I'll only mention in passing will forgive me in the knowledge that, even if I won't have the time for articulating it, their music has touched me deeply.

ᚼᛁᛆᚱᛐᛆᚿᛋ, February 2024