Secret Chiefs 3 - Traditionalists: Le Mani DeStre Recise DeGli Ultimi Uomini [Mimicry, 2009]

For those who don't know about Secret Chiefs 3, here's a quick rundown. Though it was once a more collaborative effort between the non-singing musicians of Mr. Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3 is now primarily a project of Trey Spruance. Much of their music is ambiguously non-western, drawing influence from India, Iraq, Ethiopia, etc., though other parts are steeped in various western traditions (including surf music, metal, 12-tone technique, etc.), even dabbling in microtonal tunings.

To keep all of the disparate elements organized, Spruance chose to split Secret Chiefs 3 into 7 different "satellite bands," a decision first revealed on their 2004 album Book of Horizons. Each band is more-or-less the same musicians, just playing a different type of music.

Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini is the first Secret Chiefs 3 release under the guise of "Traditionalists," one of the 7 satellite bands. It is an expressed tribute to the 70's Giallo soundtrack music of composers like Bruno Nicolai, Pierro Piccioni, and Ennio Morricone, (though the opening orchestral chords drenched in delay remind me of Jerry Goldsmith's 1968 soundtrack to Planet of The Apes).

Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini is packaged as a soundtrack to an imaginary film, with artwork and titles following along in the conceptual whirlwind. Track names such as "Zombievision 2012" and "Dionysian Dithyramb (Eros-Seed of the Egregore)" hint that Spruance might have spent too much time alone thinking about this project. But if you know much of Secret Chiefs 3's other output, you know that's nothing new (check out Spruance's essay in John Zorn's Arcana II).

With musically indulgent albums such as this, there is a danger of wandering into the murky prog territory populated by Rick Wakeman solo projects (which might be just fine, depending on your personal tastes). However, besides a few moments of electronic drums, the outcome is a very convincing recreation of the Giallo musical aesthetic. You can tell Trey Spruance is really into the music he is paying tribute to, and the specificity really elevates this album. There are no musical gestures that sound like wanking for wanking's sake.

For each track, you can visualize something like a massive occult ritual in a lush Italian mansion by the sea, or a spritually-troubled nun contemplating a single flower in an ancient graveyard by moonlight, or cybernetic zombies scuttling their ragged claws down the stone path towards the unknowing monastery in search of blood. All the mainstay textures of 70's Italian horror music are there: keyboards and organs, weird sound effects, flutes, solo female vocals drenched in reverb, celeste's, wah-wah guitars, majestic string progressions over funk rhythm sections, Morricone-esque harmonic suspensions, etc.

Very few (if any) other musicians have the ear, mind, and musical resources to pull off a stunt as authentically as this. One could compare it to Spruance's former bandmate Mike Patton's project, Mondo Cane, in which Patton and a full orchestra perform 70's Italian songs. But the strength of Mondo Cane is in the live performance, while Spruance has created a whole new world out of an underestimated musical language. A more meaningful comparison is to John Zorn's The Big Gundown, in which Zorn arranges Ennio Morricone tunes for some of his downtown music buddies to blast over. But Spruance's method is much less improv-oriented than Zorn's, and Le Mani Destre Recise Degli Ultimi Uomini stands alone as the next evolutionary step in the mind-boggling world of Secret Chiefs 3.

Daniel Corral

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Secret Chiefs 3 - Traditionalists: Le Mani DeStre Recise DeGli Ultimi Uomini