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We Were Gladiators

Rating: 9/10 ?

February 3, 2005
One of the first things I do when I encounter a band I'm not familiar with - granted this usually happens while searching the used bins of my favorite records stores, when a flashy name or cover catches my attention and I don't have AllMusic is check out - I will go straight for the "Thank You" list and look for bands that may be thanked. For me, this is usually a good way to gauge what a given band will sound like, or at least is slightly influenced by.

While I'm not in front of Park Ave. CD's used bin right now, Lost At Sea has graciously sent me a flashy red, white and black digipack with an album by Theramin inside. I've never heard of Theramin before, most likely because, as their press sheet points out, they are from Italy; so I go straight for the "Band Thanks" section: Uzeda, Bellini, Three Second Kiss, none of these names ring a bell; but a few names later I hit gold, Fugazi, Shellac, June of 44, Don Caballero. Hot damn, jackpot! If this band sounds anything like any of these fine indie rock noise makers I'm in for a treat (and in my mind any band that makes it a point to thank the mighty Shellac, has some balls).

As the press sheet points out, Theramin formed in 1998 by Stefano Garaffa Botta (vocals/guitar), Michael Herman (bass) and Sacha Tilotta (drums) in Catania, Sicily and have supported Don Caballero and June of 44 during Italian tours. Theramin's latest release and debut on Psychotica Records, titled We Were Gladiators, spends a little over 31 minutes thrashing about spewing fractured melodies, shrill guitar riffs, bombastic bass lines and thundering drums. Few bands correctly pull off Shellac as an influence, but Theramin do with heavy bass and caustic treble that should make even Steve Albini proud. The vocals are sparse throughout We Were Gladiators and are spoken just as much as they are shouted through the din of instrumental chaos.

Opening with "When Santa Close Died" a tumultuous spoken word piece filled in with flying guitar flails and a swift bass undercurrent, we hear Tilotta's drums push everything along at a brisk pace, reminiscent of June of 44 in fast forward. "Near By the Saint Leonard River" throws We Were Gladiators into reverse with a plucked classical acoustic guitar, and Tilotta narrates his thoughts on being a musician and creating music. "Butterfly Wings Over Computer" bring the rock back with minimalist bass line and drums and the flutter of guitar before a more complete song structure begins to build. Botta's voice is buried in the mix and chaos of guitar, bass and drums which seems necessary for setting a mood of bordering between structure and chaos which Theramin does very well.

Theramin's maturity as a band and their real understanding of dynamic comes when they counter the first six tracks of math-infused rock fury with "To Be Away" - a somewhat slower and softer piece featuring Giovanni Fidelio's violin. The interaction of angular guitars and soaring violin works excellently as the bass and drums fill in bottom end and hold everything together.

Equally impressive is Herman's bass work, which provides the vast majority of the melody on We Were Gladiators while Botta dances his guitar parts in and out of focus. Herman doesn't let up for a minute pounding away for all 31 minutes. Meanwhile Tilotta is no slouch as his drum work perfectly.

Theramin pull off We Were Gladiators with expertise and ease. Nothing here comes off as pretentious as math rock bands often can; instead, Theramin sound very at home in their sound, channeling the likes of Shellac, June of 44 and Don Caballero very effectively. This Italian band's first album available in the U.S. should hopefully make waves, Theramin's proficiency with their music deserves as much. Hell, from just listening I'd swear Theramin spent their entire lives in Chicago.

Reviewed by Craig Mertes
Craig lives, works and listens to music in the general vicinity of Orlando, Florida, where he absorbs everything from hip-hop to indie, pop, rock, punk and metal. His all time favs include Hum, Clutch, Dismemberment Plan, and the Reverend Horton Heat. The last we heard, Craig was spinning Vast Aire, Soul Position, Blues Explosion, Motörhead, the Blood Brothers and Dead Meadow. Craig is also a life-long, die-hard Cubs fan, so lay off.

See other reviews by Craig Mertes



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