Whilst Clint Eastwood was the quintessential on-screen brooding cowboy, it would seem that Nero Kane is gunning for the title of Gothic Cowboy. Nero Kane is the moniker for underground Italian singer-songwriter Marco Mezzadri. Describing his new project as intimate, decadent minimalism, Mezzadri has created something that is less of an album, and more of a soundtrack to a Westworld style film. His debut album Love In A Dying World is a dark and ominous representation of Mezzadri’s connection between his European heritage and a desolate American desert style. It would not be surprising if he intended this record to coincide with a movie or TV show, as it utilises recurring melodic themes in an almost leitmotif fashion which evokes vivid imagery whilst listening.
From first listen, it sounds like Joe Newman, lead singer of Alt-J, has met with Warren Ellis of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, gone out into the American desert and written an album of Spaghetti Western music. Gritty and forlorn themes create visions of shoot-outs and stand-offs, good versus evil and long, eyebrow-twitching stares. Overall, it’s an interesting take on a very classic formula, that of a threatening Old-West style with a minimalist approach. However, the simplicity of the melodies and instrumentation comes across as lazy and indeed in some parts, tedious.
The first track, “Black Crows” sets a melancholic tone early on, setting the listener up for the dark and twisted songs to follow. Employing a simple acoustic guitar progression, swelling organ and a monotonous vocal melody, this song encapsulates the mood of the entire album. The sound is almost apocalyptic in nature, resigning Mezzadri to his sorry existence. Unfortunately, there isn’t much variety within this track – weighing down the piece by the third minute.
“Desert Soul” lends to the idea that this album should be a soundtrack as it is almost a continuation of track one. The guitar has shifted to a finger-picked melody but the menacing organ sound and general mood of the piece has not noticeably changed. With references to the desert and soul-trading with the devil, this track solidifies the themes and style Nero Kane is hoping to achieve. Being one of the few songs on the album that utilises percussion, the tambourine is a welcome addition, bringing a sense of understated urgency and intensity to the ambience of the piece. It feels like it is building without anything truly changing.
Vocal melodies contained within “Living on the Edge of the Night” are more interesting and cover a wider range than other songs on the album, providing some much-needed variety to the record. The guitar is raw and unfiltered, opting to keep the finger slides between chord changes which adds to the live nature of the sound. This song introduces the electric piano and strings which bring depth and compliment the vocal melody and the style of the piece. Long drawn bows create a sweetly-dark impression that is a staple of this genre.
Transitioning nicely into song four, “I Put a Spell on You” is very close in style to the previous track. This piece uses effect-heavy feedback noises that are quite effective in evoking images that the artist is supposedly trying to depict; that of a bleak, black and white, gothic desert landscape. It’s an interesting picture.
Each song on this album seems to be an extension of the one beforehand. There is no clear change in style or direction, it’s just one overarching theme. It’s almost like a concept album in terms of style, given there is little distinction between each song. They could easily meld into one long track that slowly evolves over the course of the record, which is exactly what these songs do; slowly develop throughout. “Now the Day is Over” is slightly more involved with regards to instrumentation. Most notably, there’s a bassline, which has been severely lacking from the first half of the album. This is another very repetitive piece and at just over five minutes, it feels like it is beating your brain into submission by the end, which is never a good feeling.
Alternatively, “Because I Knew Not When My Life Was Good” is instantly more intriguing. It’s still repetitive, however, it feels less sluggish and more driven than the previous tracks. The Jack White-style noodling guitar solo is directionless and timeless and when mixed with the other instruments, paints a graveyard, show-down worthy scene. This is a far better song than the previous few due to the more intricate instrumentation, however, it would have been nice to see this one build with percussion and strings.
“Dream Dream” is a slow piece with rising and falling echoes that bring elements of mystery, but without drums, it feels a bit empty and vacant. On the other hand, “Eleonor” is possibly the most single-worthy track on the record, purely because of the dark and fearsome guitar part, a melodic vocal line and more a traditional song structure. Much like track two, “Eleonor” has a drum beat that lifts the whole song and allows it to flourish and grow, which makes it more inviting than previous songs.
In comparison, “So Sad” is relatively unimaginative and cliché in terms of lyrics. Musically, it’s repetitive and after three minutes of the same finger-picked progression, it starts to become monotonous and dreary, only opening up slightly towards the end – but it’s not enough to peak the listener’s interest.
The title track and last track on the record “Love in a Dying World” is an instrumental and features one of the only guitar solos on the record. It’s more interesting than earlier songs, however, it is still repetitive and based around a very simple idea. It would have been nice to hear it develop more.
Nero Kane’s debut would be more suited as a film score than something you could listen to standalone or as singles in a playlist. The sound almost feels happy to remain small and contained, never wanting to grow into something grander or more elaborate, and his voice is at times grating. Ultimately, far from being a minimalist masterpiece, it’s just 43 minutes of repetitious cowboy music.