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Paolo Colavolpe: Vocals
Matteo Di Gioia: Guitar
Federico Paulovich: Drums
Ralph Guido Salati: Guitar
Gabriel Pignata: Bass
You can try to put Destrage in a box but you will never succeed. Words such as "progressive", "cinematic", "mathcore", "technical" and "groove-laden", could be thrown at them, but really the only one you need is Destrage, for they are in a category of their own making. This has never been more true than on A Means To No End, the fourth full-length from the Milan, Italy-based 5-piece. Riveting from start to finish, it leads the listener through an emotionally-charged labyrinth of complex yet catchy melody and muscle, following nobody's rules, and it stands out as one of the truly unique releases of 2016. "We took our time with this record," says guitarist Matteo Di Gioia. "We put aside the urge to impress, to rush, to jump from here to there like mad dogs. We challenged ourselves by not giving in to what we know we can do. We know how to eat fire, we know how to go wild, we know how to surprise, to shake, to disturb people. But this time we wanted to write a solid album. Not fireworks. Circus days are over."
There were certainly plenty of fireworks on 2014's Are You Kidding Me? No., which saw the band - rounded out by vocalist Paolo Colavolpe, guitarist Ralph Salati, bassist Gabriel Pignata and drummer Federico Paulovich - refusing to compromise one iota, deliriously and compellingly kicking up a tornado of dizzying noise, and fans developing a strong connection to it. However, as powerful as this record was, as Di Gioia suggests, it perhaps lacked focus, and in doing so blunted the emotional impact a little. Such a criticism could never be levelled at its successor, for this is music that digs as deep as it gets, and Di Gioia is earnest when reflecting on the challenge that lay before them going into making it. "If you ask if we were at all intimidated following up that record we should probably say a big bold 'no'. But the truth is yes, we were all scared. The worst thing that can happen to a band is to become its own shadow, a self-drawn caricature. We knew that every possible repetition of 'Kidding' would be dishonest and tepid. So we took another route, focusing on what we felt in that moment and giving it the chance to be. That's the only thing that matters. An album is, first of all, a family portrait, a tale of a time." This particular tale of a time kicks off with the title track, just over three minutes of steadily building haunting drones, acoustic guitar, percussion and Colavolpe's inimitable vocals, growing ever more dramatic before giving way to the explosive beast that is "Don't Stare At The Edge". Over the course of 56 minutes, the listener is dragged through widely varying sonic and emotional landscapes. "Dreamers" is by turns edgy, in your face and downright beautiful, "Peacefully Lost" attacks with swathes of stabbing guitar, gorgeous prog atmospherics and unleashes a widescreen chorus to die for, while the understated "A Promise, A Debt" seduces the listener while subtly conjuring a distant sense of unease. But pick any song, there is so much that could be said for every one of them, and throughout, the quintet display masterful command of their instruments while pouring everything they have into every moment. "We pushed ourselves to do the simplest yet the most difficult thing: writing songs. And that was taking a big risk, because if you take the dressing away, you better have good raw ingredients in your pot. More importantly, notes coming from the stomach really expose you. Mannerism, technicality, and irony define a protective comfort zone, but if you step out of that triangle and try to write for real you will find yourself naked in front of the world with a handful of notes in your hands, and there is no escape. You put yourself out there to be attacked, so you'd better mean what you say." That there is a great deal of urgency to the A Means To No End - particularly on "Symphony Of The Ego", "Dreamers", "To Be Tolerated" and "The Flight" - reflects the raw emotions the members experienced in the moment, and just as prominent are the "dreamy", sublime moments of calm and reflection, not to mention passages of anthemic grandeur. These elements create bold contrasts, yet they are woven together fluidly and organically, enviably so, and this was something the band paid close attention to while crafting both the individual songs and the album. "Working on the narration - like when making films, deciding when and how things happen and the way events follow eachother - takes the most time. It also takes a lot of guts to reconsider your work, because that's what you do when you try to make it fluid when needed and surprising when wanted. You put aside your pride and cut open what you've done to reshape it." A further prominent element is the profusion of slide guitar, most notably sounding sinister on "Not Everything Is Said" and with far more melancholy effect on the deceptively warm "A Promise, A Debt". "I was searching for a way to make cream, and slide happened to be one of the answers. Even though I imagined slide was a good way to create depth in our songs since the beginning, I tried not to include it or show it to others before I could internalize the language of the instrument. With this record I did."
Of course, the music is only part of the picture. Lyrically, Di Gioia and Colavolpe dig as deep as ever, reflecting philosophically on the world around them, and by their own admission far more maturely than they ever have before. This results in words that make the listener think, but more importantly they make them feel. "'A Means To No End', 'Don't Stare At The Edge', 'Dreamers', 'Peacefully Lost', 'Not Everything Is Said' and 'Abandon To Random' are quite agnostic," Di Gioia explains. "They deal with the wonderful bliss and the terrible curse of the question, the doubt, knowing and not knowing, understanding and not even noticing. The lyrics come from the burning energy we feed on when we make things happen, and the serene, indulgent sense of peace that comes from the acceptance of those things we have absolutely no control over." Elsewhere, the duo take a more political, rational, yet poetic approach, most notably on "Silent Consent", "The Flight" "Blah Blah" and "A Promise, A Debt". Though Destrage have never claimed to be a political band, their second album, The King Is Fat'N'Old (2010) was straight up anticapitalist and somewhat anarchic. However, at this stage in their career, Di Gioia believes them much better equipped to deal with such issues. "Back then we just wanted a demon to blame and a dragon to fight. Becoming an adult brings with it a wonderful effect: it makes you understand that there is no precise line between good and evil. Therefore 'A Means To No End' deals more with ethics than it questions power."
With thirteen songs under their collective arm, the band headed into RecLab Studios in Milan, reuniting with their longtime collaborator Larsen Premoli, and his assistant Alex D'Errico. Renting a nearby apartment so they could maximize the time they had, it was an utterly absorbing experience for all, and particularly Di Gioia. "I didn't miss one single day. I don't know if the band needed me there all the time - maybe, but I needed it. I can't share the recordings with anything else in life. I can't go home." While tracking, at the suggestion of drummer Paulovich, they brought percussionist Alessandro "Pacho" Rossi into the fold. Initially, Di Gioia was not convinced this was the right move, but very quickly realized that he could bring something unique to the album, contributing further to the organic nature of the songs. "Pacho brought in some very rare sounds, and the best thing is there is no single source on 'A Means To No End'. It's a digitally recorded album, but everything you hear is played on an instrument, be it a bass guitar played with the fist or a bowl with water."
Having entered into the writing process with no plans beyond simply wanting to write good songs, the finished product is somewhat revelatory, and will certainly grab the attention of anyone exposed to it. Known for their powerful live shows, these songs are sure to sound incredible when blasted from titanic speakers as the band take them to the masses. Looking ahead, when asking Di Gioia what his goals are at this stage in the game, he does not hesitate in answering. "Stay true. Resist. Explode. Spread the voice of meaningful music through healthy fun and enthusiasm. Bring it live everywhere, show it to people, make them sweat first and make them think later." And if any band can achieve all of that, you know it will be Destrage.