One of the most worn-out clichés used to describe certain strains of instrumental music is calling it ‘a soundtrack to a non-existent movie’. In the case Confrontations by Umberto (aka Matt Hill) the description is justified, as his work is directly grounded in film scores. To be more specific, in film music of a particular genre and era: think late 70s/early 80s European giallo and American slasher movies. Their appeal is clearly understandable – nothing captures the magnetism of cinematic artifice better than these illogical and absurdly violent productions, born somewhere between commerce and the sheer love of film. A recent critical success, Berberian Sound Studio (scored by Broadcast), explored the potential for fascination that genre films provide. Those made by Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and other masters of horror embody the artificial on a musical level too: their films boast rich, synthesizer-based compositions, adding another layer of inorganic stylistic artifice to proceedings.
Contemporary electronic music has already given us direct or almost-direct Fabio Frizzi and Claudio Simonetti disciples: Zombi, who eventually moved towards monumental, multi-layered prog, or Antoni Maiovvi, oriented more towards the dance floor. While their work is thoroughly enjoyable (can we ever be short of catchy, atmospheric synth-scapes?), it provides little merit beyond quality tribute. Umberto falls into the same category: as a diligent apprentice, he takes a familiar, reliable route, following the paths of Euro-horror’s shock classics, along with (and apparently closer to his heart), those low-budget American tales of psycho axemen or alien abduction, secretly viewed by excited kids whose folks were away for the evening.
Hill emulates synthesizer sounds from the analogue era, along with the bright, metallic Yamaha DX7 FM tones of the 80s, and a corresponding Italo disco influence, with its end-of-season, understated melancholy, creeps in. Aside from the over-compressed ‘pumping’ quality of the mix, there is no discernible trace of the 21st century in his music. Unless you count ‘revivalism’ –or ‘channelling’, as sophisticated copying tends to call it nowadays –as a contemporary quality. If I’d heard Confrontations as an anonymous release without any helpful cues, I’d have guessed it was an album by a lesser-known film composer, dating from around 1985 and probably accompanying a movie about a hostile alien visitor disguised as an eerily precocious child.
It’s a slowly developing album with uneasy tension hanging throughout, which –together with the Close Encounters-inspired cover –suggests a vague, underlying narrative. The opener, ‘Night Fantasy’, chosen to promote the release, differs from the rest significantly: its relentless drive is pitched at the same neon-lit frequency that Chromatics favour. Later, from the ascending, dynamic ‘Initial Revelation’ towards the deliberate, softly pulsating closer ‘Invasion’, Hill employs a well-known horror arsenal: bells and portentous choral imitations, tinkling melodies and a mid-paced, steady rhythm. In its entirety, the album evokes the sensation of viewing a grainy VHS tape under flickering strip lights.
On a certain level, there is a safe, hygienic pleasure in listening to genre revivalists. This stems from the familiar assurances they provide; the guarantee of satisfaction a horror buff would get by re-watching a favourite obscurity from the 80s. Yet this also means there are no developments, no surprising turns, and no ‘variations on a theme’ either. Consequently, whilst Umberto is certainly skilled and dependable, his work fails to transcend the experience of listening to a note-perfect covers band.