This month has been a month of stories, as
The Magic Door
is yet another album based around a myth. But this time it’s a story from a warmer region of Europe and much later in time than the old Scandinavian and Sami myths we heard till now. It takes place in Baroque Rome. According to legend, at the end of the 17th century, a pilgrim called ‘Stibeum’ was a guest at the villa of Marquis Maximiliano Palombara, a man who had developed a passion for alchemy since he visited the alchemical laboratory in the Riario Palace, (now known as Palazzo Corsini) in 1656.
The pilgrim (most likely an alchemist called Giuseppe Francesco Borr) disappeared forever after this visit, but he left a paper with seven symbols and epigraphs corresponding with the seven planets that were known to mankind in those days. Unable to decipher them himself the Marquis engraved these symbols and epigraphs in his door hoping that someday, someone would decode them. This door, now known as
or Porta Magica, is the inspiration for this album.
Fast forward 350 years and we find ourselves in October 2016. The moment that
and Giada Colagrande
started work on a musical project: making an album inspired by the Porta Alchemica. Arthuan Rebis we know of course as the composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist of the Italian medieval group
In Vino Veritas,
and of his solo album
La Primavera Del Piccolo Popolo,
which we reviewed a few months ago. Giada Colagrande is an Italian film director, actress and singer. During the writing process,
(an accomplished composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist in his own right) became part of the porject as a third bandmember. Last to join The Magic Door were special guests
(percussion, frame drum) and
(double bass). Together they recorded the album
The Magic Door,
which was released in November 2018.
Those of you who know Arthuan Rebis his solo album La Primavera Del Piccolo Popolo will know he has his own very unique style: warm and friendly, somewhere between ambient-, new age-, folk- and easy-listening pop music. Well, The Magic Door is just as unique. Which brings me to the impossible task of trying to describe The Magic Doors music. A problem I already had when I tried to describe Arthuan Rebis’ solo music. The honest answer. I struggled. How do you describe 5 centuries of music flowing together anyway? New age music; chamber pop; Baroc, ’50’s pop, a touch of Arabian influences, it is all there, blending together in a unique way, making the music feel refreshingly new and comfortingly old at the same time. Confused? well, join the club. My first two attempts to put this music into words became so complicated to read, that they looked like an alchemistic formula in their own right.
The basis of The Magic Door’s music is the feeling of warmth. An embrace put to music. Listen to the warm notes of the cello in Saturnine Night combined with Giada’s equally tender voice and you’ll melt away on the spot. When Arthuan then also adds his soothing voice to the music, it becomes a warm woolen blanket you can crawl into. A soft musical pillow of ease and relaxation.
The Refrain of Jupiter’s Dew is Just as Silky
The refrain of Jupiter’s Dew is just as silky. It is stunning how Arthuan’s and Giada’s voices blend together. Not only on this song but through the whole CD. Pure magic. Supported by a gentle drum rhythm, a groovy double bass, and pleasant acoustic guitar chords this whole album is a joy for the ear. Sudden surprises as the musical saw in Jupiter’s Dew and Mercury Unveiled add that special sort of mystique an alchemist inspired album should have.
But not every song is cozy and calm. Water of Mars has an enticing bass/cello line. Really catchy and slightly dark. As the song progresses it picks up speed and at the same time drags you back through the centuries into a dark Baroc sounding cello/nyckelharpa solo. Welcome mister Bach into the 21st century. A really clever use of ‘antique’ instruments in a modern arrangement. And that is the essence of the sound of The Magic Door.
Capturing The Essence of the Sound of The Magic Door
On one hand, you have the warmth of the wooden string instruments and the lovely voice of Giada that take you back to the sound of the ’50s. It was a time when you still had an orchestra or a string ensemble ready in the studio to record the music. Giada’s voice has that ‘old’ almost jazzy tone, reminiscent of singers like
-dare I say it-
or, more recently,
On the other hand, the music and arrangements sound modern and fresh. That is mainly due to the production, AND the modern, folky use of the percussion. It gives this CD its cheer, its vibrancy. It sounds folky, fun, and always upbeat. Glen Velez is a master on the frame drum and it is only fair that he has got his own solo spot on the album with the song Ancient Portal. The subtle, open sound of the guitar and harp is the thing that blends everything together. The song Vitriol is possibly the best example of this beautiful mix of old and new. It is also the folkiest song of them all.
The lyrics are just as intriguing as the music itself. The refrains of most of the songs are translations of the inscriptions left on the Porta Magica 340 years ago. On Water Of Mars, for instance, the epigraph says:
‘Who knows how to burn with water,
and how to wash with fire.
Can make heaven of earth
and a precious earth of heaven.‘
Really poetic, but I do understand why Marquis Massimiliano was never able to decipher it.
Another mysteriously beautiful one is the epigraph in Saturnine Night:
‘When in your house black crows give birth to white doves, then will you be called wise‘. Pure poetry.
The most cryptic of them all goes like this:
‘As Latona is whitened by Azoth and lightning,
Diana comes undressed.‘
It inspired the band itself to equally wondrous astrological poetry of their own:
‘Blessed by the serpent scepter of Hermes,
the lover ascends the draft
to join his female half.
The chemical wedding starts.
The moon marries the sun,
Venus marries Mars. [Venus the Bride]
This album is as mysterious as it is beautiful. A true tribute to Guiseppe Francesco Borri, to Maquis Massimiliano Palombara, and to all the alchemists of 16th century Rome in general. I’ll probably never unveil all the mysteries hidden in the music and the lyrics of this CD, but trust me, I will enjoy every single note of it as I keep trying.
Picture of the Porta Alchemica: Made by Sailko. The original picture can be found
here on wikipedia.