November 14, 2022

Musically, the best word to sum them up succinctly is ‘uncompromising’. Others would be ‘heavy’, ‘intense’, ‘progressive’, ‘dark’, ‘experimental’ and, occasionally, ‘terrifying’.

So, chances are you’ve never heard of LVTVM? Well, you’re not alone, as neither had I, before this new release – variously described as an EP or a mini-album – landed in my inbox and intrigued me, partially because I wondered who the hell they were and also what the letters stand for. I now know the answer to both those questions – the band themselves are an Italian instrumental quartet from Tuscany, who bizarrely consist of drums, synthesizer and two bass players – and no guitar at all – while LVTVM is a stylised form of the Latin word ‘lutum’, meaning ‘mud’. Which they explain refers to the heavy fusion of the unlikely instrumentation. That instrumental make-up really is something that plays tricks with your head, as there are several times on this record when you are certain that you are hearing a guitar solo when no such thing is there! Cleverly, this instrumental approach makes the five pieces here all ‘irrational numbers’ in themselves, in the sense of a song as a ‘musical number’, which makes this a very neat title. Musically, the best word to sum them up succinctly is ‘uncompromising’. Others would be ‘heavy’, ‘intense’, ‘progressive’, ‘dark’, ‘experimental’ and, occasionally, ‘terrifying’. Let’s dive into the five tracks here and see what we have…

The opening piece here, Holzwege, takes its name from a term used by the German metaphysical philosopher Martin Heidegger to refer to the way the human consciousness views the subject of life. I must stress that I know this because I looked it up, and that I do not tend to have a volume of Heidegger’s thoughts handy by the bedside for some light reading. Musically, the template for the record is set out here, with pulverising bass riffs offset in their rumbling heaviness by an almost ‘math-rock’ progressive quirkiness. It’s a little like The Fierce And The Dead meeting Red-era King Crimson. and it’s actually somewhat less dense and more melodically diverse than that comparison or the instrumental line-up would have you imagine. We enter Latin for the next track, Hic Sunt Leones, which translates as Here Be Lions, and was the Roman equivalent of the English ‘Here Be Dragons’ written on a map when they simply had no idea what was beyond that point. It’s well named, as by this juncture we have no real idea what will be beyond this point on this recording, as we are heading well away from well-charted waters by this time. My first listen through this had me marvelling at the excellent guitar work breaking up the sound and instilling a tremendous soloing element, only for this to be dispelled as I discovered on closer investigation that I was hearing no such thing! It seemingly must be the synthesizer, unless it is a heavily treated and very high range bass guitar, but whatever it is works extremely well, and the track is a real highpoint.

Third track from five, and at the midpoint we now get Oscillator, which is a fearsome beast indeed. Basically, this piece sounds like five and a half minutes of a star arguing with itself furiously about whether or not to collapse in on itself. Spoiler: it does. The contrasting parts of this are head-spinning at times, and it’s another winner, if not something that you would play as some cheerful driving music. After that we get something of a rarity, as Ouroboros is surely one of the relatively few pieces of music to be named after a mythological symbol depicting a snake eating its own tail and devouring itself. It is well-named, with a definite serpentine quality to it which provides a nice change from the cosmic drama of Oscillator, and we are set up for the final track on what we should, I believe, describe as an EP, namely Speculum – which in an extremely odd turn of events takes its title from a medical instrument intended to – how shall we put this – look inside certain hollow parts of the body. It also strongly resembles a duck’s bill, causing amusement among those of an occasionally juvenile sense of humour. Which is to say, most of us. Anyhow, away from ducks and invasive medical examinations (I never thought I’d use that phrase!), this seven minute closer is a stunning piece. Ramping up the mid-’70s King Crimson influence significantly, this could have fit comfortably onto an album such as Larks Tongues In Aspic or Red without seeming out of place, as all of the band’s trademarks are laid out on display. There is dark, rolling, heavy riffing, inspired soloing and a general air of propulsive menace which conversely never falls into the trap of being too repetitive. It’s a very strong way to finish.

This might not be something which I would have chosen to pick out had I simply gone off the instrumental, guitar-less description, but it certainly surmounts any apparent restrictions which might be imposed by that format. The unusual instrumental line-up is used cleverly and skilfully to forge its own sound while also appearing to utilise a broader sonic range than it in fact does. I’ll look out for these guys again, and I would strongly suggest you do likewise. Very interesting stuff – but do play it loud if you can. It’s the best way to hear this…