December 6, 2022

This is an album which has an enormous sonic range, from mellow, mysterious introspection, to huge and sometimes even lush sections – but at the centre of it beats a dark, disturbing and angst-ridden heart.

Rome. From that name you’d naturally expect an Italian band, I suspect. Well, I did at least – but you would probably go through a few guesses at countries of origin before alighting on Luxembourg, but such is indeed the case. Now, the name was, I confess, a new one to me, but the collective which is Rome has been around now for no less than 17 years (and, apparently, 17 albums!), which is a long time to reach my attention for sure – but based on this latest album, it’s most certainly better late than never. The mastermind behind the project is a guy named Jerome Reuter, and he is quite the enigmatic yet mercurial talent based on this dark – very dark – mix of prog, electronica, poetry, song and even some avant-garde sound collage here and there. By all accounts the Rome output previously has been described as guitar-based dark folk, but the use of electronic elements here has certainly elevated things far beyond that somewhat sparse description. This is an album which has an enormous sonic range, from mellow, mysterious introspection, to huge and sometimes even lush sections – but at the centre of it beats a dark, disturbing and angst-ridden heart. It isn’t easy listening, but for the right ears it is very easy to listen to, if that isn’t too much of a contradiction!

Now, you, like me, may need a little enlightenment on the precise meaning of the title Hegemonikon. I trotted off to my good friend The Internet, and received this helpful explanation: ‘Hegemonikon in Stoic vocabulary is the technical term for the chief part or ‘command-centre’ of the soul. As we know, the Stoics considered the cosmos a living organism, and they theorised both about the human soul’s Hegemonikon and about its counterpart in the ‘World-soul”. So there you go. It’s fairly clear that we’re not going to be dealing with Motley Crue or Aerosmith here, let’s just say that. So, strap yourselves in and let’s take a look…

Jerome is the possessor of a very deep, rich, sonorous voice which could read the script of an episode of The Simpsons and make you reach for some anti-depressants. It’s the sort of voice which can find the blackness in everything, and generally does. The closest parallel I can bring to mind is Nick Cave, which is never a bad thing to my mind! There are tracks here which are the most electronically based and are centred around often reasonably upbeat musical backing – but when the combination of that voice and the lyrics (which tend to lend themselves to open interpretation, but rarely a cheerful one), the effect is of some ghastly illusion of a sunlit world which only hides the existential despair beneath. Examples of these are Solar Caesar, Hearts Mend (spoiler: they probably don’t), and the clue-in-the-title of Surely Ash. These songs are brilliant examples of the kind of trojan horse which could sneak hopelessness and despair onto daytime radio, as bored housewives settle down with a nice glass of wine and slowly sink into a miasma of ennui. That’s what Rome will do to your day, and it’s marvellous.

Jerome Reuter: either the photo is blurred, or he really looks like this. After listening to the album, you could believe either…

Elsewhere we don’t even get a veneer of brightness, as the terrifying collage of sound, and snippets of ghastly voices looming from the fog on the opening A Slaughter Of Crows displays right out of the traps. There’s nearly five minutes of this, but somehow it is oddly hypnotic; although it is not advised to listen in the dark on your own (in case you were in the habit of such surroundings), as it may well prove nightmarish. It leads into No Second Troy, which is a song, and an excellent one, by contrast, but once again utterly bleak. The meaning of there being ‘No Second Troy’, nor any such possibility, is one which may mean different things to many different listeners (like the similarly obtuse Solar Caesar), but none of those imagined interpretations will be delivering good news, that’s for certain. There is one ray of hope in the closing New Flags, but seemingly only in the sense that society and indeed mankind must reconvene under an entirely new start, as the current situation is beyond salvation. Or so it seems to me at least – but then by the time the end of this album is reached, a happy ending is a distant memory, and only despair remains. Now, I must just say that if you have read this paragraph and are thinking ‘that sounds good!’, then you should rush to get this album, as it is made for you. You will love it unconditionally.

One thing I have not yet touched on is the musically-accompanied poetry. There are a few examples of this on the album, and they are all excellent, but the best of all is the astonishing Icarus Rex. Jerome’s sonorous voice fits this sort of thing like a glove, as he intones a web of words which calls to mind nothing less than Jim Morrison at his most profoundly poetic (and just to clear it up – yes, Jim Morrison could be profoundly poetic, let’s just accept that). The cascade of imagery comprises an allegorical tale relating the fall of Icarus to what would appear to be a much wider and more urgent issue, possibly societal or just as possibly spiritual. It’s the kind of thing which, had he lived and matured into his career path, I could easily imagine Morrison himself recording. It’s tremendous stuff, it really is.

To take the album as a whole, yes, there are things I would prefer. Odd as it may sound, I would have liked a little more poetry, as it just works so powerfully when used, and there are a couple of somewhat experimental tracks which are little more than preludes to a more substantial piece. I would also love to peruse a lyric sheet, though whether one is available in the package I am unsure (the source material is a digital download). Certainly a read through of the lyrics may bring some things into some sharper relief, but then again, as with the likes of Dylan, Hammill or indeed Morrison in his more nebulous moments, the impression that the words make on the listener is as important – if not more so – than the intent of their creator.

This is an album which is never going to be anybody’s ‘feel-good hit of the summer’, as someone else once had it, but if you’re receptive to it then it will hit the spot and no mistake. Just keep away from sharp objects at all times and you’ll be fine! Now, wish me luck, I’m heading into his back catalogue. I may be some time…