Dark, progged-out, classic horror/thriller film-inspired synthwave is one of the most exciting revivalist movements around. Trendy? Perhaps (definitely), but not without reason or merit. Firstly, the genre packages cinematic creepiness and the mind-bending musicianship of classic prog rock with the “warm and fuzzy”s of raw, uncut nostalgia. It is chilling, noodle-y AND fun. More profoundly, this music’s origins in the psychedelic other-world of cult horror and noir films makes it a perfect soundtrack to all that is collectively odd-ball. Film nerds, art freaks, horror goons and prog music dorks can all find common ground here. I am talking about metalheads finger-wagging air synth solos, geeking out in Goblin t-shirts.
Somerville’s Missionary Work (aka Renato Montenegro) offers up seven tracks of scintillating Morricone-inspired synth-prog that is undoubtedly retro, but effectively updated. Accurately-titled, Seven Sermons, an apparent reference to the esoteric Gnostic writings of Carl Jung (thanks, Google), opens with trickling keys and quickly delves into moody theatrics and driving melodies on “Sacrementi”. Right off the bat, it is evident that Montenegro is not content to stay on one progression or hook for too long, preferring rather to wander around central themes. This album moves effortlessly from slow and sinister to orchestral to break-neck, and right back to the eerie. That is not to say that Seven Sermons is overly frantic or jarring, but rather this record keeps the listener happily engaged. The third (and incidentally, my personal fav) track, “Kind Shepard (Cruel Shepard)”, showcases Montenegro’s spot-on composition as it builds towards its towering choral close.
I won’t delve too far into Missionary Work’s musicianship, but suffice it to say, it is masterful. The infectious organ-work on “The Secret Shame of Mr. Hartman” sounds downright extraterrestrial. “Wickedness and Reverie” introduces a touch offunk flavor, with some warbling bass lines and popping percussion. On the three part, ten-plus-minute closer, “The Bishop’s Servant”, Montenegro brings it all together for an epic blast of cinematic grandiosity. Overall, there is a focus to this work that makes the album sound simultaneously calculated and whimsical.
With Seven Sermons, Missionary Work brings the gospel of horror-infused synth prog rock to a public searching for something weirdly familiar. Where Stranger Things, and its compelling score, harkened back to the 80’s of Spielberg and King, Missionary Work’s point of reference is the more esoteric realm of giallo films. While being a fan of (or even familiar with) this cinematic genre may enhance the experience, the biggest prerequisite to enjoying this album is an openness to all things strange.
Seven Sermons is made available on vinyl or digital download by DWZ International. All songs by Renato Montenegro and mastered by James Plotkin.