Urna… This project has been one of the most consistently visually enticing projects to inhabit the post-industrial underground in the past decade, both in terms of the art that accompanies the music and the images that the music reflects into your imagination. Easily one of the most overlooked artists in the world of ritual ambient, Gianluca Martucci has made a humble career out of creating these recordings for the past 14 years, beginning with a tape entitled “Templum sub Tera” that, along with Martucci’s other project, Sagenhaft, and a split with Lesch Nyhan Sindrome, made up the beginnings of the short-lived but highly respected cassette label Ordo Obscuri Domini. This gave rise to the project in 1998, but wasn’t followed until 2 years later with the aforementioned split on the same label. From here, the project found some support outside of O.O.D. in Marco Corbelli (R.I.P.) (Atrax Morgue)’s own Italian label Slaughter Productions. This would be the project’s home between 2004-2005 where the releases “Lares”, “Osireion”, and a split with Kranio entitled “Stairs to Abyss” saw the light of day. Since this period, the project has jumped around from label to label, beginning with two releases on Abgurd (“Missadquumdahle” (2005), “Liber Lelle” (2008)), and quickly moving to Apocalyptic Radio, Quartier23, and the labels behind these three releases, Skulls of Heaven, Show me your Wounds, and Brave Mysteries.
As mentioned, Urna’s music and atmosphere is impressive on its own, but it is the imagery that often accompanies the releases that gives them so much depth. This really shouldn’t be much of a surprise though as Martucci is also an accomplished painter. His paintings and his music releases often take completely different visual paths, with his music taking on a very dark, spiritual nature that is deeply rooted in Far Eastern religions and occultism. One needs to look no further than the band name, Urna, or Italian for “Urn”, for two dual, very distinct representations of this inspiration. First, there is the Buddhist “ūrṇā”, which is essentially the marking of the ‘third eye’ that symbolizes spiritual wisdom and sight that goes beyond the physical reality that lies before us. The implications in this view are boundless, but there is also the simple view of the Urn. An urn contains ashes of loved ones or, in a sense, something sacred to us on a very personal level. It contains death itself, broken down to the basic level in which we return to this mortal spinning ball of rock, liquid and gas. So, in this view, marking Martucci’s releases under the “Urna” moniker inevitably marks them as not only something sacred personally and artistically, but it contains the very essence of the eternal abyss.
We’ll start our look into the world of Urna with the first album of this trio to be released, “VII”, which was released on Clay Ruby (Burial Hex)’s now sadly defunct Skulls of Heaven label. There are two deities featured on this release whom both find a track dedicated to their presence. A rather obscure version of Moloch is pictured on the front of the release, fires burning, requiring a steep sacrifice, somehow resembling a gate, an entrance. The back is an interesting, ancient depiction of Iblis, the Islamic devil, surrounded by animistic jinns, signifying the arrival, the end of the journey. Two sides to an aural tome. The albums opens up with a whisper in “Awliya Ash Shaitan”, but the track quickly evolves into a multi-layered work featuring all levels of drones, several styles of tammorra, vocal tones and a multitude of light, atmospheric industrial noise. Iblis, which one would assume would be the most abrasive track on the album considering the subject matter, instead surprises with a multi-tone, shimmering drone that is backed in ethereal style by harmonium and textured by any number of potential stringed folk instruments. This isn’t a violent track, but rather an epic one full of a grandiose wave of pristine sound. “Tubal Kayin” seems to be a track in dedication to the Hebrew biblical figure Tubal-Cain who forged war weapons, a composition whose loud drone feels like it missed a chance to represent the character more realistically if it had been a clanking all-out industrial performance. “Moloch” is every bit as dark in tone as the deity is, and “Hyksos” follows it up with a folk-laden melodic performance, utilizing many stringed ethnic instruments and percussion giving it an Eastern medieval feel. This composition is easily the most complex and impressive on the entire album, a fitting feat as it represents an entire group of people whom began the Second Intermediate Period of Egypt around 1710 B.C. It should be clear by now that Urna’s music isn’t a simple effort towards creating intense dark ambient and industrial music — it is full to the brim of complexities, from the music, from spirituality, and from history.
“Kosmikia” is, simply put, one of the most beautiful releases that I’ve ever seen in terms of pure artwork (not construction). The release comes packaged as a simple natural-toned (tannish) A5-sized gatefold sleeve whose contents fit snugly within a folded and glued pouch. The print is black with hand-painted shimmers of gold throughout the release that come out as fireflies or stars on the front cover and as a golden astral experience elsewhere. The contents include a professionally duplicated CD-R and five inserts that each contain a printed image that has been drawn specifically for this release. Each insert is printed on both sides and each image represents one track on the album, with the exception of one side of one card which reproduces the front cover without the gold presence. All images accurately reflect the spirit of the track title, though some — especially the Earthen subjects — are straight forward (“Caverna”, “Deserto”) while the unearthly subjects are obviously a bit more abstract (“Janua Inferi” [or "Gate/Door to the Underworld"], “Janua Coeli” ["Heaven's Gates"]). Perhaps the most interesting image is that for “Luogo di Morte”, which translates to “Place of Death”. A body is plainly seen in fetal position, but an ouroboros wraps itself around the body, creating an embryo-like shell, signaling the cycle of death and rebirth.
Of course, one could easily wonder what “Kosmikia” needs with these various subjects — after all, it seems to visually lean towards the spherical, space-drone side of industrial whereas the track titles spell out a textbook Urna experience. I suppose in this case, it would be best to see the album as reaching even beyond the cosmos to incorporate, literally, everything as the arrows on the front cover would subtly hint. Everything in the physical world, in the heavens, in the known and the unknown, in the conscious and subconscious, in life and after (and before). A theme beyond time and reason. An epic journey. Much like it’s predecessor, “Kosmikia” opens up slowly, only this time one a darker and more minimal level, focusing on deep mantra-like groans and foreboding, distorted high-end drones that come off as mildly abrasive. Later texturing of the track includes serpent-like noises, from long hisses to rattles. Cloaca is a word for an ancient sewer and is the next track heralded, featuring much the same dense droning qualities that the first track held. It’s highly oppressive, filling the room with a wall of sound. Suffocating, like the noxious fumes that would develop in such a setting. “Tempio Magico” is understandably a little less demanding, featuring a large amount of monk-like voice synth and a very modest touch of industrial influences. “Luogo di Morte” is even less tenebrous, focusing on a minimal Eastern melody that makes the track feel more ‘new age’ than anything. It would seem that there is a great variety of style here, albeit mostly seen through subtle shifts. In spirit, however, the music reasonably matches our interpretation of the album title.
By the time we get to “Larvae”, it becomes clear that Urna has become increasingly dark in recent years, and has focused more closely on atmospheric instrumentation including eastern percussion (gongs, Tibetan bells, tabla, etc) and human elements (as he puts it, “whispers, Murmur, lamentations, blood”). With that said, “Larvae” has a ritualistic atmosphere that didn’t truly come into its own until this tape. There were moments that were hinted at on “VII”, but it didn’t completely reflect the introspective essence and power that is found through these tracks. The opening track, “Kangling” is a great example of this ritual atmosphere — the very word itself reflects a Tibetan horn which is made from a hollowed out human thigh bone. That said, it’s difficult to feel anything but the fact that there is something here that Martucci reached deep back to find, within his subconscious, within dreams, within visions. It’s an emotion that spirals down to the core of our existence. That’s not to say this tape is all theme and no instrumental prowess — tracks like “Mu” represent a tribal soundtrack to a lost continent, where as “Hannya” is one of the most complex percussive tracks that Urna has ever created. The complexities obviously take their strongest hold in theme, however, with the aforementioned subject of “Mu” and the “Rakshasa,” whom are unrighteous spirits and shape-changers. A race of illusions. Thus, Urna’s music here has one foot firmly planted in ritual and the primordial blood of man, while the other stands in equal endurance within the world of mythology and spiritual vision. In its very foundations, “Larvae” represents the very roots of what Martucci has sought to accomplish with his work. Beautiful but undeniably foreboding, academic yet intrinsic — his music is full of purpose.
…and this doesn’t even begin to delve into the philosophy behind his paintings. We’ll save that for another time.