I could take snippets from Belladonna‘s biography and build a picture of a hugely popular and successful act. There are artistic triumphs, high profile collaborations and front page publicity shoots. And yet outside of their native Italy this five-piece from Rome are almost unknown and remain unsigned four albums in. If you are expecting me to provide an answer to this conundrum then you are out of luck. We all know the music industry is a cruel and fickle mistress but occasionally there are still examples of her cruelty that can shock.
Formed in 2005 by songwriting partners Luana Caraffa on vocals and guitarist Dani Macchi, Belladonna decided to create their own genre: ‘rock noir’, a sort of musical version of film noir. Minor keys, piano arpeggios and theatrical vocals are the main added ingredients to their hard rock sound. As you’d expect their music is quite filmic (they have teamed up with Michael Nyman on a reworking on one of his pieces from ‘The Piano’ in the past) but although very polished and grand it is not as pompous or grandiose as power metal with which it shares some traits. Those minor keys as played on the piano of Valentina De Iullis really set this band apart from any pack.
There are echoes of several film composers across “Shooting Dice With God”, Michael Nyman, unsurprisingly, but also John Carpenter‘s work on ‘Halloween’. Not that this record is all chilly instrumentals – this is a rock record and on tracks like ‘Karma Warrior’ and ‘Ishtar Blues’ a considerably heavy one. And ‘Primal Dream’ is a witchy metal version of Gogol Bordello‘s gypsy rock, so more than one trick ponies too. Perhaps the greatest song here is a John Carpenter-influenced track called “I Set My Controls For Overdrive”, which is underpinned by the haunting playing of De Iullis but is a driving and urgent banger of a tune which becomes more convincing with every spin. Vocalist Caraffa really lets loose and shakes off the air of breathy ‘performance’ and belts it out.
I suspect that all Belladonna have needed is a breakout hit; they have several considerable U.S.P’s and let’s face it, they’re pretty easy on the eye, have a distinctive sound and write some great tunes. Whether any of them are great enough to grab the ear of the masses is debatable, but they certainly deserve more attention. I believe the band are playing London at the end of the month so I hope the locals have the good taste to attend and if you are a fan of anything from HIM to Nightwish then I recommend you check them out.