Ignoto Militi: remembering the fallen

The history of Europe is a history of war. Throughout the centuries, men have waged war, fought valiantly – and died. Some are remembered in song and story, but most are cast aside by history. This history of violence and conflict has served as an endless source of inspiration to numerous martial industrial artists. A genre lodged somewhere between traditional industrial, neoclassical and neofolk, its very essence has always reflected our military past.

Ignoto Militi are a relatively new artist in the field, having released their debut album Presente only last year. Hailing from Italy, a country who has certainly offered a considerable number of her sons (and daughters) on the altar of war, their sound echoes the heroism and fear, jubilation and terror of war with a distinctly Italian character.

Having been thoroughly impressed with the album (read our review here), I decided to get in touch with the band to find out a bit more about them. Matteo, one half of Ignoto Militi, was kind enough to answer a few questions.

I started thinking about Ignoto Militi way back in 2014. Europe was preparing to remember the tragedy of World War I that took place a century before; Italy would join the war one year later. At the time I was playing in a thrash metal band that dealt with the same topics of war, and I thought that as a person passionate about that historical period, I could have had my say about it with a sound more impactful and representative of the events – like martial industrial is, Matteo recollects the prehistory of what was to become Ignoto Militi.

Matteo continues by telling me that Ignoto Militi is based in the north-eastern part of Italy, in the very region where battles were fought during the First World War, and as such he has always had a very strong personal connection to that era:

– When I was a teenager I spent every summer vacation with my grandmother, in a town where the most important attractions are the war museum, the war cemetery and the surrounding mountains full of trenches. So I grew up with a natural fascination for those events and a sort of emotional connection with those places and with people who died in them.

He tells me the name Ignoto Militi translates as “to the unknown soldier”, a phrase carved in the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome (read more on Wikipedia); this memorial is located in the Vittoriano, named after King Vittorio Emanuele II.

– So “Ignoto Militi” is a dedication to the Unknown Soldier, who represents all the casualties of war, and also to all the people who have suffered from this tragedy, Matteo says: a name chosen to honor and remember all the casualties of war buried without a name on their headstones.

Though they released their debut album only last year, Ignoto Militi have been active for some years already. Matteo laughs that he pestered his long-time friend Simone for quite a while to start the project with him, and eventually his persistence paid off. The first songs were written in 2018, and since then Ignoto Militi has been progressing slowly.

– Our sound is strongly influenced by canonical martial industrial and neofolk. However, we are trying to do something new to take our place in the scene – not just being yet another martial industrial band, Matteo describes their sound and goals.

Initially, the band released a few covers (still available on their Bandcamp) to see how people react to their concept. At the same time, they were also putting together ideas for what was to become their debut album. The structure of the album was already taking shape, but the actual content took form more slowly.

– We had many stories to tell, so we took our time to tell them in the way we liked best, Matteo intimates, and elaborates on the lengths they went to achieve the sound and quality they wanted:

– For example, the opening track Ragazza neutrale (“neutral girl”) is a song about Italian neutrality – Italy is represented as a girl who is courted by other European nations – written and recorded in 1914. The original sample was of poor quality and off-beat so I had to look for another sample, sync it, record new parts on it (tuba, bass drum and snare drum) and then record all the vocals. I asked my sister and her husband to sing on that base but we were in the middle of a pandemic, so we had to wait until the lockdown was over.

The COVID-19 pandemic affected also other songs, leading ultimately to a three-month delay in releasing the album. Matteo mentions as further examples the tracks Oltre la vita!, Risveglio and Addio, Primavera!: Simone wrote the lyrics to them, but because of the Italian lockdown, they were unable to record the vocals at the time. However, after the delays, Presente finally saw the light of day in December 2020:

– I’m personally satisfied with how it turned out, I spent so much energy doing my best and I think it couldn’t be better, Matteo says decisively. And we here at Only Death Is Real agree – Presente is a very strong debut.

Presente is an album of considerable variety: from neofolk to martial industrial of various kinds, from orchestral to more industrial-tinged. There’s even a black metal track in there. Matteo acknowledges that the variety sometimes comes at the cost of consistency:

– We wanted to experiment writing songs that did not fit with the rest based on style, but what they are about, he says. He goes on to describe Oltre la vita!, the black metal track, as a fast black-thrash song that describes step-by-step a trench assault from an infantryman’s point of view.

– It’s violent because it talks about violence. Even if you don’t understand Italian, you understand that something brutal is happening, he elaborates. Some people have liked the track, others haven’t, but the band we’re expecting this: ultimately they did it this way, because that’s how they wanted to do it.

– The blast beat is played at the same BPM as that of an Austrian machine gun, Matteo points out and jokingly adds that maybe now someone will like the track a little more.

– Future releases will be less eclectic and more orthodox, Matteo reveals about coming material. And adds that hopefully the sound will not only be slightly different, but also better.

– A natural evolution of Ignoto Militi would be a more played (as opposed to programmed) and even acoustic martial industrial instead of a composition made sitting by a desk. I’ve always played an instrument, guitar in some metal bands and also snare drum in a marching band, so I need to experiment playing with real instruments or at least some controllers. At the moment I don’t have enough space available in my house, that’s why the only real instruments recorded for the first and the next album are guitars and snare drums. In the future there will be less instruments but more of them real, Matteo ponders on where Ignoto Militi’s sound might evolve in the future. As an afterthought, he adds that the orchestral parts probably won’t be real at any stage – he can’t afford to hire a symphonic orchestra!

There are both pragmatic and artistic reasons for all of Ignoto Militi’s lyrics being in Italian. Matteo points out that all of their sources of inspiration are Italian or written in Italian, and the places the lyrics speak of are in Italy or have a relevance to Italian history. He considers it self-defeating to write of these things in English, for both author and listener:

– Italians would have to translate lyrics that speak about their history – why? – and non-Italians would have to do the same, as most of our non-italian listeners are not native English speakers, Matteo aptly observes.

He makes a good point. Multiple stages of translation – from Italian to English to whatever the listener’s language is – would only increase the risk of misunderstanding. Matteo admits that the decision to use Italian doesn’t of course help the non-Italian speakers, but at least it saves the Italian listeners the hassle of having to translate the lyrics. Matteo mentions the idea of a lyrics section for their website, where they could put up translations as well as descriptions of the meaning and historical references of the lyrics.

Of course, there is a very valid case to be made for singing in Italian when dealing with subjects that have to do with Italy and Italian history – as Matteo observes, it does lend the music a level of authenticity. Another entirely valid reason is the amount of historical and literary references in the music, as becomes obvious when Matteo talks about the lyrics:

– The lyrics of the album are all about different situations from World War I. Like mentioned before, Addio, Primavera, Oltre la vita!, Risveglio and San Michele are brand new lyrics inspired by real events, respectively a soldier writing home to his girlfriend, a trench assault, a bombardment and a gas attack. Other lyrics are from original World War I documents like the message to the soldiers from King Vittorio Emanuele II (XXIV Maggio), a letter written by Teodoro Capocci to his family during the first days of war (Irredentismo – editor’s note: Capocci was a decorated war hero who died in 1916; his letters were posthumously published in a book by Adolfo Omodeo. Later, a street and schools have been named after him in Naples and his native Lioni), and a guide on how to wear a gas mask (Polivalente a protezione separata, which is the name of the gas mask model).

Matteo continues to describe the concept of the album: as it is their debut album, they started their narrative from the very beginning, from the feelings and expectations of Italian people in the days after the war declaration, and how the excitement and idealism of going to war to complete Italian unification was contrasted by what they really had to face on the battlefield, from sadness and fear to death.

As already mentioned, the music was written specifically to capture the atmosphere and feel of the concept of each track: it’s definitely not coincidence or happenstance that each track sounds like they do. This, Matteo hopes, will help non-Italian speakers to understand on a more abstract level what the album is about:

– We want the listener to be pervaded by atmospheres and feelings lived by soldiers in the trenches; the brutality of an assault; a claustrophobic gas attack; melancholy and sadness when they think about those waiting for them at home; the moral boost of that epic moment when the battle seems to be lost but the situation suddenly changes in your favour. All these things are on Presente, and we hope the listener gets them… otherwise we have failed.

I suggest that martial industrial is a genre that is forever in the underground of the underground, a small niche only a few take a liking to – but Matteo asks if it isn’t my perspective that’s wrong:

– Martial industrial is above the wannabe-alternative posers that fill the underground scene and above the trap/indie mainstream: like military hierarchy, the expendable masses are below, he suggests. He does admit, though, that the scene could benefit from working more closely together, instead of individuals doing their thing, lost in the larger post-industrial scene.

And, he agrees with my notion, perhaps a media dedicated to covering the genres could be some kind of game-changer. The loss of sites like Heathen Harvest is still felt!

But let us not dwell on too sombre topics. For Ignoto Militi, 2021 is another year of significance, which is why we can expect new material from them in the not-too-distant future, as Matteo explains:

– In 1921 the Unknown Soldier was chosen and buried in Rome, so 2021 is a very important year for Italy and for us. We are working on a three-track EP which remembers and celebrates this event and it will be available in a very limited edition, he says, adding that it looks like the release will again be self-released, as Presente was.

With this, it is a good moment to conclude our discussion. I ask Matteo if he has any final words of wisdom to wrap up things with, to which he gives us a welcome reminder in this time and age which sometimes seems like it would rather forget the past entirely:

– Remembering who we are and where we come from is not political propaganda, but a duty towards those who sacrificed themselves for our existence.

Visit Ignoto Militi on their official websiteBandcamp or Facebook

Images provided by Matteo/Ignoto Militi

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