Disciples of dungeon synth and dark ambient will be familiar with the powerfully emotive Medhelan – a solo project by Italian musician Matteo Brusa whose simplistic compositions are of great beauty and awaken the fires within.
‘Tinicum Insubria’ is the debut album by Medhelan (who have had four more releases since) but is re-released as a self-produced cassette with a new logo created by Dan Capp whose trademark symmetrical insignias and ancient spiritual symbolism have much improved the original.
The name Medhelan is a ‘Celtic’ name for Milan whose history is deeply enriched and dates back to the 15th century BCE where the Lombardy area was culturally dominated by the Celts and the Gauls over the centuries (including the Germanic influences from the north). The music is a romantic celebration of these lost times with a yearning to return in a Reconstructionist sense in defiance of the material and spiritless imposition of modernity that has brutally diverted us away from our worship of nature.
‘Ticinum Insubria’ is a musical exploration or journey through time to the roots of the land – the Ticino Valley in northern Italy; its lore and its history by creating ambient soundscapes that are both mysterious and magical. We begin with the introductory ‘Il Viaggio Di Belloveso (Bellovesus’ Journey)’ which entrances the listener into a state of catharsis with its elemental samples of wind and deep drone before adding a pulsating layer of a deeper bass-like rhythm which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’. It is as if we are soaring above the valley on the thermals before we slowly descend into its ancient forests and sacred woodlands. Thematically, it is about the journey of the Gallic king Bellovesus who marched with his tribes over the Alps and through the forests to arrive at Insubria at the Ticino river where he founded Medhelan (or modern-day Milan).
The second track is very much a dungeon-synth meets Celtic folk piece. Imagine Murgrind meets Clannad or Capercaillie (from the album The Blood is Strong) and you have ‘Il Ramo Delle Steghe (the Witches’ Marsh). It is an ambient soundscape of dark and foreboding layers of synth with a harp of dulcimer style melody weaving its spell amidst the mists of the marshland.
The third track ‘La Luna E Il Fiume (The Moon and the River)’ is an extension in style of the last track but with a brooding and melancholic cello creating a nocturnal and dreamlike vision of beauty. The melody is simplistic yet moves you within as you glide or float along the current of the river outside of time.
‘Nemeton’ is next and is a slightly longer ambient piece, again dark and brooding. This is more ritualistic as images of the sacred groves often used for spiritual practices are invoked. This leads onto ‘Epona’ as our ancient Celtic goddess of fertility and protector of horses and the four-legged beasts of the wild. The horn blows to hail her presence as the flutes and pipes sing in appraisal and adherence. It has such a majestic presence and truly kindles the dormant ancient flames within us.
An exclusive track follows which is not on the original debut, ‘Oltre Il Cerchio del Tempo (Beyond the Circle of Time) with its harp and dulcimer style dreamweaving taking us into the ether or the Otherworld beyond the material or mundane plane of the present. It is very beautiful and cinematic and could easily be a part of a filmscore for an emotionally-led epic.
The morning comes with ‘Alba Insubre (Insubrian Dawn)’ where we see the sun rise slowly in the valley bringing forth light and renewed energy after the darkness. It has an almost eastern and shamanic presence perhaps through the synth sounding similar to a sitar backed against shimmering hand cymbals and percussive chimes with hand-drums. The sense of tribalism is deep and ethereal.
‘Belisama’ the goddess worshipped in Gaul is the title of the next track. She is known also here in England as the goddess of the Ribble river in Lancashire and known generally through the Brythonic and ancient European world as ‘The Bright One’.
‘Terra Di Nebbia (Land of Mists)’ is a favourite purely for its melancholic underlying melody and its almost space-like ambience like a softer version of Hawkwind’s ‘Virgin of the World’ – stunning.
‘Gli Spiriti Del Bosco (Spirits of the Woods)’ is another simplistic composition of minimalism where we become entranced as we watch the nymphs and dryads dance under the dark eaves or the old gods come to form and show themselves to us.
‘An Thon’ is a sombre and deeply brooding meditational piece. The translation of the title is at odds with the music (particularly if you translate it from Scots or Irish Gaelic it can be quite rude!) but it’s presumably meaning something more Gallic or ancient Insubrian.
‘Samonios’ – the Gaulish month for ‘Summer’ and perhaps related to the ‘Samhain’ which comes after the summer is another blackened ambient composition where the penny whistle almost screams like a banshee, it is far from the merriment of being in the bright sun.
The concluding track is a joyously melodic and overtly Celtic tribal celebration with the marching drums and ethereal whistle introducing the harp/dulcimer sounds which truly encapsulate the spirit of the Gallo-Roman and ancient Celtic mythos that has lain deep in the mists of the valley and the river’s edge.
Medhelan is a refreshing excursion from the more monotonous dungeon synth where its heavily Celtic Reconstructionist spiritual path is at the core of all Brusa’s compositions. Bearing in mind that this is a debut album re-release a few years back, the music itself is of a timeless quality and some parts are equally as good as that off their current album ‘Fall of the Horned Serpent’. Thoroughly recommended to those who enjoy a historical aspect to an otherwise spiritually meditative and cathartic journey into the Otherworld.
Visit their Bandcamp page here