To explain quite what Madrid’s Ginferno do is a rather daunting task. Clearly accomplished musicians, they are keen to explore multiple genres and musical possibilities. Not a band to sit still for a moment, it is fair to say that listening to their album Erta Ale is at times an exhausting listen, albeit a frequently rewarding one. Although the album is constantly varied, Ginferno are not a band to set musical puzzles to solve, preferring instead to allow songs to evolve and transform rather than ram genres into one another as bands like Mr Bungle once did. So whilst there’s a lot to take in, Erta Ale is not as disarmingly complex as it might seem.
Calling upon the assistance of brass quartet Los Saxos Del Averno, there is an undeniable funk element to Ginferno’s sound. Bringing the funk is of course shot through with notable disasters. Get it right and a horn section sitting in the pocket can push a song towards greatness. Get it wrong, and the whole thing can sound like a poorly rehearsed school band. Fortunately Los Saxos’ presence on the album is most welcome and pushes the band to over achieve frequently. Their contribution extends beyond funk however, and as the album progresses, they work their way through myriad styles and always seem to be masters of the music they’re channelling.
All too often such projects descend into little more than displays of musicianship as the players disappear up their self-indulgent fundaments. However Ginferno are careful to make sure that their songs are geared towards everyone having a party rather than making an album a closed shop of inter-band back slapping. Those fearing eternal jazz workouts need not worry. Opening track Ahriman’s Dance opens the door wide and throws out a handful of invites. It is a rock ‘n’ roll bar room stop that’s almost cartoonish in its construction but not content with settling for a simplistic template, the band chucks elements of film noir soundtracks, walking bass lines and swirling brass solos into the mix. From there they opt to switch to a darkened state of paranoia with Allt är väl. Part-metal, part Krautrock, and curiously jazzy in places, it is something of a crushing comedown after the feel good party vibe of Ahriman’s Dance.
Worry not however, because there’s little else on the album that touches on the darker side of the tracks. OK so Sugar Ray might add a little bite with its dirty garage rock, but for the most part these are songs to party round the planet to. The Afrobeat sound of Creepy Cloud mixes nicely with a few prog passages, a Tom Waits inspired vocal and an occasional concession to slapback rock ‘n’ roll guitar. Trans Antilles celebratory carnival explosions find the band getting down and dirty, twirling like a particularly exuberant pair of nipple tassles. Skelleten’s saucy mambo swing that sees vocalist Kim Warsen in Italian croon mode could easily have fitted on Mike Patton’s Mondo Cada project without sounding out of place. Mambo Rabbits meanwhile is part Happy Mondays and part Parliament/Funkadelic and nothing but wide eyed fun.
By the time the album has finished, Ginferno has also taken a metaphorical whistle stop tour through the coolest Parisian cafes, sold their souls at the crossroads in exchange for some blues riffs, and played a short but white hot set at CBGBs circa 1976. That Ginferno has succeeded in making an album that melds so many styles without sounding contrived or awkward is nothing short of a miracle. It could have easily been an unmitigated disastrous mess but is, rather surprisingly, a triumph.