The world of dark-ambient, synthesizer-based music is one that continues to expand on a daily basis, whether it’s the increasingly popular 1980s-obsessed synthwave or the current crop of obscure dungeon-synth acts crowding sites like Bandcamp or Soundcloud. Many of these are heavily inspired by previous artists, be they John Carpenter, Klaus Schulze or even Mortiis. The common thread is that many of these artists are simply aping—albeit very well—the sounds of the past, with originality occasionally taking a back seat to homage and nostalgia. This is where Somerville, Massachusetts’ Missionary Work comes in. This project’s debut album SEVEN SERMONS, for Death Wound Zine’s new label venture (order it here), is something very fresh and exciting. Of course, the usual suspects are present and accounted for when it comes to conceptual influences, including Fabio Frizzi and Tangerine Dream, but Missionary Work composer Renato Montenegro takes his work one step further by incorporating influences beyond those of traditional synth-horror scores. For starters, there are marked influences from classical music, particularly the sort of bizarre, baroque tunes found on some of the more experimental Bruton library-music LPs. Montenegro feels right at home delving into Mike Oldfield- or Rick Wakeman-styled craziness on tracks like “Wickedness and Reverie” or “The Bishop’s Servant,” while “Sacrementi” and “King Shepherd (Cruel Shepherd)” provide more of the chilling atmosphere one might expect, given Montenegro’s appreciation of Lucio Fulci and his films.
“The project needs one last injection of funds to bring it to life in full, vibrant color.”
It’s the songwriting on SEVEN SERMONS that is most impressive, however; Montenegro is operating at quite an accomplished level. There has been clear care and thought given to how these songs are arranged, and how each track is structured in a fashion tailor-made for the live area. The closest comparison could perhaps be Zombi, but the progressive leanings are presented in a slightly different, less overtly rhythmic way. Although there is a propulsive feeling to Missionary Work, it takes a back seat to this sort of aquatic, mind-expanding synth orchestra.
SEVEN SERMONS is one satisfying listening experience, and one which truly benefits from repeated spins. This is an album that pays dividends over time, but that can also be enjoyed in small chunks and short bursts. It would be disingenuous to compare Missionary Work with much of the current synthwave crop, and Montenegro is doing a fine job at carving out a niche for himself as one of the most promising talents of the indie electronic scene. Let’s just refer to Missionary Work as something intriguing, progressive and profoundly enjoyable—the sort of artist for whom many fans of dark, horror-influenced neo-soundtrack tunes have been waiting.
“includes perhaps the most intriguing extra of all: a limited-edition Jean Rollin board game”