It is no secret that the pandemic that we have all endured over the last 2 years has been a big inspiration for quite a lot of metal bands. As a main topic for an album, it is for sure a potential subject, but in this case it is more than this: starting from its own name, MMXX – or “2020” in Roman numerals – is a full-fledged supergroup whose foundation is firmly based on the consequences of the pandemic itself. Their album, “Sacred Cargo,” was released on November 11th, 2022, via Candlelight Records. As a matter of fact, the project was started during the first lock-down, when many people were not allowed to leave their houses. Feeling literally trapped in their own spaces, where one should usually feel safe, worked as a trigger to create some new music. Andrea Chiodetti (former guitarist in the Italian doom metal act THE FORESHADOWING) was still living in Italy back then, and as many of you are already aware of, the situation was pretty bad in that area. He contacted Jesse Haff, drummer in DAYLIGHT DIES and, along with Egan O’Rourke (the bassist from the very same), they decided to give shape to what humanity was going through, from their personal and multifaceted perspective.
The role of lead vocalist was covered by several artists, whose names immediately captured my attention: Mikko Kotamäki of SWALLOW THE SUN, Mick Moss of ANTIMATTER, Carmelo Orlando of NOVEMBRE, and Aaron Stainthorpe of MY DYING BRIDE, to mention just some of them, are unquestionably big names in the international doom metal scene and it could probably feel like an “easy win,” but these vocalists were also given the chance to write their own lyrics and to actively take part in the creative process, giving nine high-quality tunes as a result.
Coming from such well-established bands and being involved in such an unusual project gave them the possibility to express themselves freely, in a new yet familiar environment: starting from the first tune, “This Breath is Not My Breath,” Kotamäki, along with O’Rourke, who provided some clean backing vocals, proved to be at ease with the sound and atmosphere due to the solid songwriting, which is one of the main features on the album in its entirety. His unique growling style makes this opening tune as eerie as it can be, while the rockish pattern in the chorus, slightly reminiscent of KATATONIA, adds some balance.
Mick Moss, who featured on two tracks, did an outstanding job both musically and lyrically; “Perdition Mirror” is one of the highlights on “Sacred Cargo” due to a combination of powerful lyrics and a very intense vocal line that blends in a heartfelt statement on humankind’s responsibility towards the current situation, when it comes to environmental issues, with all of the consequences we all know about.
The following song, “The New Forgotten Ones,” sees Yann Ligner of KLONE, a French progressive rock band, in the role of vocalist and lyricist. I did not know anything about his band before and I am extremely glad that MMXX gave me the chance to expand my horizons after discovering him on this release. His performance emphasized the classy guitar-work provided by Chiodetti, whose signature as a composer is self-evident, especially to anyone who’s familiar with his former band, THE FORESHADOWING. The rhythm section, an obsessive drum-pattern and a profound bass sound, gave a pretty solid structure to the song, as well as the low-pitched verse: “Time is running out and only doubts remain | is there a day to die?” followed by a touching guitar solo. It really feels like each singer is telling a collective story everybody can deeply identify with. A line on “Faint Flickering Light” states, “Did you wonder, dear, if we’ll ever be as it was?” and it hits so hard. O’Rourke’s dramatic vocals make it even heavier, along with the gloomy vibes provided by the music itself.
An utter sense of despair and hopelessness takes over on “The Tower,” the second tune sung by Moss, whose lyrics leave nothing to the imagination. It is also great to see how he managed to step out of his comfort zone without giving up on consistency. The following tune, “Unavailing,” sees two more singers: Marco Benevento of THE FORESHADOWING, who took care of writing the lyrics, and Chris Cannella, of the American groove death metal act AUTUMN’S END; the juxtaposition of their different styles gives some extra flavor to the song, making the whole thing feel rather theatrical, as if there were two characters telling their own story.
On “Der Nukleus” we see Carmelo Orlando of the Italian progressive Gothic doom metal masters, NOVEMBRE, covering the role of singer and lyricist. The song itself reminded me of his band’s early releases, but in a new light. Massive doom vibes are detectable in the title track, whose singer is none other than Aaron Stainthorpe of MY DYING BRIDE; it is unavoidable to think about his main band and how much of an impact it has had on Chiodetti‘s life, so Stainthorpe made good use of the chance he got and delivered an impressive tune, where spoken-word, harsh, and clean vocals are all present. The penultimate instrumental track, “Espirare,” with its dreamy vibe, works like some sort of an introduction for the closing tune, “Shadow Haven,” which sees an outstanding performance from Dan Swanö on vocals. The Swedish multi-instrumentalist and producer really delivered an intense hymn to isolation as an ultimate shelter.
As an album, “Sacred Cargo” is more than the sum of its parts, and way more than a mere collaboration between three extremely skilled musicians and some of the best vocalists in the global metal scene. In spite of adverse conditions, many artists proved to be able to deliver their message without any filter, as heavy as it can be. MMXX managed to translate into music a collective feeling of fear and isolation we all can resonate with, and their album is a painful yet beautiful reminder of what we all have been going through.
Written by Licia Mapelli
- This Breath is not my Breath (ft. Mikko Kotamäki)
- Perdition Mirror (ft. Mick Moss)
- The New Forgotten Ones (ft. Yann Ligner)
- Faint Flickering Light
- The Tower (ft. Mick Moss)
- Unavailing (ft. Marco Benevento and Chris Cannella)
- Der Nukleus (ft. Carmelo Orlando)
- Sacred Cargo (ft. Aaron Stainthorpe)
- Shadow Haven (ft. Dan Swanö)
Andrea Chiodetti – guitars, keyboards
Egan O’ Rourke – bass, vocals
Jesse Haff – drums