Fag Static: The Italian job

Post-hardcore Atlanta band's new mystery album defies explanation

Fag Static guitarist Ian Deaton loves horror movies, especially the Italian ones. Stop him on the street and you're sure to get an earful about some obscure zombie masterpiece from the '70s that's just been released on DVD. It's only natural that the creepy, crawly soundtracks to these films would hold some sway over his songs. But never has the haunting influence been so strongly felt in his music than with Fag Static's first full-length, Ficcanaso. The album's title, cover art, songs and lyrics fit together like pieces to a puzzle, but not one of the group's members can say what it's about. Not even Deaton.

When Fag Static released its first CD-R demo in December 2007, the post-hardcore Atlanta foursome didn't throw any surprise punches. It was the reunion of former Blame Game guitarist/vocalist Ian Deaton and bass player Chris Ware. The group was steeped in the traditions of screamy, thrashy hardcore and jazzy complexities.

Along with drummer Daniel Deckebach and later, vocalist Josh Lyner, the group's path seemed to carve itself. The early demos were torchbearers of the ADD melodies and avant-garde flirtations that defined Blame Game. But when Deaton proposed a record that moves like a soundtrack and tells a story in its own mysterious ways, everyone was on board. "To get down to it, we didn't want to put together a record that was just crappy, on-the-surface, political bullshit," Deaton says about the band's approach to the new album, which will be self-released in vinyl and released in CD format through Atlanta-based Stickfigure Records' subsidiary Vagina Flambe. "When bands go that route they have a tendency to become trite."

The songs on Ficcanaso flow seamlessly in a fiery back-and-forth of warm, droning resonance punctuated by clusters of explosive instrumental arrangements. The drums, bass, guitar and growling vocals tussle in a balance of chaos and concept. The approach is rife with nods to the work of Italian horror-score masters Goblin, and John Carpenter here in the United States, then channeled through an abrasive sonic palette.

Songs such as "Off But On" and "Lost in a Trainyard" convey narrative elements via impressionism that transcends the indecipherable vocals. The arrangements were penned by the band after Deaton offered vague ideas that he wanted to get across. Likewise the album's cover art, created by Atlanta artist Erin Bassett, came together the same way. "We talked about it, not in terms of the image, but the feeling it should convey," Bassett says. "We bounced ideas off of each other about imagery and the mystery, and he trusted me to go from there."

At first glance the cover doesn't seem to portray anything out of the ordinary. But upon closer inspection, a man in the background is concealing a knife and the rest of the characters hide behind shifty eyes.

Ficcanaso is an Italian slang term for a detective, and the album seems to be centered around some sort of "job." But when asked to elaborate Deaton balks, saying he doesn't want to convey anything too heavy-handedly other than a sense that something is going very wrong.

That comes across most profoundly in the song, "il Scoperta," which is creepy in the most addictive way imaginable. The balance of warm tones and drones that are constantly at odds with an all-out aural assault ends with a subtle sense that nothing will be resolved.

"Il Scoperta" is underscored by the unnaturally pleasant tone of the final number, "Annegato," the Italian word for "drowning." The song instills a false sense of closure and bookends the record right where the opening song, "il Lavoro" picks up, laying the groundwork for a circular narrative that may never come to an end.

"I don't really know what it means," Deaton admits. "Maybe 15 years from now we will look back on it and say, 'Holy shit, this is why that happened,' or, 'This is on the record because of something that happened to me when I was a kid.' It may reveal some things in time, but will always maintain some sense of mystery."