Father Cesare Bonizzi, O.F.M. Cap. (Order of Friars Minor Capuchin) is a Italian friar who is also known as Frate Cesare and arguably better known to the wider English speaking world as Fratello Metallo (Italian: “Brother Metal”), which is also the name of his band.
Yep, this Capuchin friar is the lead singer of a heavy metal band that bears his nickname.
Father Cesare was a Roman Catholic missionary worker in the Ivory Coast as a member of the Capuchin Order from 1975, until 1983 when he returned to Italy to be ordained as a priest. It was during the 1990s, that he began to view music as a means of spiritual devotion and religious contemplation, resultantly he released a numerous variety of genre albums, covering a wide field from New Age to Rock.
It was at some point in the 90s, that Father Cesare went to a Metallica concert of all things, which started his passion for metal music comparing it with the Gregorian chant (one of the oldest known forms of written music), openly describing it as:
“Metal is the most energetic, vital, deep and true musical language that I know.” – Father Cesare
Although he did not see it as a means of proselytism or religious conversion, rather it was a means of promoting brotherly unity and peace in his eyes. Once describing metalheads as a great family. Music as divine.
Father Cesare did not receive much press for this start in metal music until about several years into this project of his, during which he toured various small scale metal festivals in Italy, until 2008 when his 18th album and second metal album Misteri (Italian: “Mysteries”) was released and the resultantly outcome of Brother Metal joining the Gods of Metal festival, which is the largest Italian metal music festival.
Performing on Sunday 29 June 2008 at the Arena Parco Nord in Bologna, when Judas Priest were headlining. Father Cesare performs in his traditional Capuchin habit of a brown robe, sandals and white rope around his waist.
Fratello Metallo were one of the supporting acts, alongside: Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Enslaved, Infernal Poetry, and Nightmare.
They preformed for 30 minutes after Enslaved, and before both Infernal Poetry and Nightmare.
During this performance people notice that Father Cesare foregoes the standard ‘Sign of the Horns’ hand gesture in place of also extending his thumb along with his index and pinkie, which is the hand-sign for “I love you” in the American Sign Language.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after this performance that Father Cesare called an end to his performing of his metal passion and returned to his convent in the Quartiere Musocco district of Milan. He citied:
“The devil has separated me from my managers, risked making me break up with my band colleagues and also risked making me break up with my fellow monks. He lifted me up to the point where I become a celebrity and now I want to kill him.” – Father Cesare
So it is rather unfortunate that he has retired from his passion and seems to be struggling with a spiritual crisis, but we can hope he has found some solace back within the convent and may return to his passion one day. Since neither the Vatican nor his superiors have condemned his actions in music.
Nonetheless, lets look towards his final album of Misteri (Italian: “Mysteries”). The album continues his previous work and is sung in both Italian and Latin, while most of the music is written by the bassist Fabio Dalè, and Father Cesare interprets it lyrically.
The 39 minute long album contains 11 tracks:
- You Want Metal ?! (Italian – “Volete Meallo?!”): Opening with distorted guitars and a church organ, this track sets a Stoner Doom feel of the album. Its pretty much a bombastic love song to the metal genre as a whole. Its very short though.
- Venus (Italian – “Venere”): Named for Roman Goddess of Love, Beauty, Sex, Fertility, Prosperity and Desire. It opens with a tongue-in-check shout out to Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast chorus of “Six, Six, Six” into this tracks “Sexus, Sexus, Sexus”, which is pretty catchy. Its in pretty traditional heavy metal style and is an unexpected eulogy of sexuality, but argues for the holiness to be found in love, something beyond just physical sex and offers a slight funny mocking of masturbation. Although it does admit the obvious fun that comes from sex, which is different to hear come from a celibate friar. It also features the first of the friar’s metal screams, which are pretty cool and impressive, coming of like some demonic creature’s howls.
- Confidence / Trust (Italian – “Fiducia”): The track’s focus is on the exploration and benefit of faith (in its creation of family), and features the deep harmonic timbre of Father Cesare’s “uuaaahooooh”. In its lyrically explanation of faith, the track features some well-done solos.
- Life (Italian – “Vita”): A more solo focused track and feels more designed to build up adrenaline in the listen. Which seems appropriate for the song’s focus on life itself, advocating for us to enjoy it to its fullest, live in love and love life.
- Man (Italian – “Uomo”): Built upon an impressive chorus that highlights the dignity and greatness that is man as God’s creation, and the much required feature of humility to be worthy of such greatness and have such dignity. Both man and woman are bound for greatness in this song, we as a people have unlimited potential.
- Bacchus (Italian – “Bacco”): Named for the Dionysus the God of the Grape Harvest, Winemaking & Wine, of Ritual Madness, Fertility, Theatre and Religious Ecstasy in Ancient Greek Mythology; the name ‘Bacchus’ is what the Ancient Romans called him. Thus its easier to see the song’s focus on alcoholism as a drug of death, intertwined with grunting melodies and metal howls. Its a bit preachy than the other tracks, but the vocal death growl style suits the dark subject matter and the forceful enunciation of the vocals is oddly uplifting. Although it should be noted that the song does not condemn alcohol even acknowledging it warms the heart, but it is the excess that is evil and the damage it does both physically (liver) and emotionally.
- Tobacco: This track continues the same thematic and musical structure of ‘Bacchus’, merely changing the focus from alcoholism to nicotine, thus highlighting death by cancer and even mocking the commercialism of such a killing drug. Although its more trashy in style.
- God (Italian – “Dio”): Arguably the darkest and most interesting track, opening with a dark ambience the track tackles Father Cesare’s confrontation with a false picture of the Christian God. Its full of adrenaline and comes of almost Power Metal in style of its operatic approach.
- Love Metallic (Italian – “Amore Metallico”): Arguably the only track, where Father Cesare sings rather than speaks/preaches. Appearing more comfortable in his singing with this track, it comes of as a more intentional song of catchy hooks and for the lack of a better term easy listening metal. It returns the theme of a bombastic love song to the metal genre as a whole and reenforces the friar’s view that God is love and so is metal, almost to the extent that God is metal. It ends with his signature howls.
- Maria Nous (Italian – “Maria Maiestatis”): Much in the vain of a Latin hymn, it is dedicated to Mary the Mother of God. Its symphonic metal style is heavily operatic and easily suits a Power Metal influence.
- Mysteries (Italian – “Misteri”): A short ending piece that features his signature howls frequently, functions as a ending goodbye and thank you to the listeners, highlighting the unity of the heavy metal community and of the brotherly love he believes it embodies.
Sadly the album is nothing grandiose or groundbreaking, its greater level of enjoyment comes from the context of its creation and various lyrical homages, although it can be fairly heavy handed at times with its approach to human failings such as alcoholism, to an extent you could class it as Straight Edge. Although the 62 year old friar does possess an impressive metal howl best heard during ‘Venus’ and near the opening and ending of the track ‘Bacchus’, its no Rob Halford buts its still fairly impressive.
Some may find his voice at times seeming a bit void of passion and come of more as talking than singing. It is nonetheless booming, and carries an operatic preaching quality in my opinion.
The album comes of as more Stoner and Doom Metal sound, with oriental and Middle Eastern influences performed by a symphonic metal opera. It even seems somewhat ironic at times with its contrarily messages and themes to traditional metal themes of sex and excessive, although it does fit back into the original themes of personal trauma and spirituality.
So, to end. The album is interesting and a testament to the unity between religion and metal, which is commonly overlooked. So that is to be admired, and makes the album worth a listen. It has spirit that cannot be denied, and is easy to appreciate the friar’s loving tribute to the family of heavy metal music that seems to believes embodies the greatness of God’s love.
Honestly listen to it, its fun at the very least and is pretty catchy even if you don’t understand a single word of Italian (which I obviously don’t).
The album does seem a bit tricky to come across as a physical copy outside of Italy, but it can be bought as a downloaded copy easily enough from most websites like Amazon.
1. ‘Friar To Pen Heavy Metal Concert’, in Italy Magazine, http://www.italymagazine.com/italy/emilia-romagna/friar-open-heavy-metal-concert.
2. ‘Heavy Metal Monk Hangs Up His Mic’, in ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-11-13/heavy-metal-monk-hangs-up-his-mic/1141742.
3. Marie-Louise Gumuchian, ‘He Ain’t Heavy…Italy’s Metal Brother’, in Reuters, http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-italy-friar-idUKL1466485620080718.
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