Thursday 21 July 2022

Aarlon - Dafan (2022)

Country: India
Style: Alternative Rock/Metalcore
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 Mar 2022
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

After I reviewed the new Bloodywood album earlier in the year, I received submissions from a few other bands from India and that makes me happy because I haven't heard anywhere near enough rock and metal from that country and I'd love to catch up more. In fact, the more I hear, the more I want to hear more because the bands who I have heard are often interesting and uncategorisable. That holds for bands as varied as Prophets of Yahweh, Cosmic Circle and Friends from Moon and it holds true with this album too, perhaps unsurprisingly, as the music here was composed by Ritwik Shivam, the man behind Friends from Moon.

In fact, I now realise that, while Shivam played almost every instrument on that Astray album, the five guest appearances included two members of Aarlon with a third, Guarav Basnet, a guest here too. When Shivam needed a harsh voice, he asked Pritam Adhikary to provide it, who's the vocalist throughout this album, except for Basnet's guest spot on Rok Lo. Shivam had two guest drummers on Astray, one of whom was Prankreet Borah, Aarlon's drummer. Clearly, this is a solid opportunity to hear what Shivam sounds like as only one musician in a band of five, each of which can also call a few shots. Sure, he composed all the music here, but his fellow guitarist, Piyush Rana, handled the lyrics and I'm sure the other musicians made their creative contributions too.

This may not be as wildly varied as Astray, but it continues to keep us on the hop until the end. The genre is very hard to nail down, because they have two very different styles, some songs playing in one and some in the other, with the most interesting moving between them. The first of the styles that shows up is metalcore, because the opener, Vidroh, kicks off hard and heavy but very modern. In fact, the first part of the song is just like Bloodywood, merely without ethnic instrumentation in the drop spots. Adhikary even sounds like Jayant Bhadula when doing his gruff voice. However, the band don't drop into Raoul Kerr-esque raps to provide contrast, Adhikary softens up instead.

And that's where the other primary style comes in, because that's alternative rock, far softer and with clean, characterful vocals. Even on Vidroh, Adhikary delivers in a number of styles, but on the next song, Panchhi, he sounds like a completely different singer, because we move from an urgent metalcore sound to a pastoral one that makes us wonder in Donovan ever recorded in Hindi. They literally go from clanging metal behind a sonic assault to an acoustic guitar over a bubbling brook and tweeting birds in as short a time as it takes for your jaw to drop.

Now, to be fair, the heaviest part of Vidroh was its ending and Panchhi does build considerably, but it feels difficult to reconcile the two tracks as being by the same band. Even when the second goes into its heavier section, it still can't compete with what Aarlon started out with one track earlier, a breathy groove taking over instead that had me rocking in my office chair. That's impressive and I would suggest that, if you don't like the first track, stick around through the second one. There's a lot going on here and you don't want to miss any of it because one style isn't to your liking.

After a few listens, I think it's fair to say that my favourite songs find a different vibe again, as they come early in the second half with an older take on alternative rock. Saavan and especially Aaina could both have done well during the post-punk era in the UK, as ethereal and haunting dark pop music. Somehow, Aaina has a Japanese flavour to it. Tu is more in line, I'd suggest, with their alt rock mode and, like so many of these songs do, builds really well, finding a point where we think it has to have peaked but continuing to build for a little while longer.

If you want the heavier Aarlon, that does return on Inquilaab, but it features a playful kind of rage that doesn't feel quite so angry to me as Vidroh did. The best merging of the two sides of the band may be found on Rok Lo, with Basnet's smooth, sometimes perhaps autotuned voice a fair counter to Adhikary's harsh approach, just as the catchy, commercial alternative rock counters the urgent, in your face metalcore. I think it probably overwhelms it, as it skews more to the alt rock side as it goes and it may end up a little unbalanced.

I'm still in two minds as to how the album as a whole balances those two main styles. As much as I'd usually go for the faster, heavier material, I prefer the softer styles here, especially the post-punk. That said, the songs that shift from light to heavy, and it tends to be that way round, are surely the most interesting. I may be all about Saavan and Aaina, but Tu and Panchhi won't leave me alone. It bodes well for a band when they leave me arguing with myself about what worked best, because it means they're doing interesting things.

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