Release Date: 15 Apr 2022
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This came to me as a submission promising to be varied and it certainly delivered on that, a genre rollercoaster of an album full of slow ascents and scary drops that eventually flows to a satisfying halt. It's impossible to slap a single label on it, but I had to call it something so I tried alternative, because that's its first stop on the genre rollercoaster. It's alternative in Rage On, which is bouncy alternative rock, starting out grungy but escalating into metalcore midway. It's alternative a song later in Rebellion Road too, though this time it's alternative pop, a perky amalgam of post-punk, new wave and college rock. So I guess I'll go with alternative.
However, the album evolves from there and it evolves considerably further than any boundary you might draw around alternative, whether pop or rock. This is a concept album that follows a loosely defined Lovecraftian theme, that of an outwardly normal young man, whatever "normal" happens to mean, who seeks what he shouldn't, eventually finds what he's looking for and is driven mad by the experience. That's why the opening two tracks are relatively commercial, not to mention quite upbeat and even a little innocent. That goes away as the album moves on.
The Enemy is when this man's journey truly begins and it does that by moving from a traditionally drawn rock song into something far more interesting. It's told almost as a dialogue, with a routine verse followed by another with experimental chords and innovative vocal passages, almost as if it flips. This young man is seeing beyond the reality he grew up in to something different, darker. It's clearly progressive rock at these points and that leads us into the standout for me, which is Astray, the title track.
The press release accompanying the album plays up Marvels Beyond Madness as the highlight and it is a peach of a song, one in which "all things culminate", but I'd take Astray over it. It trawls in an awful lot of different stuff to create something thoroughly original. In its way, it's the full journey in miniature, kicking off with a Twilight Zone-esque introductory passage, full of pulses and clocks and strands of melody. Then the rhythms get interesting, to highlight that we're not in Kansas any more, Toto. We're not really in Oz either, but we could well be midway on the tornado, with every snatch of normality we catch being ephemeral. This is a dark trip of a song, even if it's occasionally reminiscent of the Beatles or maybe Saigon Kick. There's carnival organ here and a quirky Danny Elfman sensibility, but it's darker than Tim Burton would allow.
I wanted Astray to be a lot longer than it was, but I'll happily take it as it is, just as I'll happily take the songs that follow. Come Together is not the Beatles song, at least not entirely. It's sometimes a Tom Waits-like cover of the entire Beatles output, rendered off kilter and threatening, with I am the Walrus and Come Together at the heart of it but plenty more up to Lennon's solo Give Peace a Chance thrown in there for good measure. Spoiler: this young man doesn't and we experience the results of that decision in Marvels Beyond Madness.
While I might prefer Astray, Marvels Beyond Madness is still a delight. It's where the album shifts from rock to metal for a while, because the appearance of an Elder God kind of needs the levels of anger that metal brings, and I presume that's what's happening. However, it's also more viciously industrial and experimental and it has a dark soundtrack mindset that's gradually taking over the album. It's as intensely visual as Astray, with every sound serving that purpose, not just the music, and it's often a flurry because we're on the longest and steepest part of the rollercoaster and we are heading downwards fast.
What follows, of course, if you've ever read Lovecraft (or watched Brazil), is the happy ending with our protagonist's connection to reality seared away. Riverine is Syd Barrett madness, not a raging and inconsistent Mad Hatter madness. It's the brain shutting down after a shock it can't handle to think about puppies and dandelions and anything except THAT! What surprises me here is just how long this album spends after the showdown finalé. Riverine has the least to say but it's the longest song on the album after Marvels Beyond Madness, and it's followed by an instrumental that's "an ending credits song", according to the press release.
I guess that works, and Of the Spirit is certainly a fascinating closer, but I wonder if expanding the journey between The Enemy and Marvels Beyond Madness would have been a better approach. It constitutes the core of the story in this concept album, but it's confined to the middle four tracks, with the outer four not unfairly seen as the intro and outro. But, hey, that's a quibble not a fault. I thoroughly enjoyed this journey, which viably mixes metalcore and ambient, Indian music and film soundtracks, post-punk and harsh vocals. It's ambitious stuff and it works.
The man behind it is Ritwik Shivam, who's in New Delhi, because this is primarily a one man band. He wrote everything and he performed almost everything, with a couple of guest drummers on a track each and a couple of guest vocalists also on a track each. The harsh vocals on the opener are the work of another guest. Mostly, though, this is Shivam and it's a mature release indeed for his debut album. At least I think it's his debut album, though other tracks precede it on his Bandcamp page, going back a couple of years. Thanks, Ritwik, for sending me a copy of this. It's good stuff.
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