India isn’t a place most associate with heavy metal, but in the past twenty years or so, things have started to change.
Bands like death metallers Demonic Ressurection form one of the pillars of the recent surge of activity over the past twenty years (slots at European festivals, including the UK’s own Bloodstock), as well as Progressive metal outfit Skyharbour (who have toured North America with modern day titans Tesseract) and Inner Sanctum, another death metal outfit. Most of these bands seem to be based out of Mumbai and some have termed Demonic Ressurection the ‘Indian Black Sabbath’ for how they have spear headed and pioneered the growth of the genre, helping to put India on the global metal-map along with other Asian nations like Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and Singapore.
Step up, New Delhi progressive death metal group Fragarak.
Formed in 2012, they already have a full length release under their belts; Crypts Of Dissimulation (2013), which has received high praise from those seeking out bands who are outliers on most people’s musical radars. This follow up effort, A Spectral Oblivion appears to be the band attempting to gain a foothold on the foundation they have built.
As with most progressive death metal bands the lyrical themes, song subjects and inspirations are all rather esoteric. Rich veins of spiritualism, traditionalism, socio-political agendae and contemporary feelings simmering underneath the surface of everyday life contribute to what Fragarak put into their music, and it does make for an interesting listen when it is all merged together through the medium of song.
A Spectral Oblivion is an album you have to be prepared to listen to. By that, I mean it is something which requires your undivided attention. It isn’t something you can just have on in the background, nor is it something which you can casually pick up, listen to for a few tracks and come back to. The way the music is crafted on this release demands an all or nothing approach. This, of course, is a familiar demand for those who are fans of the more progressive-leaning bands in metal’s wide spectrum, given the multitude of musical layers, intricate compositions, stunning musical deliveries and high levels of proficiencies demonstrated by the musicians themselves. But unlike notable prog metal bands like Cynic (in my opinion, THE standard for any progressive death metal band out there), Fragarak are uncompromising in their approach.
A Spectral Oblivion is a long release which features a number of melodic and captivating short instrumental transition tracks which punctuate rather lengthy metallic assaults.
Leaning heavily towards the acoustic, exotic and captivating side of things, there are lengthy sequences and segments of atmospheric and mesmerising guitars. Full bodied and warm feeling, the intricate acoustic guitar arrangements seem to form the backbone of the release, acting like the mortar holding the death metal brickwork together, keeping the whole thing upright (and any other metaphor you can throw in). Sometimes enhanced by the more aggressive side of the band’s music, or completely blasted aside in favour of the heavier side of things, the acoustic melodies and exotic sounds show a level of composition which certainly displays how talented the band is, but it’s in the actual metallic sections where it’s make or break.
Vocally intimidating, displaying some serious roars, snarls and aggressive shouts, matching up to the likes of Norway’s black and death metal scene, Fragarak can certainly compete on some levels. The band comes across as a more mystical Borknagar – the fusing of harsh metal, progressive elements and folk/traditional melodies and progressions. That the folk and traditional elements are of the Eastern variety simply adds an exotic flair to the way it is perceived, making it similar yet so different at the same time.
Taking the distorted sound of the guitars into account, they have some bite and presence, but overall, they lack the raw edge and aggression of their American and European counterparts. The death metal sound and style is there, it just doesn’t have the same weighted presence, thus leaving it a little toothless in places. When taking this into account, and adding to the fact that many of the tracks lean towards the ten-minute mark, you can see why it is an all or nothing approach to this album!
The length of the tracks, some of the sequence breaks and shifts, some of the slightly symphonic augmentation in the background and the extended sections of instrumental progressions; all these are things which seem to work against the band at times. Some of the jumps seem a little too sudden, like they were forced. Other parts are too lengthy, seeming like they were extended to simply fill space. The same can be said for the instrumental transition tracks. These, whilst good displays of compositional ability, seem ultimately pointless as they don’t really serve much purpose instead of filling time. Yes, some tracks fade in/out/flow from them well, but they could instead be incorporated into those tracks to make several longer tracks. Or shortened.
Due to the above, it makes it hard for a casual listen. Simply let your mind wander for a few moments and you’ll find yourself easily losing your place. Whilst sections may sound very familiar across the release, you could lose an entire track by simply zoning out mentally. At the same time, you could simply lose interest in it all together, feeling that the very predictable nature of the composition is merely a rinse and repeat situation – atmospheric ambience, acoustic build, metal, instrumental etc. It cuts both ways, familiar enough to recognise, but familiar enough to feel stale.
Perhaps over time this release may grow on me, perhaps it’ll just be left to oblivion. Whilst the talent is indisputable, the ability to engage the listener is very minimal: a musical Himalayan peak to climb. Because it’s there.