Friday, 5 March 2010

Aghora - Aghora (2000) 74/100.

Although I no way consider myself a die-hard fan of Cynic, I do know a thing or two about bands who lead the way with a quintessential bass section. For many years now I have been a fan of the iconic post-punk band Joy Division, an outfit who pioneered a sound with an integral bass. Although there are very few similarities between this band, Aghora, and Joy Division, the two use the bass in a way most bands would deploy the guitars. By this I mean that Aghora, similarly to Joy Division, use the bass to forefront much of the material present on the record, which is self-titled. Despite this being the case the majority of the time, the bass doesn’t always stick to the surface of the atmospheres. There are occasions when it allows itself to take a laid-back approach and afford the other areas of instrumentation a chance to showcase their own abilities and the imperative fact that they are just as important to the band as the jazzy bass lines which so often become the talking point amongst critics and fans. I realise my tendency to neglect technicalities and to focus on the exact opposite of what most people find attractive in bands like this. I for one am a huge fan of simplicity and will continue to rave about the finer points of a record like this, as opposed to stating how wonderful the bass is.

In some cases, I even tend to overlook technicalities altogether and embark on exploring the elements which truly are the make-up of an atmosphere, such as the vocals, provided by the soothing influence of Danishta and the hidden exotic feel to record which infrequently rears its beautiful head during songs such as ‘Transfiguration’. At times like this, although they’re sparse, the bass becomes a moot point due to the excruciating beauty of the eastern sound to parts of songs like the aforementioned which give the record an extra-added feel of expansive play and dynamism, not something one would imagine it required with a bass section such as the one that is employed here. This feeling doesn’t begin and end here as songs like ‘Kali Yuga’ exhibit tribal sounding drums (which are created by the tabla) and the same twanging of the electric sitar, an instrument which is meant to replicate the sound of a traditional Indian instrument. When I initially discovered this band, I have no prior expectations as I had not read much about their style, so it certainly was a surprise to hear jazz fusion and a sound akin to bands like Spiral Architect, who I must admit I find a bit too pretentious for my liking.

With that being the case, I suppose I should dislike Aghora, too, for placing such importance of being technical and bass driven. However, the presence of Danishta halts me from being too disappointed with the approach and actually makes this self-titled record more accessible than it would be without her. I understand that the band have moved on from this style, possibly adopting a heavier sound with a different female vocalist in the limelight. From what I have seen on these issues, the band aren’t looked upon as favourably as they are in this era and I imagine a lot of that is to do with the presence of Danishta herself, since her sultry voice offers a easier passage into the material. Personally, I find the bass a bit of a hindrance at times. I expect the bass, when audible, not only to double-up with the guitars, but if it is going to be adventurous and innovative, I would like it to splice a record up with emotive qualities and, in my opinion, the bass exudes more technical attributes than it does emotive one’s and this disappoints me. I suppose, in fairness to Aghora, the other areas of instrumentation, as well as the vocals, offers me this when the bass is busy being flashy or experimental to the point that it soon becomes rather tedious.

I have an appreciation for musicians who’re good at what they do as much as the next person, but when a band consists of more than one solitary member, the unit needs to perform together, not on an individual basis whereby they’re trying to outdo one another with overly technical structures. Occasionally, on songs such as ‘Mind’s Reality’, the solos , which are always soaring, are bared down upon by the iron fist of the bass. It doesn’t so much appear that two technical experts are playing side-by-side with one another, but that they’re playing against each other in a deadly battle to the end with the winner being the most innovative. Warm and bright solos on songs like 'Frames' where the influence of the bass dies down and the ante is upped by semi-acoustics, piano and a more subdued performance on vocals. Don't be fooled however, the bass is never too far away from the center of the instrumentation and swiftly kicks in once again on 'Mind's Reality'.

Whilst jazz fusion may be at the forefront of our minds when we listen to this record, I actually much prefer the less technical side to Aghora, one which showcases some subtle gothic influences, particularly in the vocals of Danishta. Danishta does a delightful job at the helm and draws out the bulk of those subtle gothic feelings with her darkly emotive voice, which contains a sultry vibe to it. Akin to female vocalists of bands like Brave, a fellow American progressive metal band with a hint of gothic treasure to them, Danishta isn't the most powerful vocalist I've come across, but she does have strength in her ability to subtly crush the avid listener with an airy performance which suits the stylistic approach from the piano and cleaner guitar passages which sparsely appear throughout the duration of this piece. She even, at times, resembles the former female vocalist of British doom metal band The River.

Although I do like her as a singer, this is probably more to do with the fact that she isn’t as intrusive, or in-your-face as the other elements, like the bass and multiple guitar solos and less to do with the fact that she is actually and genuinely a very talented vocalist. She performs with a calm that isn't exemplified in the crunchy bass, or more vigorous guitar riffs which occasionally spring to life during songs like 'Existence'. This song is a perfect example of how she performs quietly amidst the jazzy bass sections, eclectic piano passages and expansive solos which easily consume the heart and soul of the listener. This self-titled record is definitely a grower. It takes time to fully appreciate the almost overwhelming sense of experimentation, with a backbone on some songs resembling numerous bands, from Cynic, to Spiral Architect and even Tool during spirally songs like ‘Jivatma’. Thankfully, with time, this record does become more and more superior with each listen, but I cannot help find bands with this overly experimental side, with the jazz fusion and whatnot, somewhat obnoxious sounding despite the calmer influence of the traditional world music and vocals of Danishta.

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