Somewhere during the gorgeous, oceanic chorus of “Celestial”, a thought germinating in my mind for the last six songs finally reached fruition. The problem with modern over-the-internet recording is that there is a severe lack of unity of purpose ‘twixt the performers. It may seem like arty hokum, but a few people in the same room can do amazing things in close proximity. While “Celestial” is a big success, roiling and dense in its expanse, Dan Tompkins’ presence in this album is largely a failure, and this album’s biggest one. Read on. This is not a negative review.
Starting a review off on such a note might be annoying, but it’s critical that I get this out of the way and you read till the end. Tompkins is an amazing singer with a stratospheric range, but he simply overdoes it. Too many opportunities for riffing along with the band are let go, in favor of a floating qawwali-style performance that sounds like an afterthought. Towards the end of the first disc, my ears were saturated with DIIIIIEEEEEEEs and AAAAAREEEEEEs and WEEEEEEEEs that play havoc with the previously devastating “Order 66” and “Catharsis”. Seriously, I hope he doesn’t talk like that in real life. And because vocals are no.1 in the totem pole of metal mixing, the savagery of Keshav Dhar’s guitar playing
Anoop Sastry and Nikhil Rufus is diluted as a result. Nowhere is this more disappointingly apparent than “Dots”, which should’ve been left as an instrumental intro. The vocals are completely unnecessary and blunt the epic (EPIC!) riffage. It’s a huge missed opportunity. However, things start to clarify nicely in the more atmospheric tracks. “Night” is right up Tompkins’ street, as is the sexy slow middle section of “Aurora”. On such sections Mr. Rufus also steps up nicely with a fat-assed bass tone and considered melodicism.
Ok, how about the soloing? Well, not much cop. Marty Friedman is there, yes, but he seems more interested in trying out his new-fangled F12G4#Dim13ZFlat6PFlat3Aug2 inversion scales rather than paying attention to the movement of the band underneath him. Yet another missed opportunity. However, there is a solo prior to Friedman’s effort on “Celestial” that’s capital B Bitchin’. Very, very tasteful.
In and of itself, Illusion would be a pretty decent album, albeit one that is littered with potential genius frittered away at the hands of Mr.Tompkins, Mr.Friedman and whoever thought it was a good idea to dip the band in a vat of reverb. Chaos on the other hand, is fucking epic. Freed of the need to make everything angelic and shit, Sunneith Revankar steps up to the mike and instantly gels
with the band – mainly because he’s in the same time zone. Only three songs long, this bit sounded more like Skyharbor Mark 2. It’s superb, with an ideal balance of hammering verses and soaring choruses. “Aphasia” and “Trayus” are phenomenal tracks, and the chemistry between Dhar and Sastry is something to behold. and together, they conjure up moments that feel like driving an F1 car through a WWIII battlefield. Check the intro of “Aphasia” and the riff at 3.25 in “Insurrection” for instant birth control.
I’ve been avoiding talking of the hype that has been attached to Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, preferring instead to judge it on its merits. And it goes like this. As a package, it’s a missed opportunity; Princess Tompkins should’ve dialed down with the cherubic-angel mating calls, Marty Friedman should’ve dialed in some “Tornado of Souls” for his solos, and “Dots” should’ve been an instrumental. So does it destroy the Great Brown Hype? It dilutes it for sure, but a quick look at the press package is encouraging. All the fuck-ups are from the guests. The band itself -Dhar, Sastry and Rufus- have done a fantastic job; tight, professional and absolutely world class. I’m no drummer, but I think Sastry is in rarefied air; Dhar is going to level arenas with that guitar of his. And while I’ve always maintained that extreme metal is not a place for a bass player can stand out, Rufus acquits himself well in his spots. The fundamentals, therefore, are tip-top, and India has had a good opening innings. This sounds right.
- El Bajista
EDIT Apr.5: A reader pointed out that there is no band for Mr. Dhar to have chemistry or coordination with, as this was recorded as a one-man project. This is mostly true. As it turns out, Nikhil Rufus wrote the bassline for “Aurora”, and many fills were re-written on jamming with Anup Sastry. Since the press pack mentioned all three as full members, I believed that they all recorded everything.
So, some of the parts of the review that made these references have been struck out, and in the last paragraph, it now reads:
Judging from some of their live performances on YouTube, the band itself -Dhar, Sastry and Rufus- have done a fantastic job; tight, professional and absolutely world class.