Review Summary: An evolutionary dead end or the start of something new?
Every great music artist, to some extent, stands on the shoulders of giants. Most innovators in music build on the foundation provided by their influences. The evolution of music is thus mostly an organic and smooth process with a few occasional quantum leaps. However, the music scene in India is littered with evolutionary dead-ends. Rock and metal are still largely seen as foreign art forms, and for this reason bands and fans look abroad for innovation and inspiration rather than within. That’s the reason why there are no genre-defining Indian bands. Every once in a while an Indian band will come along with a spark of originality, but the avenues set out by these bands are rarely developed, but instead ignored in favour of the cues of western bands. This is why innovative bands like Motherjane rarely spawn followers who build on their sound and develop/improve it.
Heretic are quite obviously the sum of their influences. As children of the ‘80s the band’s members were no doubt raised on a steady diet of Iron Maiden and Metallica, before the Nu Metal explosion of the ‘90s took over, following which the band discovered and became enamored of “-core”. In fact, the first half of “Words to Epilogues” traces this evolution in stark clarity. Reprise
sounds like typical Iron Maiden but updated for the 21st Century with double bass drumming. Choice
begins to show some originality in the pretty-sounding clean guitars on the intro, but goes back to sounding like Maiden when the distortion kicks in. Slaves and the System
shows a definite Nu Metal influence in its riffing, while Alone
references Alt Rock.
However, once the band gets to the title track it hits its stride. While Maiden-esque lead-guitar melodies and riffs, and quiet melodic clean sections are a staple of all the songs on the albums, the band here melds it with post-Hardcore dissonant riffing and a little bit of djenting to create a unique sound that is quite possibly the highlight of the album. This melding of traditional and modern metal is also quite well done on Thoughts
, whose shifts in dynamic are probably the most gorgeous moments on the album, and Ring of Colours
. While the band rarely crafts truly memorable riffs, the guitar melodies are memorable, and provide a great deal of the tension-building and cathartic release on the album. However, more often than not the band runs out of interesting ideas for the songs and several of the songs sound overly long and repetitive, except for the title-track which is ironically the longest track here at 7 minutes.
In addition to the guitar melodies, Heretic’s calling card and greatest strength is Akhil Unnikrishnan’s vocals, or more specifically, his clean vocals. Unnikrishnan’s warm tenor has more in common with Alt Rock crooners such as Brandon Boyd and Doug Robb than with classic metal screamers such as Bruce Dickinson or modern metal vocal gymnasts like Rody Walker or Spencer Sotelho. Unnikrishnan manages to come up with some very unique melodies by drawing on Indian Classical music for inspiration and fluttering through scales in unpredictable ways. This is sometimes echoed in the guitar melodies and gives the band an exotic sound that is mainly what sets Heretic apart from its contemporaries.
However, Unnikrishnan’s harsh vocals provide the low points of the album. Unnikrishnan attempts harsh vocals to match the dynamic shifts in the music, much the way everyone from Mikael Åkerfeldt to Howard Jones to Dan Tomkins does, but Unnikrishnan’s harsh vocals sound hoarse and weak rather than intimidating. This results in the listener being unceremoniously ejected from a song that was otherwise shaping up to be enjoyable. It’s unfortunate that this regrettable bit of trend-chasing found its way onto every song on the album, because it simply does not work.
In retrospect, though the band isn’t brimming with fresh ideas, when they hit their stride they manage to carve out a unique little niche for themselves. Only time will tell if the band will continue to hone its sound and fulfill its potential, or whether “Words to Epilogues” is just another evolutionary dead end.