Review Summary: Epilogue or re-Introduction?
Motherjane’s sophomore album, 2008’s Maktub
, established them as leading lights of Indian rock and metal. Here, finally, was a band with the instrumental acumen to write prog as intricate as the western bands that Indian metalheads worshipped, coupled with a flair for Carnatic music that made their sound unmistakably and unabashedly Indian. They were pioneers for a generation of musicians yearning for homegrown heroes; original and unique in a way that local bands rarely were. But a funny thing happened on the way to album #3. At the peak of their success the band fragmented, with virtuosic guitarist Baiju Dharmajan departing in 2010 followed soon after by vocalist Suraj Mani. The rest of the band soldiered on through the 2010s, sporadically releasing singles without their two most recognizable members and receding into the history blogs while bands like Skyharbor and Bloodywood picked up the torch of Indian metal.
However, it turns out Motherjane weren’t done just yet. With vocalist Niranj Suresh and guitarist Anubhav Langthasa stepping into the breech, III
is as much a (mini) mission statement as it is a love letter to the fans who have waited fourteen(!)
years for a follow-up to Maktub
. It finds a revitalised Motherjane showcasing a musical restlessness and evolution that’s admirable for a band more than 25 years old. While Maktub
and its predecessor, Insane Biography
, were products of a band that grew up listening to artists like Kansas, Dream Theater, and Queensryche, III
embraces modern prog through the angular rhythms of “Awoke”, the ambient layers of “Plane Man”, and the skittering techy riffs of “Contact Sense”. “Clay Play”, which was originally released as a single in 2015, combines those elements into an unpredictable and jittery composition that would have been the EP's clear highlight but for a vocal performance that’s not quite as polished as it could have been.
, Langthasa references Baiju’s trailblazing style by dropping slinky raga licks into his riffs and solos, but does so without overwhelming the songs or sounding beholden to Baiju. It’s interesting that the band included “Clay Play” on the EP but not their most recent single, 2018’s “Namaste”, with the most likely reason being that the latter, though a terrific song, was a radical departure from the band’s Carnatic-influenced sound. Clearly recognizing that the Carnatic dimension is their sonic signature, they build the new songs on the “Clay Play” template with the result being an enticing group of prog tunes whose melodies and moods don’t go quite where you think they will, and find unusual and elastic ways to get there. While III
isn’t without its flaws—its brevity and lack of truly earworm vocal hooks, for instance—it's a more than worthy epilogue to the legacy of one of India’s most beloved bands, or perhaps even the beginning of an exciting new chapter. Time will tell.
 South Indian classical music, for those not in the know.
 In comparison, Tool fans had to wait only
 “Clay Play” actually features Vivek Thomas on vocals and Nithin Vijayanath on guitars, neither of whom are still with the band.