When the Mumbai-based power-thrash metal band, Albatross, who peg themselves as horror metal, announced that their latest album was going to be a Split EP with the American Doom Metal band, Vestal Claret, I had asked the founder/bassist of the band, Riju Dasgupta (who goes by his onstage moniker Dr. H3X) why they were keen on doing EPs rather than releasing full lengths. He replied that they would rather work on their songwriting chops and on getting their sound right before recording a full length album. So when I received the early copy of their latest effort, The Kissing Flies EP, I was very curious to know how much they had progressed from their debut EP, the Dinner Is You.
Before jumping into reviewing the album, it would be appropriate to let you know that Albatross has a penchant for horror stories and all their songs bear proof of their inclination towards the macabre. This proclivity for storytelling is evident in their choosing to construct a concept around which they weave their songs. ‘The Kissing Flies’ theme is of a hero returning to his hometown, Raptorsville, which has fallen to ruin and beset upon by, well, The Kissing Flies.
The album opener, ‘Wither’, is appropriately dark and foreboding, invoking a sense of dread about subsequent ominous and sinister events. Built on a layer of masterfully eerie sound sampling done by Murari Vasudevan of Rat King, it features the epic, soaring vocals of Biprorshee Das, and creepy chilling laughter in the background.
‘Uncle Sunny at the Tavern’ explodes from the starting block and tells the tale of the narrator arriving at a tavern in Raptorsville, and his chance encounter with an ‘Uncle Sunny’ from his childhood. It paints a picture of a desolate and forlorn decaying town at the edge of total demise. This track is a huge earworm, not only because of the uber-catchy chorus underlined by the noodly leads of Vignesh, but also because of the excellent riffage of the two guitarists; though the guitar solos scattered between the verses could’ve been better thought out. Vocal duties on this track are shared between Biprorshee Das and the brilliant vocalist from the Swedish band Wolf, Niklas Stalvind, who plays the role of the ‘Uncle Sunny’ character in the track.
The 3rd track in the EP, the title track, is the most impressive – and the longest – of the lot. Clocking in at just over 10 minutes, it features some of the most diverse and punishing vocal performances. Ranging from banshee-like shrieks and screams to the high-pitched King Diamond-esque singing and deep-throated croaks, the diminutive Biprorshee’s effort is nothing short of dazzling. And if those variations in the vocals weren’t enough, Demonic Resurrection’s Sahil Makhija also joins in for some growling merriment. While the vocals are the highlight of this track, the dueling guitar solos of Vigneshkumar Venkatraman and Nishith Hegde are also riveting. However, in my opinion, the most engaging part of the song are the lyrics, which chronicles the horrors of The Kissing Flies plaguing Raptorsville.
The last track of the Albatross side of the split, ‘From Ashes Comes Life‘, is one of the relatively weaker songs on the EP. Despite being a decent song by itself, it fails to engage the listener as much as the other songs. I would’ve liked this track to be a bit slower in tempo, and with more down-tuned guitars, especially in the 4th verse. The song follows the protagonist as he tries valiantly to rid the town of the malicious malady of The Kissing Flies.
Overall, the Albatross half of the split is quite enjoyable, much more than the debut, Dinner Is You. What is more heartening and commendable is that the band seems to have put in some thought and effort into building the concept for the album, something which not many bands pay much attention to. The resulting tale is gripping and reading the lyrics from the booklet while listening to the album is actually rewarding.
The Vestal Claret side of the split features just one song – a mammoth 17-minute beast of a track, ‘Black Priest’. Divided into 3 parts, the track takes on the duplicitous clergy class with some very wicked, sharp and intelligently written lyrics. Sample this, for instance,
“When you come and seek a savior
Don’t be surprised by my behavior
Coz like my father I’m the deceiver
Here to prey on all believers”
“Let me put my hands upon you
You’ll be anointed when I’m through”
It is always a great pleasure to read lyrics as delightful as these while listening to music that matches them incredibly well.
The first part of this magnum opus progresses sedately, with measured and restrained drumming. As the minutes tick by and the track builds up menacingly, you slowly realize you are experiencing something phenomenal. At around the 8-minute mark, the track segues seamlessly into the 2nd part, or rather a musical movement, and switches gears to move with a bit more urgency. Guitar solos make their appearance in this part, courtesy of the immensely talented Simon Tuozzoli, who incidentally, was also behind the knobs, tweaking the sound of the album. The colossal, dirty, down-tuned and doomy guitar riffs – a reverential nod to the traditional doom masters of the past, à la Cathedral, Saint Vitus and Pentagram in this nearly 6-minute segment are absolutely eargasmic . I trust a lot of listeners would want to go back and listen to this part over and over again. In the final section, the track loops back to the first three verses. When the track finally fades out towards the end, you can’t help but wonder whether it actually covered nearly a third of an hour! Throughout this lengthy chef-d’oeuvre, Phil Swanson displays his magnificent set of pipes, which are pretty piercing and unique in their delivery of the irreverent lyrics. In summation, this track is an incredible piece of work and might very well be a strong contender for the song of the year in my book.
In partnering with Vestal Claret, Albatross has scored an absolute winner. This album is a delight to the ears and I expect heavy metal and doom metal fans to trip over themselves trying to get their hands on it. Hope this album gets released on vinyl.