(TheMadIsraeli reviews the new album, released earlier this month, by the Russian band Kartikeya.)
I’ve been out for awhile and I apologize for that. I had a personal tragedy occur and it caused me to have to pull back for awhile. I had originally asked Islander to review this album since I didn’t think I could, but I decided to pick myself up and do it since I’ve got a lot of history with this band.
Kartikeya’s brand of ethnic-influenced melodic death metal with modern groove and progressive influences has been a beloved sound here at NCS, among both the staff and the site’s readers. Samudra is an album that’s been waylaid by a lot of delays and suffered a lot of difficulties in coming to fruition. It’s now been SIX YEARS since Mahayuga, and for people who love this band I think there was a lot of speculation as to whether all the delays would spell doom and whether Samudra would be up to par.
We got a taste of Samudra with the 2011 Durga Puja EP (which I reviewed here) — the EP’s title track is included on the album — as well as what were originally three stand-alone singles, “The Horrors Of Home” (2012), “Tunnels of Naraka” (2013), and “The Golden Blades” (2016), which are also on this record (and each of which we’ve reviewed). “Durga Puja” was an exercise in Kartikeya pushing their Vedic elements to the absolute forefront, a borderline danceable snake dance that really served to emphasize Arsafes’s love of the culture he was raised in, while the first of those singles was more of a traditional Kartikeya-style death metal song, gnarly mangled riffs, fast as fuck, with a juxtaposed melodic chorus to keep a bit of hookiness in there.
I was surprised to find out when I finally got the promo of Samudra that those four songs were only the tip of an expansive soundscape that is like being hit by a sandstorm filled with flesh-gnawing insects and majestic wonder.
Samudra is a huge record, twelve songs (most of those 5-6 minutes or more) with two interludes, that’s incredibly diverse in scope. Everything previously established under the Kartikeya name is still here, but more elements have been added, with black metal and an even further integration of the Vedic musical elements being brought into play. It’s also quite a bit more progressive than Mahayuga within shorter average song durations. They’ve taken more risks and tried interesting song structuring ideas more often than before.
What’s also an interesting progression is that while Mahayuga saw the band pretty much always mixing the entirety of their influences into every song, Samudra takes a more compartmentalized approach. The various elements and influences in Kartikeya’s music are more isolated, resulting in songs that stand out more on an individual level. Others may disagree, but I think this worked out for the better. This record is also substantially more groove-driven than Mahayuga.
“Dharma PT1: The Sacred Waves” is a proggy, groove-metal epic full of mystical melodies, tout, hooky, Eastern riffing, and some of the band’s beloved syncopated pneumatic riffing as well. This was an interesting way to open the record. It’s a great song to be sure, but compared to the explosive opening of Mahayuga it’s certainly different. It sets the stage quite nicely though for the next song.
“Tandava” is an 8+ minute groove/death juggernaut that opens with a blackened death metal pedal point riff with atmospheric guitar leads over it. You can feel the full force of that sandstorm hitting you during the opening section. This song is mostly a love letter to the band’s Meshuggah influence, featuring angular riffing in that legendary band’s style but with Vedic melodic tendencies in play to give it an extra edge of esoteric violence. The song switches gears for its last several minutes, becoming a torrent of chaos and cosmic bitterness in the form of an atmospheric black metal assault.
Everyone should be familiar with “Durga Puja”, the title track from that EP released back in 2011, but for those who aren’t, it’s a very tribal, dancy, groove-driven number. After an interlude in “Pranama”, “The Horrors Of Home” kicks you in the teeth. I’d say this is the most traditionally Kartikeya song on the album. As mentioned earlier, it’s fast as fuck, with harsh semi-dissonant riffing and the hook of the rhythm driving it, combined with ethnically influenced melodic tendencies. The song also features a killer solo by Keith Merrow himself (Nile’s Karl Sanders adds a solo on the 10th track, while David Maxim Micic contributes one on the 11th).
“Mask Of The Blind” is one of the straight-up killer, go-for-the throat songs on the album for sure. It’s a power anthem fueled by energetic machine-gun rhythms and full of ethnic instrumentation, powerful hooky riffs, and the best guitar solo on the album. The band made the unusual choice of sharing the title of the album with a lengthy interlude that features otherworldly clean guitar melodies and semi-whispered clean vocals. It’s a sort of melancholic drone, very distinct in the context of the album, while the next song — “The Golden Blades” — is the most straight-forward track on the album, adopting a sort of nu-metal/metalcore/start-stop/soft-loud dynamic.
I’m not going to go on with the track-by-track business, but there is no doubt this is one of the best albums of the year. It’s got Kartikeya’s unique sound combined with some more adventurous songwriting than its predecessor. While I was so impatient waiting for this album, it seems that in a lot of ways Arsafes’ time spent away from this band writing his solo material helped bring new insight into Kartikeya, and the results are amazing. I don’t know if I’d call it better than Mahayuga in the end, it’s just different, and it’s as least as good.
Of all the bands currently making extreme metal with world music elements incorporated into it, Kartikeya are the deities of this kind of creativity, and Samudra is the holy text through which the truth is translated to us mere mortals.