Released: 2014, Dunkelheit Produktionen
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
As a metal audience with international viability, India is now fairly, if recently, well-established – the first stop on Iron Maiden's historic “Flight 666 Tour” was Mumbai. As a metal scene that produces bands with international viability, though, not so much.
Kryptos, Demonic Resurrection and the multinational Skyharbor are perhaps the most noteworthy of the few Indian bands that have played to western audiences. But the scene certainly is building. Bangalore-based Dhwesha are the latest band looking to make a splash outside of India, having hooked up with the German label Dunkelheit Produktionen for their remarkably solid debut, Sthoopa.
While boasting a distinctly western musical aesthetic, Sthoopa is steeped in the history and mythology of the band's homeland. Indeed, all of the lyrics are written in Kannada, the language spoken primarily in the state of Karnataka from which Dhwesha (which translates as hatred/revenge) hail – not that it's that easy to tell, song titles aside, since guitarist/vocalist Ajay's feral growl is fairly indecipherable. But, as with Obituary's John Tardy, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as the gnarly vocals in effect act as another instrument that lends some extra weight to the music.
The band's been around since 2008, and show themselves to be quite well versed on the ins and outs of groovy death metal. The old-school rumble of Sthoopa recalls the likes of Bolt Thrower, Asphyx/Hail of Bullets or Massacre with its surging riffs and deliberate, chugging tempos that are flavored with some nifty lead forays and occasional black metal touches to give it a contemporary twist.
The songs here are quite well-conceived and executed, which helps make up for the production deficiencies – the sound is a bit thin and ragged throughout, not unlike the early works of Sepultura, prior to Beneath The Remains. The gnashing guitars of Ajay and Somesha are ominous and assaultive, regardless - all the more when the vocals are factored in, especially on the opening track “Sattva Bali” - and there are enough hooks, grooves and engaging asides here to keep things interesting.
And the band are smart/mature enough to not let ambition get the best of them. Like the aforementioned Bolt Thrower, Dhwesha opt for simplicity over complexity and deliver songs that build on their own momentum, like the superb title track, the gleefully riffy “Hoy! Sala” and “Sabhe” or “Yuddhabhumi,” instead of wandering off on tangents or busying themselves with needless frills.
Despite its almost demo-quality sound and somewhat dated approach, Sthoopa is far more satisfying than most of the squeaky clean technical death metal narcissism one hears these days. That it is the fruit of a band from so far off the beaten path makes it all the more gratifying, and certainly worth investigating.