Even today the metal scene can sometimes offer a real, shocking surprise. This is such an occasion. We are not talking about angry political views, gore-drenched covers or porn-inspired lyrics. Instead we today suddenly find ourselves faced with the most radical concept imaginable: an innovative metal album which is actually really, really good.
Sanatana is a project by Jurgis, guitar player from Nokturnal Mortum, his wife and a number of collaborators. Its debut release on Rising Moon is a massive double CD of progressive, experimental metal, entitled Brahmavidya. The project members “support and follow the simple spirit values, stated in Vedic doctrine: Yoga, vegetarianism, healthy lifestyle, strong family, love to God and harmony with Universe”. Apparently, the project does not intend to limit itself to music, but aims to expand into things such as poetry, film and literature, but that’s another subject.
The music is ambitious and multi-layered in the extreme. In so far as it is metal it is of a melodic kind, though clearly influenced by the black metal roots of Jurgis. If Nokturnal Mortum at times have been inspired by early Emperor, Sanatana has more similarities to the late albums of the same band. There are traces, accidental or not, of Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk as well as Equilibrium IX on many a track here. Most of the time, when it does not leave metal behind entirely, the music is mid- to low tempo, but occasional blastbeats and slightly more aggressive segments maintain the connection to extreme metal.
That is just one aspect of the album, though. Interestingly, Sanatana incorporates numerous ethnic instruments, Indian and otherwise, in their arrangements. The “Vedic” influence is no mere catch phrase, or some ill-fitting ideological label, but rather a theme running through the entire album. Long ritualistic breaks create a somber and beautiful mood, and chants accompany the more regular metal vocals. The latter are mainly melodic, both male and female, though there are hints of growling/screaming at times.
Traditional, though not-so-traditional for metal, instruments are omnipresent in the music. When it comes to the transmission of religious sentiment in metal, this album could well be compared to Dissection’s Reinkaos. It even has it’s very own hymn to the Great Mother Kali, entitled “Black Mother Earth”, though that track, much like the entire album, is clearly more oriented towards a positive spiritual orientation, rather than the anti-cosmic sensibilities animating most black metal.
If George Harrison’s Goddess of Fortune, still utilized in many an ISKCON temple, had been recorded today by a Ukrainian black metal musician, his wife and their friends, this is exactly what it would have sounded like. That may not seem like a ringing endorsement to most metal heads, but it most certainly is meant to be. Whether it is the “Dum Maro Dum” based initial riff of “Meditations”, the pure pleasure of hearing a growled version of the Om Nama Shivaya-mantra or just the awesomely arranged metal music, this is absolutely brilliant from beginning to end. The guitar work, the traditional instruments, the mantras, the vocals – in our view this is about as close to a perfect album as metal gets these days without simply rehashing tried-and-true concepts.
As things stand right now, this is probably the best metal album so far in 2017, and it is likely to hold that title for quite some time. Heavily recommended. Buy it here.