Harul Vinay, Bharari Ghat, Italy, Frozen Woods Records, limited edition cassette (2021)
Hailing from Shimla, a city at the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India, Harul Vinay is a fingerstyle guitarist / composer inspired by the dramatic and ever-changing beauty of the natural environment where he lives, and by the Pahadi (Pahari) culture, folklore and shamanistic religious beliefs based on pastoral lifestyles of the Western Himalayas. Vinay seems to have begun his solo musical career based in an unusual fusion style of blackened doom folk in the last couple of years, releasing a single in 2020 and now presenting his debut album “Bharari Ghat” with various guest musicians who include local Himalayan musicians and two foreigners, Sinem Hondoroglu from Turkey on ney (a flute native to the Middle East) and Arianna Mahsayeh, a UK-based cellist who has collaborated and performed with classical music groups, ambient music groups and metal bands. Vinay plays all guitars and employs a black metal style of singing. The vivid artwork for the album’s physical releases comes courtesy of Russian artist Anna Borisova who presents and sells her work under the name Vasantaghara.
A welcoming orchestra of droning trumpets, thundering drums and tinny cymbal introduce the album and its distinctive style of Himalayan folk that is the base for Vinay’s guitar explorations of the music and culture of his region, in the short two-minute title track introduction. While the music is clearly folk dominated by melodic acoustic guitars, it often follows black metal and doom structures, and when Vinay starts to sing, his raspy aggression is so startlingly at variance with the smooth melancholy of the music that the contrast literally hurts your ears. There are indeed moments in songs where you half-expect phalanxes of tremolo electric guitars juddering away furiously and crunching out pointillist machine-gun hammer. Instead you are struck by intensely dark and sorrowful emotions arising from repeating melody loops of mournful guitar, cello and ney. The album dips into unearthly blackened psychedelic folk in track 4 “Thedi Baagar” (“Winter Winds”) which features a beautiful plaintive ney solo by Hondoroglu and hypnotic swooning female vocals early on in the song before Vinay leaps in with his demonic growling: the effect of all this sounds very much like dark English folksters Comus if they had gone in a blackened melodic direction.
After “Thedi Baagar”, the album becomes increasingly dark and even more sorrowful, as if resigning itself to an ominous and bleak fate, Vinay’s guitar and spoken vocal braving the shadows with Hondoroglu and Mahsayeh occasionally dipping in and out. In the title track reprise (track 6), the last of the original tracks, the orchestra with its drone trumpets and ritual drums and cymbals make a welcome return hammering out a thumping rhythm and emphatic beat. The last two tracks on the album (tracks 7 and 8) are covers of songs by Norwegian black metal bands Ulver and Whoredom Rife respectively; the Ulver cover especially sounds even more like a blackened Comus with soft background female vocals behind Vinay’s rasp amid weepy guitar, woodwind and cello. While these covers are quite interesting in themselves, they do not add anything to the album that is not already present in Vinay’s own originals and might have been better off as a single with a B-side.
Perhaps it’s not nearly as startling and exotic as the description “Himalayan blackened doom folk” or “True Western Himalayan doom folk” might suggest but the album does feature very beautiful and dreamy ambient soundscapes, intense emotion and plenty of dark folk magic. Vinay does an excellent job of composing music with catchy and very moving and soul-stirring melodies. He has much potential as an inventive musician / composer with a unique vision and the ambition to put his native Himalayan region on the global dark folk map.