Iravu, A Fate Worse Than Home, United States, Fiadh Productions, FP076 / VP19 limited edition cassette / CD (2023)
The COVID-19 lockdowns may be over but Malaysian-Indian BM project Iravu, formed by vocalist / guitarist Hareesh Kumar Shanggar during the 2021 lockdown in Malaysia, looks like a continuing entity with debut album “A Fate Worse Than Home” released in January 2023. The album title itself invites further investigation – most people would be hard pressed to think of anything worse than being in a place they would call home, a place where they feel accepted and secure – and perhaps only those who, like Shanggar himself, have grown up in societies and cultures that ignore and shunt them and their communities away from the mainstream will understand what he means on this album. Incidentally, if you buy this album on Iravu’s Bandcamp page, the proceeds will go to the SEED Foundation, a Malaysian non-government organisation that provides support to homeless people, transgender individuals and those suffering from HIV.
While the album is not very long, four of its five tracks are quite lengthy and mix technical melodic BM / post-BM with often stunning psychedelic atmospheres and a presentation that is grand and majestic, suited to the album’s science fiction theme. The title track opener presents a scenario of existential dread and annihilation in the deep recesses of space: the music appears set in a vast space, ranging from bristly raw BM to cold space synth ambience spiced with retro-70s lead guitar heroics. Following track “The Creature” is a more straightforward blackened death / doom metal song dominated by a howling raspy vocal barely distinguishable from the flying noise grit in the song’s background. Its production is cold, clear and spacious, giving each and every instrument a dark moody clarity, but the doomy riffs themselves are not very remarkable and become monotonous over the course of the song.
The rest of the album goes back and forth between fuzzy or lush psychedelic ambience and rugged technical extreme metal songs with roaring storm-grit vocals and lead guitar solos full of energy and passion. “Fear and Lead” wrestles with self-doubt, the resolution of which may mean the difference between life and death not just for oneself but for humanity as a whole, and the song has moments of six-stringed urgency as well as blizzard noise storms that form voices and lyrics, all culminating in a veritable space guitar opera reaching far across the cosmos in its vibrating tones and extended melodies. Closing track “Home” is a hard-hitting galloper dominated by wiggly guitar solos and jagged fretboard work with some coldspace ambience worked into the background.
The album definitely works best when the guitars and the synthesisers work together but unfortunately these moments are too few. Most of the time, the guitars completely dominate the songs, and the synthesiser ambience ends up deeply buried in the background. The blurry vocals probably have too much distortion and reverb to be heard properly, and a lyric sheet is necessary to follow them. The songwriting is good though the riffs are repetitive. While the solo lead guitar outbursts add intense emotion to songs, they are rather too reminiscent of old 1970s prog rock and are likely to make the album sound dated.
For a debut album though, this is a brave effort in combining at least two very different genres of music, one being aggressive and raw, down-to-earth and gritty, and the other more spacey and expansive, lush in sound and dreamy in mood. Iravu may have its work cut out on future recordings in getting the balance needed between these two musical poles but the journey to get there will be as important as the goal itself and should be enthralling.