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5 stars "Personally, I am more curious about the direction in which their Indo-Western synthesis proceeds: does it get deeper from hereon or will they write more full Western material?" - I had concluded my review of Rainburn's debut offering, their EP Canvas of Silence, with the above line. Four long years after that short and sweet collection of tracks, we have some answers with the first full length album of Rainburn, called Insignify.

And the answer is: a bit of both. The music is generally very much in the vein of the tracks on Canvas of Silence - kinda soft prog metal with hints of jazz swing here and there and clean guitar parts woven into the music rather than left to stick out in an in your face manner. BUT there are certainly more hints of Indian music, mainly in the guitar leads but also in some - simply gorgeous - Indian flute playing in School of Atlantis.

The emphasis on actual guitar solos (the way there used to be in rock music up to the 90s) is also a subtle change from the EP. These solos are still pretty short in length - no Hackett/Latimer like expansive leads here - but they clearly serve the function of solos rather than just guitar leads that take the song from point A to point B. There is even some scorching shredding by Toshimoa Jamir in the final solo of Elusive Light. Songwriter, vocalist and main guitarist Vats Iyengar is no slouch either (check out the solos on School of Atlantis and Suicide Note). Perhaps, an argument could be made that solos are outdated and ought to be done away with but I feel in the absence of much textural variation (we are basically looking at heavy distortion and clean electric guitar, with a few variations like on Someone New), the solos add more character and drama to the tracks. Especially because the typically busy nature of prog rock/metal doesn't leave much scope for the vocalist to build drama through his lines. Vats runs into the same constraint...except one track.

Mirrors is set to good old 4/4 with no time signature changes en route to the finish, has audible and catchy basslines underpinning the song and revolves around Indian sounding (but not REALLY Indian) guitar chord progressions rather than riffs. It also has a memorable chorus and a very effective bridge. In short, it's topnotch pop songwriting without resembling pop in the commercial, derogatory sense of the word that progheads are fond of resorting to. It's pop in the way a Stevie Wonder or Beatles would have crafted it (or maybe Radiohead today). Suddenly, without busy instrumentation and changes to take care of, the music starts to really breathe and is rich in mood and atmosphere. Vats also sings almost all of it low in his chest voice (except for a high chorus towards the end) and it feels like the words resonate more at least with me in this zone. High up in the stratosphere, he is like many other metal vocalists out there, commanding, proficient and powerful, but it is down below that I hear a more distinct character in the vocals to set them apart, an unique individual as opposed to yet another voice.

If all this is not exactly welcome news to your ears (!), fret not as there is enough variety on offer to satisfy different palates. If Mirrors is the song people who don't like prog as such would dig (and I know some who fit that exact description and who liked this song), there's Someone New and Suicide Note to satisfy more technical and muscular considerations. Especially Suicide Note is a headbanger's paradise but still accommodates clean guitar here and there (but it has no room for Indian elements). By making room for clean guitar even in their heaviest and most aggressive track, Rainburn are able to make a seamless transition to a VERY clean/non metal track like Within. Elusive Light and Merchant of Dreams are similarly lush and relaxed while remaining in a prog zone (unlike Mirrors). As said above, Mirrors is very different from the rest of the bunch but the melodic and harmonic patterns at work do not to my untrained ears sound too far removed from the other tracks. So nobody is going to ask what's a pop song doing in a prog album because it fits and only serves artistic rather than commercial considerations (of which there are practically none in this day and age for prog music). The other (very short) track that's completely different from everything else is the fugue Purpose. I will leave it to you to listen and see what you get out of it as it has received very diverse reactions so far.

In summary, this is prog metal/heavy prog with a hint of Indo-Western fusion and with some tracks like Suicide Note remaining in a 100% Western zone. Melodically, it is very original and memorable and has a freshness that isn't found in much of prog rock today. I have slight concerns about the textural limitation I mentioned earlier and do feel say keyboards would have filled out the sound more. But on the other hand, the introduction of Indian flute also introduces timbre that you just never hear in prog rock. So...having thought about what I should do, I am going to give the album all five stars. Not because I am truly convinced it's an overwhelming masterpiece but because it does chart its own course and has a voice of its own without resort to gimmicks that are meant to titillate rather than express.

Report this review (#2041520)
Posted Friday, October 5, 2018 | Review Permalink
4 stars The current music industry is based upon quickly releasing singles (no longer than four minutes in length of course) that follow whatever topic is trendy at the time. Often times very little thought is put into this music and its purpose is to instantly satisfy the needs of the masses with catchy beats and sing-along choruses. While this is not entirely bad, it provides very little room for experimentation and progress in the music scene. Also, with songs rarely lasting for the aforementioned four minutes, it is difficult for songs to develop and really capture the listener's attention. Bangalore-based band Rainburn aim to change things up a bit by providing a big album with plenty of room to lose yourself in. With 10 songs lasting for almost 50 minutes, "Insignify" is far from accessible. However, this album was not recorded for the purpose of being accessible. It was crafted for those who want to make listening to music an experience. So the question is did they accomplish this?

"Insignify" is wide open and vehement in its will for exploration, clearly plotted but sounding off the cuff and based heavily on the organically-presented chemistry between drummer Praveen Kumar, guitarist / singer Vats Iyengar, and bassist / singer Ravi Nair that has only developed further since the band's debut EP, 2014's "Canvas of Silence".

The new album oscillates between laid back jams and powerful rockers, creating that lovely rich atmosphere. It's clear the band has been working on dynamics.

Starting real strong with 'Merchant of Dreams', this cut shares all the strengths into firm doses. Its groovy bass line, enhanced by the hypnotic percussion paves the way for several guitar solos. There are multiple waves where the band builds and then falls into peaceful, soothing moments.

As we dive further into The Island, we find a couple of lighter tracks. On 'Someone New' the spotlight goes to the drum/vocals interplay, as they playfully drive into proggy territories. The guitar and bass embellish with several layers of sustained leads and chords, but they tease by building tension, at times keeping it for minutes before explode into a powerful jam. 'Purpose' continues the flow in the same tempo as its predecessor but it's all vocals, while the final 'School of Atlantis' feels considerably subdued when compared to the rest of the record. Like a recap, it fervidly peaks one last time before gently fades away into thin air. This is a really nice, 'atmospheric' ending to such a strong album.

Rainburn has crafted a very solid album that can truly take you on a musical trip. Overall, Insignify proves to be a very worthwhile journey and any fan of progressive or psychedelic rock music should check it out.

Report this review (#2047140)
Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | Review Permalink

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