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HEATHEN BEAST – The Drowning of the Elephant God EP

  • Review by: Ishaan Kumar

Controversy is back in black (metal)! And how! Mumbai’s heathen trio of Carvaka, Mimamsa and Samakhya return with a new EP, a renewed sound and more religious blasphemy on ‘The Drowning of the Elephant God’. The title refers to (surprisingly) the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesh and the annual ceremony of Ganesh Chaturthi where idols of the god (made from non-biodegradable Plaster of Paris) are immersed into local water bodies.

Heathen Beast has always had a stylistically different approach towards black metal, relying less on just 4-bar lingering tremolos and using more palm-muted arpeggios and pentatonics, loosely inspired by Indian folk/classical music. This album sees a heightened version of that style, veering slightly towards blackened death metal, but with a lot of groove in the beats and the rhythms. The 3-track EP however contains a new surprise element of the addition of tabla (an Indian percussion instrument) sections. The opening title track starts with a recording of the chant ‘ganpati bappa moriya’ (long live lord Ganpati/Ganesh) followed soon by vocalist/guitarist Carvaka’s shriek of the same. The track thus opens into a barrage of notes and blast beats, with that latent hint of an Indian classical influence. As described before, the music sounds fresh and non-clichéd, especially when the tabla kicks in, setting the perfect architecture for vocalist/guitarist Carvaka’s Anaal Nathrakh-inspired shrieks about how this religious practice is contamination the water and destroying nature. Keeping up this environmental concern is the next track ‘Contaminating the Ganges’, a much better composed and more brooding extreme commentary on the religious practices on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi. This track has great arrangement to it and sounds more like an early Belphegor song, with the crowning moment being the pentatonic lead tremolo barrage to end the song. The final track is by now quite (in)famous across the webspace for its music video and its extremely bold lyrical content. ‘Bakras to the Slaughter’ is a sneering cry out against the Muslim practice of goat sacrifice or ‘halal’ for their festival Id-Ul-Fitr, with the music video showing a vivid, haemoglobin-drenched montage of this slaughter. The song has a very strong groove to it that is fortified by the tabla and the main hook is a very smartly-written series of triplets.

The downsides of this album would be the programmed drums that sound too computerised to make a bludgeoning impact and more importantly, the band does not seem to have gone ‘all the way’ with the music. The riffs could have been just heavy to the point of being unforgiving, the shrieks could have been perfected to make the blood curdle and the beats could have been even more stormy. However, this is just their 2nd release of once again just 3 songs (After 2010’s Ayodhya Burns) and personally I eagerly anticipate the day the band can actually sound as blasphemous as bands like Behemoth and Belphegor.

From the outset, the band’s message to the world seems like a blatant exposé on horrific religious practices in India but at the heart of it is a very humanitarian cause. The band worries about the future of the environment at the hands of those who believe in the make-believe. This makes for lyrics that are ridden with bitter truths that could even sound insinuating. But this is really what black metal was started as, a shriek-out against the very idea of religion and how it is has had a history of destroying people and places. Heathen Beast step aside from the regular paganic/anti-Semitic worship and instead dare to challenge current practices that most of the nation’s people hold very dear to their lives, disregarding their impact on the planet. In a nutshell, Heathen Beast encompasses the spirit of black metal: controversial themes, sharp music and production that while not necessarily raw, sounds ‘dirty’ enough to be relevant. If you want a very fresh take on black metal, start your mornings with this band.