Wednesday, November 11, 2015

There was the launch, and then there's this album! - Stigmata's The Ascetic Paradox

The Lady was not going to do a review - because after the preview, a review would have been a little.....much. But then she listened to the album. She listened to it once, she listened to it twice, and then she lost the count of times she listened to it altogether. And then this rant pretty much typed itself.  

The venue was buzzing and you could cut the electricity with a knife. When we got there (a good hour early since parking is notoriously difficult at the venue) the ticket tables were still being set up and familiar faces were floating all around with a mixture of purpose, nervousness and anticipation. The air was different, more different than what we have experienced at any other gig we have been to – this was more intense, more MORE. We knew something exciting was coming. I think everybody sensed it as well.

We were ushered up a dark hallway lined with light, just enough to find our way, with walls adorned here and there with backlit characters from The Ascetic Paradox (I thought this was appropriate since we were after all, in the Halloween month). We then arrived at the exhibition showcasing photos and various artwork inspired by the band over the 15 years. For those who had been following the band throughout their journey, this was a heartwarming experience indeed. Earlier band members, portraits of the trio who had kept the Stigmata brand alive right from the start – Suresh, Tenny and Andrew (from hair growth, hair fall, haircuts to seasonal changes in face fuzz), it was a little like going through a family album, watching the kids grow up. Unforgettable moments from miscellaneous concerts, the craziest hair lashes, the grooviest band moments that make you say – hey, I was there when that happened! It is a feeling of having been there - from the first album to the fourth – and in the process, seeing them grow from boys to men involuntarily.

However, having seen a lot of the photos that has come out of the numerous gigs through the years, we expected a collection of mammoth dimensions at the venue. 15 years is a very long time and as I have commented earlier, these guys are some of the most photogenic devils that I know. We were a little surprised by the somewhat modest collection we found there. Followers, fans and photographers had been notified to send in their Stigmata moments prior to the event and it was disappointing to see that perhaps only a few may have had responded.

From the exhibition to the auditorium. We passed Delish wafting delicious smells and ignored their devilish temptation and headed into the hall where we loitered for a while longer till the action really began.  

The band arrived on stage with masks in place concealing their faces. And with a hearty conch shell bellow, a thumping of traditional Sri Lankan drums strangely and delectably reminiscent of a traditional devil exorcising ceremony, the launch began. This was significant I think because many demons were exorcised that night. The demons of everyday mundane existence vaporized into the air conditioned interiors of the hall as the music delivered a sort of serenity and invoked blessings upon the mesmerized audience – blessings of the heavy metal kind. Maybe I was mistaken, but the frontman seemed nervous during the first few notes, a fleeting observance barely picked up by the audience but somewhat noticeable to us who have never seen him nervous throughout the past long years. This was quite endearing, because it was evident what this night meant for the members of the band. But within the first few notes, they owned it. They blossomed out like an exotic night blooming flower, spreading their fragrance, entrapping the audience within its enchanting spell. The stage was theirs, every eye, every ear, and every mind in the audience was theirs, each person swaying to the rhythms that the band so generously lashed out to the night.

To capture a moment in time within one’s fist, to fully own that moment with guitar strings, drum sticks and lung power alone and to bend and twist the captured time as they willed and to command the love and the attention of the biggest audience that we have seen at a Sri Lankan metal concert, how glorious a thing it must be! This is exactly what Stigmata did that night – they ruled the night, they ruled every mind, heart and spirit that occupied the venue, burning bright and white. If only we could rule the world like this – with love, music and communal head banging!  

Well, let’s just say it was a good concert *looks around shiftily*

A gravity-defying moment
The album in its entirety was performed that night which was a gutsy thing to do and the best part was that we got goodies and memorabilia to take home as well – the album to slowly and leisurely savour, a customized shot glass, The Ascetic Paradox fridge magnet that doubles as a coaster (like hell I would keep any dirty glasses on that gorgeous thing), customized guitar pick each carrying a character from their mind-boggling album art, The Ascetic Paradox poster and a customized card pack, each card beautifully elaborated with a character from the artwork itself. I gushed and rambled on about the artwork on a previous post so I am not going to do it here. But I must say that the merchandise is truly marvelous.  

So here is my share of the merchandise
Since coming home with us, the album has not had a rest. It’s hard to describe this album, within itself a paradox. There is a larger Sri Lankaness in it than what we have experienced in any Stigmata album before, a more earthiness firmly based on Sri Lankan soil. There are toe-tapping baila beats (baila beats you say, in heavy metal??), groovy Middle Eastern tunes, the ever resonating Sri Lankan drums – the insistent thump that makes any Sri Lankan heart beat – it’s a curious mishmash of wonderful and unlikely things, and every single note within it a discovery. It’s easy to see that the band had put their heart, soul, flesh, blood and every fleeting ounce of energy into it because it’s tighter than (chee, you buggers) a closed clam and more solid than a block of concrete, so much so that it makes you shrink back a little and hiss - what sorcery is this!

I have been playing this aloud in my house for over two weeks and I haven’t had (m)any complaints yet. I even found my father tapping his foot to a particular baila beat and my mother humming the mind-effing guitar tune from “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop” in between pruning the hedges with the giant pair of scissors (which was kind of worrying). However, my dog just makes this WTF face while standing very still whenever I play the album in his vicinity. Oh well….. 

The album starts off with ‘Our Beautiful Decay’. A deceptively funky rhythm intro that encourages a few jive moves of your own, evolves into the hard hitting stuff that evolves into a 6-8 baila beat that evolves into the hard stuff into baila and hard stuff again *pants*. Let’s face it, the 6-8 baila beat is in the blood of every Sri Lankan anywhere in the world and I am not surprised that it is such a huge hit amongst the crowd. However, it is the intricate weaving of Sri Lankan drums, baila beats and heavy metal that is truly mind boggling. This beautiful concoction is further enhanced by a set of labyrinthine lyrics, remarkable in its intricacy, deep in implication. Rich imagery conjures up vivid pictures - butterflies tearing their chrysalis and flying off to the sun only to be burnt like Icarus while he asks the audience “Are you dancing in the shadows?”. It’s mad, it’s magic, it’s mayhem and it’s marvelously catatonic. In the end you come out of completely cleansed that you feel free of the grit and the grime of everyday existence once again.  

Our Beautiful Decay has been played at gigs so many times before and I believe that it is with this song that they initiated the making of The Ascetic Paradox (or was it “And now we shall bring them war’?). And personally ever since the first time I heard it, I’ve been waiting for a recording of the song because it’s unusual nature (and also Tenny’s fabulous dance moves on stage to the piece) had intrigued and aroused my curiosity. And as I predicted, I absolutely love it and I am not alone in this. I know,I'm psychic and I'm awesome.

The second song of course, ‘An Idle Mind is the Devil’sworkshop’ was released prior to the TAP launch and has had remarkable reviews and ravings since.  The third track – ‘(Still) Born again’ starts with a groovy acoustic session at the end of which the heavy stuff are handed out in abundance and brutifully. The fourth,  ‘Rush Through the Twilight Silver Slithering Stream (oh no, you won't be pronouncing that in a hurry) is another one that struck me with its clever and beautiful lyrics once again (I’m sorry if I’m going on about the lyrics, but I can’t help it ok).  “Society is indiscriminate - it's live and let live - live and let's kill” the singer is not only the minstrel but the prophet, the poet and the merciless critique of society. This is what I find refreshing about Stigmata music – its ability to not only serenade the ears, but also to speak to the mind.

The fifth track “Calm” is a beautiful ballad that serenades, lulls and cajoles the senses. Here is a track that has that unmistakable Stigmata touch upon its delicate skin, a vision for the mind, a cool, soothing balm for the soul. It jolts you at all the right places and calms you at others – that perfect balance of love and fist like in those perfect romances! And we all thought that ‘Lucid’ would have no rivals!

The sixth – Axioma is the brutalicious maiden who will continue to seduce with a gun pointed at your head. It’s heavy, it’s ravishingly lovely and surprising in its delicateness of expression and it is totally badass. Needless to say, we are in love with it.

One of my favourite shots of the trio singing "Let the Wolves come and lick thy wounds"

The seventh track of the album, “Let the wolves come and lick thy wounds” (‘not your spoons, your wounds’ as Suresh would say) was one that I had waited impatiently ever since I heard of it first. Mainly because I was swept right off my feet by the collaboration of Sanjeev Niles and Suresh de Silva in ‘Cadence of your tears’ – a dark, deep and soothing lullaby that pierces to your core and lights you up (and it appears that I still haven’t finished gushing about that piece), and was curious to see what this duo (plus Chrishantha de Silva of Salvage of course) would conjure up this time. And also because we heard the piece performed once and despite the technical glitches in sound that day, I knew that this was going to be good. And I was right! (again, I’m psychic and therefore, awesome).

The track starts off with a mélange of Flamenco (?) guitar and Sri Lankan drums which gives way to an angelic chorus by the Soul Sounds choir and the mood is set for a peaceful and calming musical repose. But no! The chorus suddenly and abruptly gives way to the deep, dark, reverberating voices of not one, but all three of the trio singing (rather deliciously bellowing) the chorus of the song. The punch it delivers hits you at the top of the head and drills down to the pit of your stomach, with irregular intervals and jarringly unexpected twists and turns keeping you on your feet right throughout. The deep baritone of Sanjeev is unmistakable in this while the voices of Suresh and Chrishantha spring forth from within its depths and embrace your ears with a power that is truly enthralling. This is a track that is ingenious in every way and a collaboration (for we know that not all collaborations turn out gold) that was done just about right.

The eighth and the closing opus of the album is a 13 minute long monster that is varied, vivid and valiant in its projection. The 13 minutes in itself is like a grand epic with morsels of melody, spectacular sweeps of guitar wizardry and tenacious punches of brutality that leaves your  head spinning (in a really good way). It’s somewhat of a magician’s hat – each time you listen to it, you discover something new and the charmingly bizarre fact is, the same can be said about the album itself. If ever there was a grand finale to a grand album such as The Ascetic Paradox, this would most definitely be it. 

A special note on the lyrics of the album which were delivered to us in a mind-frying little booklet within the CD itself. The words speak to that part of you that not everybody can speak to and the imagery they evoke pulse ever so savagely – like the heart of a great mysterious beast in tune to the rhythms they are set to. They dance around you in this frenzy that is almost psychedelic, blurring the lines between fantasy, reality and mythology. Each imagery leads the way to another more powerful one with brilliant play on words, clever juxtapositions and metaphors that make you stop and think and once put together, make your heart skip a beat. This is poetry, storytelling and that intrinsic rhythm in language combined together in that signature disjointed Stigmata vibe. The booklet is more of a miniature poetry collection rather than an album booklet, handed to us with text arranged in vertigo-inspiring spirals, curves and arcs within it. We believe that the frontman/lyricist has really outdone himself this time.

Respect for a band that has held it together tight and awesome for 15 years
Here is an album that delivers hit after hit after hit of pure Sri Lankan uniqueness. Here is an album that has been carefully thought out and planned out that there are no loose ends. Here is an album that transcends boundaries and laughs at established rules – which in itself is no great shock for if ever there was a band that broke all possible rules and lived, rather thrived and rejoiced to tell the tale, that would be Stigmata. Here is an album into which the very essence of the band had been poured and here is an album that truly portrays how much the boys have evolved over the past 15 years. And it's pretty bloody impressive. 

An apt manner of celebrating 15 years of Pure Sri Lankan originality wouldn’t you say?

It would be uncharacteristic of the foodie in me to not compare something this good to some kind of a food so I would say that this album to me is like Sri Lankan Love cake – piquant and spicy delivering kick after kick, sinfuliciously sweet and fragrant, absolutely flavoursome with surprises and discoveries at each single bite, so very addictive that you can never have enough and essentially, very much Sri Lankan.

Also, I think a huge shout out should also go out to whoever had been instrumental in putting together this monumental album and the monumental launch that went with it. I do not know in detail what went on behind the curtains, but from what we have seen and what we have experienced during the launch, the amount of work and dedication that went into it is very much apparent. Everything went like a well-oiled machine - no glitches anywhere, at least nothing that we noticed and an event of such behemothic proportions does not get organized by itself. So here's to the folk behind the curtains, under the tables and beneath the stage - no more than an army of friends and followers who had gathered around the group over the years, brought together by the power of their music.

This much love and this much devotion! The band may not be making millions selling their records (for now), but in our eyes, they are a very rich bunch, blessed with unfathomable treasures.   

If you missed out on the 17th October gig, know that you’ve missed out on something momentous, a chance of witnessing history in the making. BUT as it happens, the guys have got quite a few CD’s and goodies still left, so the good news is, if you wanted to experience this brutal beauty by yourself, you still can! Only a few premium packs containing the album, poster, card pack, fridge magnet/coaster, guitar pick and shot glass are left, so if you want them you better hurry up. Contact them on their website or on the Facebook group to reserve your CD or merchandise – and I must now, at the danger of sounding like an advertisement say you can’t afford to miss out on these for 2 reasons - 
1) this is something that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who appreciates not only good music but a good piece of art in general
2) these guys don’t produce these goods on a mass scale so once they run out, they have run out for those who want a slice of this pièce de résistance extraordinaire, better grab them now. 

There is art that is borne out of commercial necessity and then there is art that is born out of the necessity of the soul to create something beautiful - anyone can feel the difference. While many albums have been known to shine momentarily with borrowed light and fade away into nothingness eventually, The Ascetic Paradox shows the world the difference between the two in rising above the rest and shining with its own luminosity. The Lady recommends this sublime experience highly. Because she believes that everybody deserves a touch of beauty, a peek into the divine every once in a while.
...and then there's the family picture 
     *Disclaimer - all pictures in this post (except the one with the merchandise) were sourced from the band's page which in turn were posted there by various individuals. The creative rights of the photos belong solely to them.    


Dash said...

Sounds awesome. Where can we get the album?

Hashi said...

Saw the preview, wanted to catch the show but missed :(