Destined to be one of the weirdest releases of the year, the obscure but fascinating New York act Wicked Maraya resurfaces after 18 years in the ground. Flash back to 1994: The upstart band drops their Cycles debut at a critical time for metal. The Seattle grunge revolution was well underway and metal had lost the limelight – forcing a slow, inexorable retreat back to the rancid underground. Cycles was very much the product of that tenuous era as the band tried to synthesize these opposing musical approaches into something new and exciting. They actually achieved it too, with material sounding like a tortured, conflicted cross between Alice in Chains downer rock and power-prog like Queensrÿche and Nevermore, all cloaked in a dark, unstable atmosphere. It’s a brilliant little gem of an album that somehow slipped through the cracks and became a cut out bin staple, though it deserved a far better fate. In the aftermath, the band changed their name to Maraya and released two grunge-friendly platters lacking the edgy creativity so prevalent on Cycles. Then they called it a day and drifted into oblivion.
Though the band was history, rumors abounded of an unreleased album recorded prior to Cycles, but it never surfaced and it seemed unlikely it ever would. Until now that is. To commemorate the band’s recent reformation they’re finally releasing their long-lost album, Lifetime in Hell, which was recorded way back in 1991 by Jim Morris at his now famous Morrisound Studios. Lifetime also features 2 brand new cuts showcasing the band’s 2016 sound. Talk about a strange history lesson, eh?
Stylistically, the older material sounds like an angrier, grittier version of their 1994 era and many of the elements that made Cycles so good are here in a rudimentary, unrefined form. However, the grunge influence is all but gone since the Seattle explosion had yet to fully take form in 91, and this robs the songs of the oddball split personality present on their defining works. Opener” Sounds of Evil” comes pretty close to their classic sound and Lou Falco’s piercing vocals and a catchy chorus conspire to sell the simplistic song well. The title track manages to blend dirty, groove-based riffing with proggy traces of Rage for Order era Queensrÿche and while it’s rough and unpolished, you can hear they’re onto something with potential.
“Tomorrow’s Child” sounds like a car wreck between White Lion, Ugly Kid Joe and Queensrÿche and though it works after a fashion, it’s amateurish in execution and the chorus of “can you hear the cry of the children” is just a wee bit cringe-worthy. “Crash and Burn” sounds like David Wayne era Metal Church if they tried to get more radio play, and “River Runs Black” mixes interesting musical concepts into a simple and generic take on early 90s metal. The best song is “Johnny” which has a vague Alice in Chains vibe to the vocal harmonies (this one would go on to get a minor nip and tuck and appear on Cycles). Other numbers like “Seizure” and “The Calling” never really achieve lift off and get bogged down in repetitive riffing, though both features interesting musical moments.
The 2 new songs are respectable, with “Fall From Grace” sounding like the 1994 era, but mellowed by the passing decades. Lou Falco’s voice has held up quite well though he skips the higher register wailing he was known for back in the day. “Suicidal Dawn” is slower and more brooding, keeping their core sound but adding a Staind mixed with Black Album Metallica vibe. These tracks leave me interested in hearing a full album from the reformed unit, and that’s a victory for any act coming off such a monumental layoff.
Though the band is entirely competent and at times verging on brilliant, there’s a lot of roughness to their sound on older tracks and they clearly weren’t yet the slick song writers they’d become on Cycles. Falco’s vocals are a little wild and he over-utilizes his piercing screams, at times making them annoying. Dan Malsch and Michael Iadevaio bring an aggressive riffing style to the table and some of the songs verge on speed metal (“Blackout”), but those interesting proggy-touches are already showing through and giving the music more depth (their playing owes a lot to Queensrÿche‘s DeGarmo and Wilton). You can definitely hear the band zeroing in on a winning style and that makes even the lesser songs cooler to experience in hindsight.
Alas, after waiting the better part of 20 years to hear this “lost” album, it functions better as a historic oddity than something essential in 2016. If you’re one of the few that discovered and loved Cycles, you’ll definitely appreciate unearthing the roots of that album’s sound. If not, you’d be better off starting with that defining opus. Welcome back guys, it’s been a long, long New York minute.