I like reviewing underdogs. Every now and then you run into an album that seems to have everything against it, yet a nagging feeling remains that if they just do everything right, it might be lightning in a bottle. Enter Gaia, brainchild of young multi-instrumentalist Abhiruk Patowary from New Delhi. Like most countries between Europe and the Pacific, India is not widely known for its metal exports. Aerial is Patowary’s debut, signaling a possibly dangerous inexperience. Furthermore, it’s tagged progressive metalcore, and like a frustrating Scooby-Doo villain, the progressive part of that equation quickly reveals itself to be djent-based. And yet, admiring the artwork, thinking of how some bands like In Mourning make prog and metalcore work, and reminding myself some excellent djent-influenced prog came out last year, I resolved to expose Gaia to the unwashed masses, for good or ill.
Alas, it’s a pretty clear-cut victory for the ill here. A significant portion of the blame for this befalls Patowary’s selection of associates on the microphone. With three vocalists credited, I can not tell who sings what sections, but none come out unscathed. “Prism” is sung entirely with an unwelcoming breathy nasality, but its sequel “New Reality” takes it several steps further with a pinched, off-key performance, as if the perpetrator has come down with a terrible headcold. It’s soon clear that the metalcore genre tag is primarily based on the vocals, as the more energetic “Jehovah” is filled to the brim with a throaty half-growl so destitute in enunciation and dynamics he might well have sung the same 2 syllables across the entirety of the track. Huey, Dewey and Louie thus exchange duties throughout the album, sowing seeds of suck across the music and killing it before it blooms.
And it’s not like the potential for growth on Aerial is that of a sapling on a barren plain. Granted, this is far from adequate; the guitars over-rely on djenty syncopation, and the structural thread is frequently lost. But Patowary’s compositions have some solid ideas glimmering among the muck. Instrumentally, the album has as much in common with Voyager as it does with Periphery, procuring an overall bright tone and some genuinely good riffs and leads from the six strings when they aren’t drowning themselves in jerky djent. The drumming is similarly skillful, although the dosage shows inexperience. A quiet semi-ballad like “Prism” does not require more fills than a room full of Brann Dailors.
It’s too bad you have to go half deaf before hearing any of it. Not just from the vocalists, either; the production is simultaneously crushed within an inch of its life and completely scattershot. “Atlantis” is the worst offender at an abysmal DR2, but the more immediate headache goes to “Daisy Town” with its deafeningly squealing guitars driving icepicks into both ears. The mix doesn’t help either, as it can’t seem to make up its mind. Vocals and instruments go louder and quieter seemingly at random, adding to the nagging feeling of inconsistency.
The reasons Gaia is an underdog are the reasons it crashes and burns. Inexperience in production make it a migraine-inducing chore. Inexperience in composition make it messy and inconsistent, despite the few good ideas popping up hither and thither. And evidently, India must not have a large pool of metal vocalists to recruit from, because I sincerely hope this is not the best the country has to offer in the laryngeal department. Patowary’s project is not void of potential, honestly. But on Aerial, that potential is covered by a deep, deep layer of issues, and it’s just not worth digging through this amount of muck to get to the nuggets of inspiration lying so far beneath.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: September 20th, 2018