Retro-spective Review: Wicked Maraya – Cycles

Wicked Maraya // Cycles
Label: Mausoluem Records
Released: 1994

wicked-maraya-cycles-1994-front-cover-94562When I do these little retro-reviews, I try to find albums that really had a lot to offer, but somehow never caught the public’s attention. Be it bad marketing, poor timing or short band life, there’s always a reason why a high-quality album slips through the cracks into oblivion. Perhaps no better example exists than Wicked Maraya and their debut album Cycles. Steel Druhm’s clinical diagnosis here is one of terminally poor timing. While Cycles sported a winning and catchy-as-fuck traditional heavy metal sound that strikes me as a darker, edgier, more proggy Queensryche mixed with  Crimson Glory and Nevermore, it arrived at the very height of the Seattle grudge explosion where everything metal was forced back underground after a decade of prominence and popularity. Ironically, the Seattle sound has a muted presence on the album in the vocals and way some of the material uses a groove-based, downcast vibe and while that should have garnered them more attention, it didn’t. What Cycles offers is an album full of grim, depressive metal like what Queensryche went for on parts of Rage for Order (think “I Dream in Infra-Red” and “Screaming in Digital”), but this is much darker and more ominous. The song-writing is top-notch and every single track has a big hook that brings you back for more.

Cycles operates in a weird limbo between minimalist, stripped-down aesthetics and power prog ideas. Most songs have really basic, usually mid-tempo riffs with the powerhouse vocals of Lou Falco layered on top in interesting and unusual ways. Tracks like “Another Day” have a heavy, dirgey vibe which Falco makes eerie and gripping with his slightly schizophrenic performance. The chorus is quite memorable and the whole sound is engagingly grim. Things get even darker and more convincing during “Jacob’s Dance” which has a real Alice in Chains feel to the vocals along with some proggy, Queensryche-esque riff ideas. “Resurrection” starts life as a downcast ballad before erupting into a big, emotional song loaded with big vocals, while “Face in the Mirror” has a big chorus that pops seemingly out of nowhere amid heavy riffing.

wicked-marayaOther winners include the very Operation Mindcrime-like “Watching Over“, the Nevermore influenced rage of “Alone” where Falco approximates Warrel Dane’s all-over-the-place vocals and the herky-jerky tempo shifts and interesting guitar work in “Winter’s Garden.” All the songs work in one way or another and the Alice in Chains vocal harmonies pop up on several tracks and always sound good.

While the riffs by Dan Malsch and Michael Iadevaio are often understated and simple, they also include more elaborate, fluid and melodic flourishes and the solos are often quite beautiful. The guitar tone is dialed down and has a lot of heft and punch, which is surprisingly effective on the more melodic numbers. Lou Falco has a huge presence on the album and his voice explodes all over the songs in the same way Geoff Tate’s did on the early Ryche albums. He isn’t as talented as Tate was (yes, I used past tense), but he has a lot of power and a certain roughness to his delivery that really works on the generally somber, unhappy material. His ability to sound creepy and menacing is also a huge asset and makes some of the songs way edgier than they would be with a cleaner singer.

Though the band later released two follow-up albums under the shortened name Maraya, they were in a more watered-down, alternative style and nowhere near as good. This is their masterwork and legacy, and as such, it’s a mighty good one.  In the last year or so there have been rumors of their first ever, never-released Lifetime in Hell album finally being released. If it bears any resemblance to this gem, I would grab it up in a heartbeat. While we await such developments, fans of the darker moments of Queensryche and Nevermore should track this album down. It’s a true diamond in the rough and it has aged surprisingly well. Support obscure and forgotten metal!

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