Vajra – Irkalla Review

Irkalla is the ancient Mesopotaniam underworld, the shadow realm beneath. Vajra, led by the enigmatic Annamaria Pinna, is consumed by the cosmic and spiritual potential of music, drawn to the world beneath. Irkalla, Pinna’s first release as the figurehead of the band since 2012’s debut Pleroma, is the first in a trilogy. Supposedly, it represents the lowest level of consciousness. Pinna states that “it is the base, material, selfish, ego aspects of ourselves (i.e., the ego-driven, lie, cheat, steal, aspects of the self). It is the place that we must shine a light and acknowledge before we move to the next levels of awareness.” After confusing body/soul searching I opened my third eye to Irkalla. Following the band’s advice to light a candle (I could only find a mulled wine scented candle from Christmas) after midnight I listened to the record, enhancing my journey into the esoteric darkness of my soul. What I found, deep within, was dark.

Beyond the esoteric showmanship and overwhelming contextual information provided, Irkalla is a short jab of female-led modern rock with the occasional eastern melody and dark ambient interlude. Irkalla is short, weirdly short, sitting at just over twenty minutes. As a self-described “album,” Irkalla rises and quickly fades — a failed fireworks display in the rain. Annamaria Pinna’s vocals on the three conventional riff centered tracks are clean and expressive. She’s clearly an experienced vocalist who knows how to twist, turn, snap and caress with her vocal acrobatics. The instrumental backbone that supports her cosmic flaunt isn’t offensively bad. However, there is a sense of colorlessness and flatness here that’s hard to shake. Pinna’s vocals are processed to hell and back and the band behind her provides a watery base of alt-metal that carries only small amounts of muscle, nuance, and catchiness.

As a strong example, opener “Crown or Crucify” is a flowery, fret-board tapper that merely stutters and sputters. Over processed vocal lines dart in and out, as do “woah wooooa” male vocal responses, atop a grey and flat instrumental trickle. Fiery excitement following an end song explosion is quickly subdued. Follow up “Maya” is considerably better with meatier riffs and a more balanced saunter. Pinna’s vocals are more expressive as they ride the mid-range, channeling elements of Royal Thunder‘s stonery swagger. The potential of “Maya” is destroyed by the curdling effect of combining cliched Eastern elements — lazy hand drum rhythms aplenty — with banal rock crescendos in “Sever The Tie.” The rare melodic hook can’t save the track from falling theatrically.

Irkalla is made up of six tracks, three of which are dark ambient/cosmic meditation interludes akin to self-help CDs that litter New Age shops in affluent areas. There’s an attempt at channeling abstract darkness, an attempt at creating an engrossing, mind-bending world of meditative wonder, but ultimately these interludes are soulless and pseudo-deep at every level. “Irkalla” is a minute of basic piano and annoying buzzes; “Wavering” tries its best to channel airy noises through the gullet of a demonic whale, and closer “Wind” is a cheap trip through an Eastern-themed shop of horrors (with strange phone beeps added for flavor). The record as a whole stinks of holier-than-thou, spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Make sure you fork out for part two and three.

In reality, Vajra is flat and uninspiring. There is no weaving tapestry of intricate melodic rock and dark ambient experimentation. There is no perceptual opening of a hidden realm as a result of this eye-opening work of art. There are only sickly and overindulgent vocals, melodies, and structures that fail to reach the level of bands like Flyleaf and Evanescence and hackneyed attempts at integrating lively Eastern music into an alt-metal (“Sever The Tie”) corpse. Twenty-twenty-one might, somehow, be worse than the cosmic shitshow that was 2020. If I was to follow the motto “start as you mean to go on” I may never rise again. Perhaps Vajra‘s higher level dark rock is imperceptible; perhaps I am just not open enough to appreciate the intricacies of this dense first record in a trilogy. On to the next — it’s going to be interesting.

Rating: 1.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Thunder Cult Records
Releases Worldwide: January 15th, 2021

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