Jan 18, 2010

A new shade of anger: Azha Usou

Artiste: Azha Usou
Album: The Last Serenade
Genre/Style: Post-Goth, Melodic Death
Producer/Studio: Alfred Besu/
Clef Ensemble, Kohima
Rating: Must-Have

Sub-genres of elemental Progressive Metal music such as Symphonic Goth, Melodic Death Metal and Classical Avangarte remain the most complex, yet the most elegant forms of metal. No wonder, their optimized form of expression and eclecticism has found comparative association with proper Classical and even Jazz (in this case, in terms of appropriation) – no surprise that elemental metal inextricably revolves around Classical adaptations. From Epica to Ominum Gatherum, Lacuna Coil to Sonata Arctica, Luca Truilli to Apocalyptica, and Dream Theater to Virgin Black – the touch of classicist intervention.

That’s the problem actually: The badge of honor elemental rock wears has also definitely inspired insufferable bastard genres – those so-called “emo” and “scremo” from Punk kids who cannot tell apart Death Metal from Sludge Grunge music (read Nagaland). Naturally, when former Black Rose frontman Azha Usou’s ‘The Last Serenade’ was handed to me promising of a totally unique, serious experience, I was like, ‘yeah, yeah, sure whateva.’

I decided to review ‘The Last Serenade’ for two reasons: (i) The album is a pointer to Naga musicianship getting more serious and (ii) The album certainly qualifies – at least partially – with the elemental metal tag (say post-Goth Melodic Death Metal) – a genre no Naga musician has put to production, not in this magnitude at least.

Let’s try the Gothic sensibilities. The Last Serenade’s intro, ‘Silent Footsteps’ is a beautifully bleak 1-minute violin foray reminiscent of Epica. Was I astounded at what the prelude led into: ‘Embrace your End’ is one of the most exquisite Goth intermissions I’ve ever listened to (Trust me, Mr. D. Thomas, I own more than 4,000 albums of the Power/Goth/Prog/Symphonic Metal genre alone, and I’m not bragging). With vocals even Dani Filth would grin in bloody glee, this song is woven exclusively around a mosaic of delicately mourning violin intermissions; grieved appeals of Azha. (Curiously my current playlist has Epica’s ‘Run for the Fall’ and Therion’s ‘Son of the Sun.’ The similarity notwithstanding) EYE is definitely too beautiful even to be Goth. Awesome.

‘Transcendentalism’ is more of a Progressive Metal staple in the vein of Spock’s Beard-meets-Winger. The guitar interludes are amazing – flowing, unpretentious and subtle but as vigorous as any Power Prog fan would like it to be. I had some problem with the voice mastering though – too much reverb? The vocal was more cultured in EYE. Otherwise ‘Transcendentalism’ is a huge leap into what power rock purists call ‘Collateral Phrase’ – a sense of Art where it was not intended. Another winner.

I wasn’t surprised when ‘Melodic Wrath’, as the name sufficiently suggested, came on – a very harmonious piece of Melodic Death Metal. Just one issue here: those “drums” are percussion Pre-sets; you can take my word that no metal download website will take it – it sounds like a video game demo in MIDI. (Or perhaps I’m too spoilt and fussy after listening to Siberian prog band Alogia. Alogia’s sublime album ‘Secret Spheres of Art,’ I should say, has refreshed my sensibility about tonal craftsmanship!) Aside from the Pre-sets, I loved ‘Melodic Wrath.’ A slab of fast, aggressive but melodic metal, any mosher would love.

Sigh. I don’t know why Naga musicians also wear wrong dress combos? Are Naga rockers so insecure that they are so desperate to prove their mettle as masters of every style? Or perhaps, you wanna please Everybody and his first cousin, Everyone. Oh gosh, after the wonderful string of elegance, Azha Usou does Funk Blues in ‘HoneyJane’ and an equally ugly technoish ‘Pretty Woodstock Baby.’ Look, I love Jimi Hendrix, Pandit Harishchandrasen, Pink Martini and Bill Vaughan. Even the Trance experiments of Omen I listen to. But when Goth metal songs are suddenly attacked by maudlin, mushy, nonsensical peppy numbers in the like of the Lady Gagas and those Boy things, the firing squad’s services are needed. Don’t forget: Children of Bodom nearly lost its entire Norway fanbase when it did a “death metal” version of…yuck…Britney Spears’ ‘Oops I did it again’ all in the name of musical artistry. Gosh.

But rejoice, Azha Usou and his horde regain their composure from the temporary idiocy with ‘Endless Screams,’ a white hot slab of avant-garde Melodic Prog reminiscent of Symphony X’s ‘Lies of the World.’ ‘Endless Screams’ is now among my Tops. I’m amazed Azha managed this awesome bit after the insufferably stupid two songs earlier. Wonderful guitar arrangements, no drum Pre-sets (no proper rock song is a rock song if without real, live and kicking acoustic drums!).
And did I mention a number called ‘Broken Rose’? I listen to everything from Jim Morrison to Jimmy Vaughan, Joan Baez to Dylan, Methanelie to Theja Meru but ‘Broken Rose’ is a half-baked Blues idiocy. Quit fooling around, guys.

Thankfully, ‘The Last Serenade’ and ‘Goodnight Dad’ follow the fine Classicism of ‘Embrace Your End’, although purely instrumental in violin and a high-head or two. One may even find nuances of Guilliani or Luca Truilli in them, but the Goth influence is clear in the mournful passages. Beautifully crafted pieces.

I am convinced that Azha’s ‘The Last Serenade’ is the sign of a new generation of Naga musicians who not only want to do good originals, but also are unafraid to be artistic. Other than the three hiccups, this album is a Must-Have for all serious rock fans. Congratulations Azha, you just broke new ground.

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