|Avial – Debut Album / Phat Phish 2008
I’ve delayed far too long in writing about this folk-rock outfit. It is beginning to look like Kerala is a real breeding ground for original artists. Avial has already convinced audiences in the state since 2003 but now during the last year or two they have really broken out and made their presence known nationwide. Hopefully soon even outside India.
Long gone are the days when bands in India only played cover songs by English and American bands. More and more groups shed forth powerful music in regional languages. The fact that Avial has chosen Malayalam as their medium is a brave choice and one that ultimately separates them from the pack.
Present on this album are lots of folk influences ingeniously fused and sidelined with progressive rock and electronica flavors. Lead vocalist Tony John is a versatile turntable-wallah along with a firm grasp of Malayali folk traditions and even metal fans will finds something in this dish as the heavier riffs are rolled out by Rex Vijayan, who has been previously associated with Kerala Progressive Metal band Motherjane.
Possibly the only hurdle to be overcome for a listener unacquainted with South-Indian languages is the folksy use of Malayalam, which to the uninitiated might sound slightly overcrowded with syllables. I would suggest overcoming this by thinking in terms of rhythmic scat vocals rather than the normal English pop idiom. Once you get the hang of it an irresistible charm reveals itself.
I can sense many influences on this versatile album. Along with Malayali traditional music, the echoes of Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Led Zeppelin, Weather Report, Porcupine tree and even Opeth come to my mind. But these guyss are no copycats, and without liking any of the above one can fully appreciate Avial’s music.
Nada Nada is their first song to break forth into the awareness of the music listening public. The first melody line already compels the listener to keep at it and see what treasures might unfold further on. The song is hypnotic and drives forward without too many gimmicks. A good kick off that does not get too esoteric to deter the listener from venturing further.
Next comes Chekele, which is another dense and folksy Malayalam syllable fest. If I’m not mistaken it’s a traditional Kerala folk song re-arranged. The third song Nijan Aara is a different animal altogether. Starting off slowly, then raising some heavy riff-tides reminiscent of Porcupine Tree’s later material, and then once again descending into more subdued shades. The balancing of the song really works.
Arikuruka promises right from the start to be progressive and full of imagination. Something ecstatic is in the air once the funk and psychedelia pick up. The musicianship on this album is nothing short of astonishing.
Aranda is the mid-tempo powerhorse at the center of the album with some old school riffs, a slow middle part, and punky vocals.
Karukara begins with a dub/electronica feel embellished with sitar-guitar and female vocals. The song is prog-rock through and through with slow pop, metal, folk, jazz… you name it. It strikes me here that parts of Avial remind me of early period King’s X , a band I like very much. I’m not sure if the band would site King’s X as an influence but especially the first three albums bear some resemblance of distant kinship.
Aadu pambe is a fast folk-rock piece with a banjo happily fiddling aside heavy distorted guitar. It’s upbeat and energetic and must be great fun live for both band and audience. Ending the album is Ettam Pattu, a multilayered song that could almost be a power ballad if not for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers like surprises strewn across. Once over, there is no other way other than to pause, ponder what just happened, and set the needle back to the start.
This release is brave from both the band and record company for the Indian market. It is because of collaborations like these that Indian music takes leaps and bounds into the future.
I find the artwork so refreshingly original as opposed to most of the posing seen today that I have included some of it here. Very folksy and Naïve, and fits the bands rural roots like a glove.
There have been intimations of a new release soon by Avial. It will be exciting to see where they go from here.
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