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CD Review: Motherjane / Maktub

Motherjane – Maktub / Independent 2008

1. Chasing The Sun (4:28)
2. Fields Of Sound (4:42)
3. Broken (4:06)
4. Blood In The Apple (5:17)
5. Ode To Life (1:10)
6. Maktub (5:26)
7. Mindstreet (6:13)
8. Before One Million Becomes One (3:58)
9. Karmic Steps (5:41)

– Suraj / vocals
– Baiju / lead guitar
– John / drums
– Clyde / bass
– Deepu / rhythm guitar

Time to introduce Motherjane, the jewel in the crown of India’s heavier music scene. They were formed in 1996 in Cochin, Kerala and have the prestige of being the first band of it’s kind from the region. Ever since I came to India I’ve been following the music scene here with an eye out as to when the local rock messiah will arrive. Sadly there never really has been an infrastructure or even interest in India to support an indigenous band culture and facilitate that happening. But I hope that is about to change.

There have been exceptions to the rule like Indus Creed that started in the early eighties in Bombay as a cover band called Rock Machine. After many years of playing cover songs they were eventually signed by CBS in 1989 and launched India’s first original rock record called Rock ‘n’ Roll Renegade that same year. (Of which I would love to get a vinyl copy by the way… anyone?) The album became very popular among college students in the big cities and was quite a commercial success.  Unfortunately the band eventually broke up in mid nineties without any real successor and record companies went back to sleep as far as searching for and nurturing band talent goes. But who knows, maybe the seed was planted after all.

In the early nineties MTV came to India creating a demand for heavier forms of music among the youth, a trend which continues until today. If you are from the west you would be surprised at how high metal music charts in India with many big names reaching number one. Kids are more and more into heavy metal all over India and because of the internet also very well versed in what’s going on globally. In fact I was introduced to many of the present day bands from Finland by Indian students from our local university. I’ve even seen Opeth t-shirts on the streets of Cochin these days, something I would not have believed ten years back.

If you’ve had a chance to the see the documentary Global Metal by directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, you will probably remember that there is a section in it about India also. I will later review the documentary focusing specifically on the sections about Asia. Whether one likes it or not, we’re dealing with a global subculture which has only kept growing since the eighties and is not about to go away. It would be a worthy undertaking for someone to study its impact on the youth among Asian and other non-European cultures. Sam Dunn’s documentary is the first step down that road.

But let’s get back to Motherjane and their place in the scheme of things. By the time I came across Motherjane’s debut album Insane Biography in 2001, I had almost given up hope that I would ever witness the emergence of a world class metal/rock act from India but they managed to give me new hope right off the bat. They sounded so different from other efforts I had heard until then that I immediately felt that something was brewing with this outfit and have been following their career as far it has been possible ever since.

The only thing that left me slightly unsatisfied with their first release was the not so state-of-the-art production and soundscape, which I guess is not that unexpected given that there is no precedent to this type of sound engineering in India. It does not sound bad as such, in fact it is well recorded in many ways, but to my ears just does not sound deep and heavy enough in a way that would do justice to the band. I so wish I could swish these guys off to Finland and have someone like Mikko Karmila get on the knobs with his know-how. I’ve heard that Motherjane plans to re-record the album. If that is the case I’m waiting for the outcome with high hopes.

In 2008 the time was ripe for their sophomore album Maktub and with it the stakes were raised even higher, and it is this album that I want to talk about here. Whereas the first album looked towards progressive metal groups like Queensryche and Dream Theater for influences and had no Indian influence as such, with Maktub the band has opted for a new approach. Right from the start we have a distinctly Indian sound coming through and this gets my interest up immediately. This brings to mind what Sepultura did with their album Roots, which incorporates traditional Brazilian rhythms into the music and re-invented their approach. With Maktub I think this amazing group from Kerala has found their own unique sound.

The CD starts off with Chasing the Sun and Fields of sound, songs that sound like they were composed as a twin piece. Both have a distinctly Indian sound, closing in on what has been termed Raga Rock by some people. Mix into this some Iron Maiden influences and you are beginning to get the picture. The melodies are catchy and take off with such ease that I find myself wanting to pick up my bass and play along. Next we come to the softer piece on the album and it’s not a bad at all – Broken is a very touching song and definitely not just a filler. And that’s one thing about this album – every song has its place and is needed for the whole. At 41 minutes the CD is a bit short but I like short and sweet rather than long and drawn out.

Blood in the Apple is a bass lead, mid tempo, prog-rockish song with a great chorus and lots of imagination. After a short acoustic guitar, sitar and voice interlude Ode to Life we come to the title song Maktub, which starts slowly building on a middle-eastern scale creating an intriguing and slightly eerie atmosphere. Clyde plays nice stuff on the bass throughout the song as he does throughout the album in fact (I know, bass players always talk about bass players). Just when you think you know where things are headed the song breaks out into a Maiden-esque riff out of the blue and takes the song to the next level.

Then we have Mindstreet, a song which featured also on the debut album and is here re-recorded to fit the new sound but essentially still remains the same cool song it was in 2001 – which is a good thing. Before One Million Becomes One is a very original song that starts off with drums and bass whipping out a hectic riff and just keeps on getting more original and interesting all the way. Karmic Steps starts with a heavy riff that gives way to complicated syncopations and a feeling that these guys really know what it is they want to deliver. In anybody else’s hands this song would fall apart but here serves as great ending for a great album. Exhilarating!

All the guys in the band are outstanding musicians and listening to them is a joy. Suraj is an amazingly versatile vocalist completely on par with or even better than most internationally recognized singers. Motherjane certainly deserves all the fame they’ve garnered for themselves in India and hopefully they will get noticed in international circles also. So for any record company moguls out there – check this band out. If somebody does not pick these guys up soon I am going to be really angry and coming through your doors.

You can buy the album from the amazon.com powered store by clicking here.

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4 Responses to “CD Review: Motherjane / Maktub”

  1. Vikrant Dev says:

    A very well written article! 🙂

  2. sanu1992 says:

    i am really not surprised by this article because motherjane deserves it.they are the only band from here whose music has been played in international radio stations(mexican,japanese,).lastly good written article.please spread their everywhere you go. a die hard motherjane fan. peace,,.

  3. I feel I should say, I absolutely love this blog. Could you tell me how I can keeping up to date with it?

  4. Aneesh mathew says:

    I am 16 years old. I want to be a part of the future Motherjane.

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