Album Review: AMOGH SYMPHONY Vectorscan
Trying to accurately describe what Amogh Symphony sounds like to someone who has never heard any works from the group is near impossible. While it's easy to say some bands cover a lot of genres in their music, saying that about Amogh Symphony is kind of like saying space is pretty big- a blatant understatement. The group has put out two albums to date, those being 2009's Abolishing the Obsolete System and 2010's The Quantum Hack Code, which tell interwoven stories through narration and song title and almost come off as a screenplay at times. Amogh Symphony has figured out how to make that works as a sound and it has worked beautifully so far. So how do you top an excellent record like The Quantum Hack Code? By ramping up the insanity to several million miles off the chart and making it work as a coherent album. You have never heard anything like Vectorscan and there will never be anything like Vectorscan ever again. I promise you that.
Before we dive headfirst into the musical masterpiece that is Vectorscan, let's take a quick look at the concept of the album which the band so kindly provided to me.
"Vectorscan is about the cosmic war between positive forces and negative forces of darkness in nano and pico level of matter of composition. Time is 'Kaliyuga.' Osir, with his forces of darkness taught men how to build an empire, how to balance with politics and how to fight for superiority. Corporates, Medicine industries, Political leaders….everything under control of Osir’s shapeshifters in visible forms. Karna, with his army of 'Satyuga,' trying to make a chain of humans with strongest spiritual forms to destroy the forces of Kaliyuga."
Keep in mind this is then followed by eleven pages of screenplay, which accurately describes, song by song, what is going on and all the pertinent information alongside dialogue and locations. If there's ever been an album that has been meticulously planned out in terms of musical moods and the conveyance of a story, it's Vectorscan. Think of the album in terms of the soundtrack to a movie you're not seeing.
Right from the odd, bleak thumping get go of "Desolate" and into the following track "Junaki, Osinaki. Dhumuha, Saki," it's becomes immediately obvious Vectorscan is not going to be your typical listen. While the former track provides a backdrop of things to come, the latter expresses moods through a slew of traditional eastern instrumentation and vocal work overtop instrumentally heavier music. The beauty of the marriage in that particular song, and throughout the entire record, is there's not a clash going on. One mood isn't fighting the other to gain prominence. If the melody is being carried by something unconventional, there's a proper backing for it. If the music gets heavier or takes a turn where certain instruments might not fit, then they're just not there… or they're there and the mood is altered ever so subtly that it's almost inhuman to think someone could have written that way.
I've brought up instrumentation quite a few times now, so let's take a look at the lineup and who plays what. Just so you can get a better sense of the deep, deep level of "experimental" I have been referring to when trying to accurate frame Vectorscan. You've got the core three musicians of the group, who are Vishal J. Singh on electric and acoustic guitars, microtonal guitar, santoor-guitar hybrid, electric bass, synth guitar, Hawaiian and slide guitar, soundscapes, synth and electric piano, Andrey Sazonov on keyboards, piano, synth, microtonal guitars played with a bow, guqin-guitar hybrid, hangs, saxophone, harmonica, violin, accordion, tribal vocals and soundscapes, and Jim Richman simply making every other drummer and percussionist out there look like a one-dimensional dope who couldn't play their way out of a paper bag.
Oh, lest we not forget Shankar Das' microtonal trumpet, Vishal's mother Kasturi Singh singing traditional assamese vocals, as well as operatic and classical, Youri Raymond on baritone vocals / meditative chants, the Goregaon Detuned / Microtonal Brass Orchestra, Nikhil Nandakumar on the microtonal carnatic violin, Manas Chowdhary on additional microtonal and fretless bass and lyrics from Vishal's grandmother's Labanya Prabha Nath 1941 book of songs.
Does the insanity of the lineup and general unconventional nature of the instrumentation make for a great record? Absolutely not. Not without excellent writing, which fortunately Vectorscan has plenty of. One of my favorite tracks off the record, which you can hear below, is "1289, Voyeur Will Shine, Fight for Distinction, Evolution Is Mine." Listening to the song for the first time is a jarring experience, but it's telling of the record. The song encompasses sharply clean electric guitars, thudding bass notes seemingly climbing from the depths of hell itself, wispy, phantasmic synths, ominous orchestral work, echoing percussion and distorted vocals. Countering a song that seems to tell the tale of a world ending is the closer "Onamika," which is much more straightforward and relies on only a few instruments and sections to end this particular chapter of the story.
Where Amogh Symphony goes next is entirely unclear, but with Vectorscan under their belts there's a very, very slim chance they'll be unnoticed to the masses for much longer. With a record this experimental, this chaotic, it seems as though it would be widely praised as one of the better records of the year and held in high regard as how to play with sound and composition for the next period of time, or discarded as noise.
I'm going with the latter- Vectorscan is a stroke of genius.