When I crossed paths with Kartikeya’s Mahayuga for the first time, I wasn’t impressed at all because this wasn’t the kind of music I was usually listening to back then. Now, a few years later, things have changed quite a bit and so has my perception of music. After listening to Nevid’, one of Roman Iskorostensky’s other involvements, for a good deal since the release of Agarta, plus having been impressed with Arsafes’ debut album as well, it was a close shot giving the album at hand another try. And this album certainly is worth it.
Besides Kartikeya’s obvious intention of mixing melodic black/death metal with Middle Eastern (Indian) influences, this album in particular deals with vedic/hinduistic philosophical and mythological aspects (so the style of music can be called vedic metal), as is apparent in every song. But these lyrical aspects I’m going to treat more particularly later on, as they are quite essential for grasping this album’s meaning and, at least to me, very interesting as well.
Stylistically, Kartikeya’s music on this record can not only be described with the aforementioned attributes, as this album incorporates a huge amount of different influenced that are merged into a very individual blend. While the technical death and atmospheric black metal elements certainly dominate the whole guitar and percussion work, there also is a variety of atmospheric, acoustic and even ambient elements created by folk instruments, clean vocals and keyboards, but these are not isolated but in constant interaction with the rest of the songs’ guitar work, so they are not out of place but fit perfectly to the more aggressive parts and overall atmosphere. This keeps the songs from developing any ‘folksy’ character, any resemblance of that is usually blown away by the furious guitar riffs and vocals. In general, almost every song consists of interactions of these different stylistic means, with some exceptions like the acoustic interludes ‘Moksha’ and ‘Exile’ and the “description” of the ‘Satya Yuga’. And these constant interactions are what make this album so special, as the huge tension build up by the furious metal riffs is relieved by the atmospheric, sometimes almost meditative parts – and they are not arbitrary, but always in coherence with the topics the composer dwells upon!
In general, as Kartikeya (also known as Skanda and Murugan) is an Indian god of war, usually depicted holding a spear and riding a peacock, this aspect is surely reflected in the fast and furious metal parts, while the more spiritual themes are represented by the atmospheric ones, sometimes even maintaining the ritualistic, meditative character I already mentioned. Besides, many texts of hinduistic spiritual scriptures are about war, struggle, especially the Bhagavadgita (part of the epos Mahabharata), where the hero, Arjuna, asks for the reason why he has to fight a battle against his enemies’ army, while he even has close blood ties to them, and gets answers and spiritual guidance by an avatar of Krishna. I mention this not for the mere interest of mine, but as this particular battle is known as the Kurukshetra War, which is dealt with in the song ‘Fields of Kurukshetra’ (the title actually is a little redundant, as ‘Kurukshetra’ already means ‘the field of the Kurus’).
As much as I’d like to do that, I’m not going to give you a comprehensive interpretation of every song’s title and lyrics as well as its reflection in the music, as this would obviously break with the frames of a simple review. I’m only giving you a few examples and ideas of what this is about, because I think it is necessary to understand and to really listen to this album. It may make you realize WHY the musical arrangements are as they are. So, in sum, every song here treats some aspects of Vedism and/or Hinduism, but as this is a conceptual album, many of them can’t be understood without the others. For instance, the introductive song ‘Sarva Mangalam’ is based on a religious chant, its text meaning “May there be peace in earth, water, fire, and air, the sun, moon, and planet, in all living beings, in body, mind and heart. May that peace be everywhere and in everyone.“ One now could wonder where this album is peaceful in any way. But as it is often the case with religion or philosophy, this chant does not describe what IS, but what was or should be endeavoured. Surely, these words don’t describe our present world, but most of the following songs actually are or can be projected on nowadays circumstances and quests for meaning and wisdom. At least until ‘Utpavana’, where another, central topic starts to develop, that I simply have to grant some lines. Utpavana means ‘cleansing’, and can be interpreted as the cleansing of this planet considering morally and spiritually rotten mankind as ‘dirt’. In this context, the last lines of the lyrics “Hark! Thou shall be erased, for the great Utpavana has begun!” are quite clear, as is the following calm and peaceful ambient passage that is the bridge to the Mahayuga cycle, which is to me the central topic of this record. Mahayuga is one aspect of the Hindu units of time, having a duration of 4.32 Million solar years, being cyclic and thus repeating itself, and consisting of four Yugas (=ages), Satya, Dvapara, Tretya and Kali Yuga. This succession of the Yugas is characterized by a decline in human nature, usually symbolized by the goddess Dharma (herself symbol of morality), standing on four legs during Satya Yuga, on three during Dvapara Yuga, and so on. This development, these Yugas Kartikeya set into music within the last four songs of the album. That is actually why there are these calm, peaceful and harmonic ambient layers in ‘Satya Yuga’, the instrumental metal in ‘Dvapara Yuga’, the aggressiveness in ‘Tretya Yuga’ and the almost lunatic, erratic music in the last song, ‘Kali Yuga’, the age we presently live in, where “man kills each other”. This development is impressively depicted in the lyrics, for example with:
“See the father cry as the mother eats her child
Awaking an orgy of sacrilege and blight
See the genocide and bloodshed, raging armies rise
In the desecrated fortress of hatred and lies”.
But this last song is special in itself, as it consists of at least three parts. The first is the brutal, erratic one, out of which the quotation was taken. This part ends with the meditative Hare Krishna mantra. Then again an ambient structure sets in, before the final song, a cover of Shakira’s ‘Eyes like yours’ begins. A Shakira cover?, one might wonder. But I think it’s quite ingenious. Within the Kali Yuga it is said that there is a short return (10 thousand years) to the Golden Age (Satya Yuga), which is represented by the ambient passage that actually resembles the song Satya Yuga. After this ‘short’ period, the final time of Kali Yuga continues until the final cleansing. This last period (comparable to the present day, if you like to) is represented by covering a modern day popular music song (that even matches the album’s overall oriental tone) and the disturbing ambient final breath, before the cycle returns.
Now, to come to an end, there is nothing more to say that this album is amazing if you are into this kind of music and interested in the treated topics. The instrumental and vocal performances are very variable and professionally executed, so everything sounds the way it is supposed to, and one has the impression that the composer perfectly knew what he was doing. I can nothing but recommend you listening to this awesome piece of music, possibly giving it some time and thought! As an introduction, I can suggest listening to ‘He who carries the head of Brahma’ and ‘Surya Jayanti’, although I have a new favourite song with every listen. And I’ll definitely listen to this album again and again, while eagerly waiting for the following album, Samudra, that saw some unfortunate delays but seems to be in the final re-recording stages now.