Vajra - Pleroma Review

By Sam Graham

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking ‘how on earth do I pronounce that?’ and the answer is this:  shut up and listen to the damn thing!  It’s in your best interests to listen to it as this 4-piece from New York certainly know their stuff.

From the opening note of the opening track Inside the Flame, the eastern influences are abundant and it honestly took me by such a surprise that I was instantly hooked.  They know how to create a sense of atmosphere as that opening note is underneath the music for the entire song.  Vajra’s Vocalist Annamaria Pinna immediately stands out as something that should be heard.  Her voice goes through all the ranges on this album: soft and delicate, to sharp and powerful.  The first hint of this is as the song hits a crescendo in the final minute, her voice goes up and up until it’s just impossible to ignore.

Now, I don’t know much about eastern rock/metal, so I’m taking this as my first venture.  Honestly, they give the genre a good name.  The second track Almost One is haunting.  Haunting to the very marrow of my bones.  It’s like if Silent Hill met Jim Steinman.  Again, Pinna is the focal point of the music, but for this song, all the members are in such a perfect unison.
Speaking with all my English charm, Almost One is bloomin’ marvellous.

Resisting the urge to put the album back one and listen to Almost One on repeat all day, the third track, entitled India again teases the senses with the sense of mysticism and dread brought on by some keyboards, also by Pinna, is a sort of interlude.  It’s foreboding sound parallels the feeling of  the other two tracks and not only mixes up the formula, but begs the question: just what’s going on to this band that they produce music like this?

A sitar!  Finally a sitar!  I suppose they had to get one in there somewhere, being a blend of eastern and western music and all.  I do love a good sitar, but that’s beside the point.  Blind is far angrier than anything so far, more so in the music than the lyrics.  Blind has a long interlude and it’s about this point where I started thinking a guitar solo wouldn’t go amiss, but instead, the song busts out some frantic drum patterns (played by Blake Fleming of the Mars Volta) to make the chorus seem all the more convoluted.  It’s strange and I can’t decide whether it works or not.  It muddies up the music, but for a prog band something like this is normal…

Intuition sparks what I have come to know as the mid-album pool.  Albums start and end that strongly that the tracks in the middle come off as a bit flat and this track is this album’s.  While it’s all OK, it’s only OK.  Nothing stands out as being exceptional.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing at fault, but…  It’s just a little flat when put next to say Almost One or Blind.

At first I thought Erode the Will was going to be the same, but the chorus is such a saving grace.  It’s heavy, and it’s the first song on the album that I was able to get a nice headbang to.  This is rock and roll after all.  During Erode…’s interlude Pinna’s vocal style outright jumps from soft and almost bedside to sharp and venomous.  It took me by surprise and I had to rewind it to listen to it again and again.  It was cool!
3.14 opens with some bells (on keyboard) both high and low and brings back that dark atmosphere from the opening tracks.  As the verse leads into the chorus and the guitar (by Will Dahl) changes from clean to distorted, I thought ‘that’s more like it!’ and as quick as it comes it’s gone.  Teasing, leading you on back into the soft verses and the bells that give it that extra push over the cliff.

See Through You.  Honestly, this is one of the best intros that I’ve ever heard.  Everything is right where it should be.  The guitar is soft and almost mournful, the vocals come in just at the right spot, each instrument is light enough to not overpower another and then it gets heavy and that is- for this song- a bad thing.  The distorted guitar just destroys all the emotion that the first verse had built up.  It does recover though, so don’t worry.  Something cool happens in the interlude: there’s a pretty metal riff going on, on the guitar while Turtle Jon plays some table.  It’s hard to describe, but it starts at 3:39, so give it a listen.  You’ll like it.

I’m not going to lie.  I have no idea what an Akkord Pleromy is, so I google’d it.  It means Mystic Chord.  And this long instrumental piece certainly hit the nail on the head there.  Definitely ones for atmosphere, Akkord Pleromy definitely adheres to the eastern side of the bands influences.  I can’t say much for it as a rock tune, but it makes excellent background music.  I went and made a cup of tea while listening to it and it was the eeriest brew I’ve ever made.  It’s like a musical odyssey, akin to the phantasmagorical works of MC Escher, Lewis Carroll, or at the lesser extent, if you really must, Tim (ugh) Burton.

The final track on Pleroma, entitled The Apple comes in rather suddenly off the tail of Akkord Pleromy and is the album’s longest, at nearly eight and a half minutes.  Given the ups and downs so far, I had high hopes for this track.
It’s alright.
For the first half it’s a fairly standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus affair, and the second half is a fairly standard interlude-choruses affair.  It’s not a bad song; it’s just that with all that time they had room for something dynamic and progressive, and what I got was a really long chorus section that was a bit boring after a while.

So that’s Pleroma, and as you can see it’s a bit of a mixed bag with some absolute diamonds in there.  While the music has some truly stimulating moments, it can feel bogged down here and there.  The actual quality of the recording is phenomenal.  Second to none.  In fact some high credits are attached to this album.  It was engineered by Sylvia Massy who has worked all over the board, from Green Jelly to Tool and Sunk Anansie, and Blake Fleming formerly of The Mars Volta takes the drums for live gigs.  In short there’s as much talent around the band as there is within.

Pleroma is a strong album.  Vajra should be proud.  Some of the tracks weren’t my cup of tea, but most really were.  Aside from the niggles, I’d definitely recommend this album.

Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five):  \m/  \m/  \m/  \m/