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Maharaja – Aviarium

by Gary Hernandez at 29 January 2023, 6:35 PM

If you were to pick up an album titled “Aviarium” by a band called MAHARAJA, it would be understandable if your expectation might be something like: “Modern Indian band that likes birds.” As you look more carefully at the cover art (by Nicholas Schukay) you might temper your expectations with “modern and somewhat twisted.” However, you would be disabused of those notions—except for maybe the “somewhat twisted’—upon listening to the first ten seconds of said album. Granted, seven of those ten seconds are distorted guitar feedback, but by the eleven second mark all doubt is dispelled. MAHARAJA is in fact a Sludge Metal trio from the US Midwest—Dayton, Ohio to be specific. “Aviarium” is their third release. That’s EP, LP, EP for those who are counting. Oh, and apparently, the band does focus on oriental legends and folklore, so there’s the Indian connection.

Aviarium” was released on December 9, 2022 on Seeing Red Records. It comprises four tracks but doesn’t clock out until a good 24 minutes. So, a hard-working EP, this one. How good you’re likely to think this album is depends on which angle you approach it from. If you’re into Sludge Metal or any of its cousins—e.g., Doom, maybe Stoner—you’re in for a treat. Actually, anyone into any subgenre of Extreme Metal will be able to appreciate aspects of MAHARAJA if not the whole package.

Unusual for a band, trio or otherwise, is that all three members provide vocal support. And those vocals come in clean and guttural—but not oscillating. If you prefer guttural, tracks one to three are for you. If you like clean, track four. Not unusual for a trio, the rhythm section is deadly. Bluebaum should be required to register all four of his strings as lethal weapons. Mangold, likewise, should be reported and monitored. While the first three tracks come at you quick and furious, in a sludgy type of way, “Ballad of the Flightless Bird” has a mean Prog vibe. And that’s where Bluebaum and Mangold come out to play. By far the best track on the album.

Thematically, the band says “the album is about our home, Dayton Ohio. Being inspired by real events as well as observational insight, the album converses drug addiction, murder, police violence, and the effects of living in a turbulent, depressing place . . . Each song has its own story, terrible and true." Which makes me want to find the lyrics sheet. And if you are wondering how sideways the Midwest could possibly get, I recommend Donald Ray Pollack’s The Devil All the Time. Not the movie, the book. Nordic forests and Southern graveyards ain’t the only places where shit gets dark.

As for the music, the band adds “We wanted to capture the weight and intensity of these elements: death, hysteria, tragedy, violence.” All that definitely comes through. They also note, “This album is a definite move in our new direction towards a more aggressive sound.” And that makes me want to go back and check out their earlier stuff, which is probably the point.

To be clear, “Aviarium” isn’t a landmark in Sludge Metal . . . but it’s a pretty damned good. And while MAHARAJA probably isn’t the next SLEEP, I don’t think anyone is expecting them to be. And who knows? If you miss out on this album, you could be missing the perfect fodder for your next ‘best band you never heard of’ lashing you give to your mainstream metal friends before blowing out their eardrums and another set of woofers and confirming to the world that yes you are the outsider they all thought you were.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 9
Memorability: 6
Production: 7

4 Star Rating

1. Hopeless
2. Soulless
3. Lifeless
4. Ballad of the Flightless Bird
Eric Bluebaum - Bass, vocals
Zack Mangold – Drums, vocals
Angus Burkhart – Guitars, vocals
Record Label: Seeing Red Records


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