Probably due to some strange cosmic synchronicities, after witnessing a global pandemic, Pentagon footage of alien spacecraft, and the fall of an empire, the fans of shamanic metal are getting spoiled with a couple of outrageously fantastic releases this year. Just a few months ago, the zen masters of metal possession music, ORANSSI PAZUZU, released their awe-inspiring fifth album, ”Mestarin Kynsi,” and on 26 June 2020, the up-and-coming Finnish metal shamans, IA, announced the independent release of their debut album, ”initIAtion.”
Despite the fact that both of these bands branch out from the metal family tree, they certainly bear different fruits. Instead of summoning ancient Balrogs to spring forth from the darkest depths of the human psyche with harsh krautrock incantations, IA takes you on a mystical journey through dynamic soundscapes ranging from tranquil, meditative moods of psychedelic chill-out music to ecstatic, progressively syncopating metal mayhem. At its most raw, the band’s polyrhythmic prog metal cuts in like a shard of glass, forcing you to confront the unsettling shadows of the soul eye-to-eye. The chilled-out moments resonate with the sonic aura of SHPONGLE, almost as if the musical senseis of this legendary psychedelic electro duo, Simon Postford and Raja Ram, had swapped their pulsating analog synths and samplers for a couple of ESP guitars and Marshall stacks.
Furthermore, IA‘s debut is a concept album depicting the shamanic initiation. It echoes the sentiment of many a psytrance classic. In the shamanic tradition, initiation stands for the spiritual death of the ego and rebirth, the experience of coming back to life as a transformed and healed person. The hallmarks of this psychological journey fall in line with the stages of a typical bad trip on acid, which might explain the abundant exploitation of the theme in the psychedelic trance music. While all the dubious hallucinogens and psychoactive snake oils undoubtedly offer a handy shortcut to see through the thin veil of reality to the mysterious realms beyond the grind of our mundane, everyday lives, the next best thing could very well be the mind-bending 9-track debut album, ”initIAtion,” by this Helsinki-based prog-metal quartet. Apparently, the band was running a little short on drummers during the making of the album, so the fractal drum tracks were co-arranged and performed by Ukri Suvilehto of ABBATH – and there are no two ways about it: he did one hell of a good job! The album flows like a vivid dream or, given that the concept is the inward journey toward spiritual authenticity, like a shamanic initiation ritual itself.
The opening track, ”PromethIA,” sets the tone for the whole album, as if placing the candles in a circle before the sacrament. It introduces the band’s signature way of weaving oriental guitar legatos upon sturdy riffs that syncopate with a fairly strong djent feel. Apart from the occasional psybient-gone-metal feel, the album’s somewhat psychedelic atmosphere is slightly akin to the Finnish psych-rock album classic, ”Tri-Logy,” by KINGSTON WALL, without the retro-rock guitar furnishings, of course. Both albums invoke a feeling of mystery beyond the power of words by harnessing rock instruments to perform a little bit of saber dancing on Middle-Eastern scales against the backdrop of haunting, atmospheric textures and earthy grooves. Instead of 1960s psychedelia, IA‘s sonic tentacles reach out to the prog metal waters of bands such as UNEVEN STRUCTURE and ERRA. The band’s ringmaster, vocalist Kirill Shevchenko, delivers the vocals with quite an impressive scope ranging from whispering to guttural aggression, taking the occasional side-step to hard-rockish crooning on the 11-minute epic, ”The Golden King of the Forest.” His clean tenor is slightly reminiscent of BEFORE THE DAWN‘s vocalist Lars Eikind. What sets IA apart in the fairly crowded prog metal genre is the band’s ability to write catchy melodies. There probably aren’t that many bands using Kalevala-styled chanting in Finnish, either.
The album is structured like a triptych. The first three tracks kind of prepare for the 11-minute journey inward, the aforementioned monster of a track, ”The Golden King of the Forest.” It serves as the album’s centerpiece or water divide. The first tracks on the album set the proper mood for the initiation, while the closing 3-part suite is the gentle ride in the higher dimensions with the new-born mental clarity. The epic starts like an average pagan folk anthem from the likes of THE HU or HEILUNG, with a dark, folksy intro paired with a bit of guttural, shamanic chanting. Soon, the dark folk is replaced with a steamrolling onslaught of metal riffs though. Lyrically, the song depicts the peak of the journey, the divine moment of truth when the initiate becomes a shaman. It’s the golden moment of personal transformation or “the end of the world as you know it.”
Keeping in mind that IA is an unsigned metal band touching on a highly controversial concept charged with all kinds of dubious drug connotations, the band does quite an impressive job. The riffs are air-tight, the oriental soundscapes set the perfect mood for an elevated spiritual awareness, and the lyrics tap into the collective consciousness, invoking similar psychospiritual epiphanies to DMT – and better yet: it all happens in controlled conditions. Listening through the album is like burning sage in a ceremonial space.
While trying to unearth some possible origins for the band’s name, which is also the title of the second track on the album, I chanced to come across a novel titled IA: Initiate by John Darryl Winston. Whether the band is familiar with the book or not, it appeared to have quite an interesting theme: how to find your true potential and believe in yourself without falling victim to your dysfunctional environment. Isn’t that exactly what these prog metal sages are chanting about? In a world where everything is made of lies and life in general radiates with the emotional warmth of an energy-saving lightbulb, authenticity seems almost like a latent supernatural power. We only show the world the face we think it wants to see, eventually losing track of who we are. Thus, in order not to regress to the level of an animal looking for survival, we might as well do ourselves a favor and embark on a shamanic journey – to become who we truly are. Listening to some enchanting music like IA, while at it, doesn’t sound like such a bad idea. It’s safer than LSD.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- The Golden King of the Forest
- The Initiation pt1: The Initiation
- The Initiation pt2: The Collapse
- The Initiation pt3: Skeletonize
Kirill Shevchenko – Lead Vocals
Antti Nieminen – Guitar
Sean Haslam – Guitar
Yrjö – Bass, Backing Vocals