Plague Throat is an established band in the Indian metal scene, so predictably, when their first full-length album was announced to be released, 9 years after their first gig, it was an overdue wait. After having toured in various locations in India, Nepal and Germany, a mutual feeling of eagerness could be sensed for a quality, tangible collection of what they have to offer. After all, the reputation of their live act has attracted a new assembly of metalheads, from veteran headbangers to fresh-faced enthusiasts,giving their testimony on the trailblazers of a new era who have helped bring in a much-needed unity in this small sect of music. However, soon the band went into an indefinite hiatus after the previous bassist, Їaidon departed from the three-piece group and one could sense the doubt seeping in subsequently resulting in a reactionary conundrum on the future of the clique.
Come forth April 2016, a few months after they had announced their break, the dust had settled and the mood, just right. It was time to start recording for the album. Ashwin Shriyan, the dreaded maestro from MindMap Audio came over to Shillong to start the proceedings in their home studio, the ‘Dungeon’, a space in which they have evolved as musicians in different phases and where they have jammed since the band started grooving in full-swing. So one can imagine the sentimental attachment and the symbolic, almost holistic position that the Dungeon holds with regards to the album and the band itself. With these elements, it adds up to the simmering atmosphere of a very heavy, personal and authentic album, but it would take a bit of time. Recording sessions stretched to over a month and the two members, Nangsan and Malice, were fully committed to putting together a compilation that would echo their journeys as musicians and as a group, with a healthy mix of old and new songs and more importantly, a sound that would pour out in waves with a distinct identity that is unmistakably Plague Throat.
The “Human Paradox” will be internationally released in May and contains 10 tracks with a running time of 38 brutal minutes and also features soul-gripping solos from Prateek Rajagopal (Gutslit, Minerva Conduct), Nishith Hegde (Demonic Resurrection, Minerva Conduct, Albatross) and Daniel Kenneth Rego (ex Demonic Ressurrection) in “Hour of Darkness”, “Ma Nga” and “Conception Subjection” respectively. Throughout the album, hypocrisy, chaos, greed and deceit are regularly occurring themes. Straight from the off, it feels like the type of discourse that they want to initiate through their art encapsulates areas which one might not feel comfortable to venture into, with politically controversial content and the questioning of socially constructed human nature. They look at the inconsistency of human nature as a subject that arises out of one’s superficiality as “Truth in Silence” entails, in which a tenebrous tone envelops you, which reemerges in “Hour of Darkness”, where the alienation and rejection arises out of being a misfit or a nonconformist. However, this is also something that has been escalated by the establishment, as they point out in the more conventionally sounding “Inherited Failure” and “Conception Subjection” which explore themes of indifference towards oppression and how it’s been normalised. The technically astute “Fallible Transgressions” carries on that same mantle but takes a different, more structured approach. Its lyrics are highly relevant with the current global scenario of increasing polarisation and the majority-minority politics. Here, Nangsan explores the variants resulting in such a situation, peering into the failure of structural governance, the role of indoctrination, the breeding of prejudices and how it all boils over into unsolicited violence.
Plague Throat aren’t one dimensional when it comes to exploring a concept. The environmentally critical “Dominion Breach” tackles the greed prevalent in ‘human nature’, how the ecological imbalance is caused by ‘development’. Development is a very loose word, an easy word to throw around as a politician and policymaker, but the type of development that is being pursued is one that is questioned. In many parts of the global capitalist world, forests have been stripped bare and rivers, which are the lifeblood of many communities, have been perversed and oceans polluted beyond comprehension, with people’s livelihoods and life-supporting habitats being uprooted in the process, all in the name of progress with a ‘dash’ of controlled profit. The ignorance of the masses and how they’re being misled, as they themselves put it, “a continuation of an old story, that blinding truth”, makes one think and critique oneself’s role in breaking or trying to break the loop.
The playing styles are representative of the band’s progress in their 9 years as artists; the more classical styles tend to get the gears running but are then harmoniously fused with a very catchy, groovy, indistinct sound. “Corporeal Sentients” is a very gritty, energetic track that is full power from start to finish. It represents the old Plague Throat, the one that woke up the dormant volcanoes and the middle aged guys who attend concerts once in awhile and partake in calculated headbanging so as to not hurt their rusty necks. It is the Plague Throat that turned people’s heads, making them take notice and acknowledge that they are a force to be reckoned with. But they have evolved, as all good artists do, to incorporate more styles, more fluidity in their music which leads us to track four. The album titled track four, “Human Paradox” is the fulcrum on which the album hinges. It is an instrumental track that still leaves me a tad bit confused as to how can a single track contain so many different elements, so shrewdly arranged, and yet, flows seamlessly. Towards the end of track four, they upped the ante and went full throttle. The torque is ridiculously high and the beauty about it is that it sounds like three different instruments going their own way, but meeting at certain points to create a perfectly synchronised melody.
This evolution of their sound can be earmarked with “Conflict Resolution”. The riffs throughout the song makes critics of death metal guitarists linger in thought and the relentless ‘machine gun Malice’, tenuous, when required and heavy hitting with acute technicality, it just oozes out the feeling that we are witnessing an elite band do its thing. The time signatures make sure that not a single heave of the head is wasted in between riffs and gives the song an edge of progressiveness. Moreover, the lyrics decapitate, if I may use a Shillong-centric term, the ‘burom class’ or for non-Shillong/non-Khasi speaking readers, the established elite. It charges at the egotistical elite who laze in their “ignorant comfort” and their “reserved traditions.” The lyrics hit the nail on the head as they not only go after the elites, but critiques blind followers as well, for living in a void of “constructed lies” and “false assumptions”. Conflict Resolution is a more lyrically nuanced song, with depth and meaning in every line, as well as in between them. It is one of the more well-rounded tracks as compared to their older songs like “Corporeal Sentients”, which goes at full pace from start to finish.
Throughout the album, you can tell that they don’t write about subjects that are assumed of, but rather about what they’ve confronted and seen; so they leave a little bit of themselves in every track, a swathe of their experience for listeners. In the last track, “Ma Nga”, the limit of interaction between the artist, the art and the audience is stretched to its extreme. The song, personal and dark, written by Malice in Khasi, is a recounting of emotions of a person sitting on the peak of melancholy hill who is going through a severe identity crisis. The lyrics carry a very depressing, aggressive, yet powerful undertone and the composition is something that is really unique, very technical and traditional. Being a Khasi song, you’d expect the guys to dig deep into the roots of their indigenous identity in the arrangement but that element is only catalytic, and it only serves as a subsidiary to the larger plan. The cry of “hoi-kiw” is usually one that accompanies jubilant or celebratory scenes but it has been turned on its head and re-interpreted in a very eccentric way which fits the mood of the song like a glove. The fact that this is the last song in the album as well perhaps tells us that they remember where they come from, that they appreciate their backgrounds but it shall not stop them from looking outwards or being critical of their community.
Throughout the album, you can recognise different aspects of the individual talents of the members. Nangsan, the frontman and the fervent guitarist/bassist/vocalist who’s writing, playing and growling leaves you at awe and disbelief when you meet him in real life to be a soft spoken, easy going person and Malice, the intricate, quiet and vehement drummer who likes to practise in a room with no lights, who’s drumming, which has established him as one of the best drummers in the country, will leave you at awe. So after all the years of sweating it out in the industry, the album had to be made by any means, even after facing many setbacks in the process, from the repercussion of having a core member leave to recording the bass in a guest house near Polo Grounds and from escaping an earthquake unscathed and unshaken during one of the sessions to changing labels in between releases. They just had to finish it, that was the collective goal of all involved. At times, they had to record with borrowed instruments from the generous and genuine Bismark Shullai, which portrays a sad reality of the monetarily less-supported bands in Shillong but they still persevered so that their music can not only be given a different yardstick to measure and grasp their immense quality as musicians but to be able to export their artform through a different medium that is more tactile and is not bound by the constraints of time. Plague Throat is one of the pioneers of this generation which has worked tirelessly over the years to not only place themselves in the position that they’re in, but to uplift and inject a fresh enthusiasm into the vibrant metal community of Meghalaya and more specifically, Shillong. So let us raise our horns and fists in appreciation of these comrades who have disregarded everything that society told them is immoral and unproductive, and put in blood, sweat and tears so they could pursue their destinies and fulfil their talents.