Graded on a Curve:
Sitar Metal,
Sitar Metal

Metalheads! Forget about what the famed English poet Robert “Percy Bysshe” Plant wrote in the second line of the third stanza of his magnum opus, “Stairway to Heaven”–look to the East, from whence cometh the universe’s first ever sitar-fronted metal band!

They’re called Sitar Metal, and on their eponymous 2019 debut LP frontman and sitar virtuoso Rishabh Seen–who’s been playing the instrument since he was 5 years old–and company make like Ravi Shankar backed by Metallica.

Sitar Metal is a revelation, and the fastest way to unclog your third eye this side of Drano. Seen’s the lotus position’s answer to Jimi Hendrix, while the band behind him–bassist Tushar Khurana, guitarist Deeparshi, and drummer Damian Rodrigues–provide the heavy metal thunder.

Seen’s a fourth-generation sitar player, and I can only wonder what his great-grandfather would have made of Sitar Metal–as an embodiment of Shiva the Destroyer, most likely. Its songs stop and start, proceed at a gallop, segue into meditative mode, and explode into enthralling climaxes; Seen often starts them off in solo mode, and it’s a shock to the chakras when the band comes storm-trooping in.

The resulting music is a perfect blend of East and West and a wonderful confluence of two contradictory types of music; Seen’s raga-based improvisations and the regimented thrash metal approach of Khurana, Deeparshi and Rodrigues would seem worlds apart. That said, the formula works better than you’d think; Seen’s got the speed of a metal guitar player, and his sitar dovetails seamlessly with the band, both in machine gun and lurching modes.

LP opener and sitmetal masterpiece“When Time Stands Still” is the one that has everybody talking, and for good reason; it opens with Seen playing solo, but just as you’re thinking you’ve heard this before the band comes crashing in and bingo–instant karma! From there the song’s as prog-metal complex as the many attributes of Shiva; one minute the band’s going at it like they’ve just contracted Anthrax, the next they’re bashing out these ecstatic power chords that’ll lay you flatter than an Indian rug, Seen storming sitarways all the while. And just when you’ve heard everything between nirvana and hell, some dude makes a surprise appearance, sounding for all the world like Donovan.

The rest of the songs are great too, and I have one complaint it’s that one first (and second and third and fourth) hard to distinguish from one another. That said, they boast some wonderful titles; “We Will Never Exist Again,” “I Am the Wake Up Call,” and “It All Ends Here, Vol. 2 (there isn’t a vol. 1) all sound like expressions of Hindu mysticism.

A host of great rock bands–from The Beatles to The Byrds and on to Led Zeppelin–incorporated elements of Indian music. But such bands employed the sitar, tables, and tanpura as coloration, or as an adjunct to their brief affiliation with the transcendental teachings of holy man (and alleged lecher) Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Sitar Metal’s a different story. On their debut they successfully bridge East and West, and while their music may produce no great holy men, it has created a whole new genre of metal. We can expect to see a whole slew of bands sitaring up to heaven, and I for one say Om.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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