Imagining the earth as a vast, scorched, barren wasteland, inhibited by large, lumbering prehistoric creatures might give you a bit of a mental picture of what you're in for musically on this massive sounding release Surya from an outfit that goes by the name of Queen Elephantine, currently based out of New York City. Recorded just over a year ago in Hong Kong, Surya is just now seeing a proper CD release after previously only being available digitally and through a self issued CD-R. However you want to classify the music made by these four promising young musicians and we could use such typical words as stoner, doom, psych, sludge etc… the fact is this 5 song disc is an epic and sprawling collection of kick ass jams designed to penetrate the thickest cranium.
The world of Queen Elephantine begins appropriately enough with the song named after their creators. This track commences with the hypnotic droning sound of a tanpura, before the thick, throbbing bass kicks in and light percussion along with the chant style vocals take over. The ritual has indeed begun. "Ramessess II" starts almost the same way with more droning tanpura, (in fact this instrument serves as an anchor for four out the five tracks on Surya) before bassist Daniel Quinn slams out another absolutely killer bass line. Before you know it the beast has lumbered off with guitarist Indrayudh (Indy) Shome in tow, providing more chanted vocals to match the equally colorful, psychedelic textures of his guitar playing. This monster which clocks in at an exhausting sixteen and half minutes is nothing short of pure, primal sludge that goes for broke and eventually threatens to self destruct by breaking into an all out freak out towards the end. Next up is "Kabir" which begins with light percussive touches and a slinky bass line, sounding briefly like a darker, murkier version of Sabbath's "Planet Caravan" before the tension gradually builds and morphs into something much more menacing.
While the majority of the music on Surya could easily be dismissed as being fairly repetitious, I have to admit that this was initially a concern of mine after the first few spins. However, with more listens I came to appreciate the time it takes for these improvised jams to fully unfold. The compositions on Surya have such a fabulously hypnotic quality to them, primarily due to these drawn out and repetitive progressions, that the lines quickly blur from one track to the next. As if the band had intended to save the best for last, the final two tracks "Plasma Thaw" and "Bison" add up to an almost forty minute, unrelenting dose of pure ominous sounding ultra-heaviness. Out of the two "Plasma Thaw" is certainly the groovier track and probably the fastest on the album as far as tempo is considered. Straight out of the introductory count in, the band immediately locks into a super tight groove and then spends the next ten minutes carving through the murky fog. The hard hitting drums and furious percussion work really propels this one into the stratosphere. "Bison" on the other hand is a completely different ball of wax though. Expanding to almost thirty minutes this composition is a prime example of just how adept these guys are at crafting, slow, brooding songs that utilize the tension and release method to sheer perfection.
Surya is an extremely impressive debut effort and one that will keep listeners enthralled from beginning to end. If your musical tastes run towards the sounds of early Sleep, Earth or even elements of Om , then Queen Elephantine should be able to comfortably secure a place somewhere between them on your CD shelf.
Note: The band's current lineup and the one that is scheduled to record the sophomore album now consists solely of Indy Shome (guitars, voice) and Rajkishen Narayanan (guitars, voice).
1) Queen Elephantine
2) Ramesses II
4) Plasma Thaw