Maryland based doom trio YATRA are the new guides into the fuzzed and stoned world on new album Death Ritual.
Let me first get out of the way that I am extremely excited to join the Heaviest of Art team as a reviewer and when this dropped into my inbox, I was already expecting heavy.
For the last few years I lived in Arizona which, outside of a few marginally popular bands, has a thriving stoner rock/stoner doom scene. Within this scene, you have two of the big dogs which include Goya ,who released a stellar album in 2017 entitled Harvester of Bongloads. Two of the band members, frontman Jeff Owens and drummer Marcus Bryant, are also in the other powerhouse doom band Spirit Adrift, which features Nate Garrett and Chase Mason of modern death metal giants Gatecreeper on guitar/vocals and bass respectively. With that in mind, you have to understand that people who live in the desert love their stoner doom. It's as homogenous to the Southwest as Circle K Polar Pop and bitching about a dry heat. There are a lot of bands that worship at the Iommic altar whilst sporting Sleep and Bongripper gear and taking heavy tokes from the bong of Jus Oborn and Co. Keep all of this info in mind while reading this review.
When HOA head honcho Luis told me about the imminent release from YATRA and found out that the band was from Maryland, I was thinking of the storied metal pedigree of that state. Some of the biggest names in traditional doom have come from there, namely The Obsessed, Iron Man, Internal Void and the godly Revelation. With these bands and their sound in mind, I went into Death Ritual with the mind set of mad monks, depraved individuals with no hope in sight and the occasional lascivious nun. Well let me tell you, I was dead wrong.
Death Ritual begins with some sitar flourishes and droning tambura. Almost instantly I whispered, "You've got my attention now YATRA." What I did not expect next was a fuzzed, and I mean FUUUUUUZZZZEEEDDD, out riff that immediately drew me in further. But the trio weren't done yet, oh no. Expecting Ozzy-esque vocals, I was greeted warmly with a raw and raspy black metal styled vocal shredding. I was intrigued and dove further in as YATRA main man Dana Helmuth barked forth incantations like he tried and successfully crossbred early Elder style stoner metal with the black metal inspired vocals found on a record by say Cough circa Ritual Abuse. That is what will truly draw fans of the fuzzed and heavy to this offering of hearty skull and eardrum destruction.
I also began to read up on the band's name and what the meaning behind the album would contain. Helmuth took the band name from a word familiar to the people of the Himalayas for pilgrimage while traveling by motorcycle some years previous. And for those familiar with how burials go in that region of the globe, death rituals and funerals are very much a celebratory time as the deceased finally leaves the mortal coil for life in the hereafter. So choosing Death Ritual was an apt move for the band, which also features Maria Geisbert plucking on the bass and Mike Tull pounding the skins, who both do a fantastic job anchoring this heavy as hell musing from beyond.
The middle portion of the record has a few sections that speed into early High on Fire territory before bringing you back into the dazed world of fuzzy barbarism that the group have already fully excelled at. The fact that this is coming from the Eastern Seaboard is still something that I can't quite wrap my brain around. Stoner doom is usually found in the Southern States, the Southwest and the Pacific Northwest. And speaking of the latter, another band came to my attention throughout my listens. The band in question? Hell. While this might seem a stretch for those who know about the almost mythical extreme doom band helmed by the legendary MSW, hear me out on this one. You can hear bits and pieces of Hell II on Death Ritual because of the extreme low end bludgeoning combined with the throat scraping vocal performances found on both releases. But where the comparison ends is this, YATRA are nowhere near as deprived as Hell and I believe that's for the best. Whereas Hell is music for those who want to be completely enveloped in frightening darkness and hellish sound, YATRA take the sound formula from Hell but instead of heroin and the Divine Comedy, it's an offering of a fine strain of Buddha's Sister and the Ramayana...…and possibly a Ravi Shankar live album for good measure. Somewhat similar to what the beautiful artwork by Aki Pitkänen.
If you had told me that YATRA were another stoner band from the West Coast, I might have been dismissive because that just seems commonplace with doom's explosive popularity within the last decade. However, the group take the low end attack from past Maryland doom giants and fuse it together with a freshly packed bowl and a healthy appetite for that ghastly Norwegian black metal ruckus. I'm excited to present this to all my stoner doom buds, pun intended, back in Arizona and say, &q