There are many levels of consciousness that make up the essence of a being. Higher layers that are tapped into when in transcendent states, social constructs that govern modern society, and then there are our baser instincts. No level is more important than the other but when one looks to harness the full power of their being, they must begin by understanding the first layer. The drives governed by our primordial reptilian brains. Fight, flight, fuck, feed. Without understanding, catharsis, and control of those primal urges, one cannot properly unleash the power locked into the successive layers.

Wrapped in a cloak of mysticism and metaphysics, New York-based progressive alternative metal outfit Vajra craft a mighty concoction of foundation-crumbling power riffs, intricately rumbling drums, and evocative eastern melodies. This is all tied together by the spellbinding presence of lead vocalist Annamaria Pinna. Her stunning vocal talent is coupled with carnal lyrics of ritual and sorcery to invoke a hedonistic heathen mantra. In addition to the influence of her conjurations as a practitioner of esotericism, the enigmatic singer experiences the condition of synesthesia where the stimulation of one sense leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sense. This means she sees vivid colours associated with sound (a condition Jimi Hendrix was said to have had).

Irkalla is the first in a triptych exploring the levels of the soul. This being the first, it hones in on those aforementioned base instincts that must be resolved before we can move on. With this record, the band has made huge strides forward. Their sound has always sat in that same niche as gothic metal stalwarts Lacuna Coil but on this album, it has elevated, with guitarist Mark Collom and bassist Dave Sussman laying down pummeling riffs akin to the Deftones newest works while maintaining a link to the eastern-influenced progressive metal of Tool. Locking it all down is the skillfully elaborate drumming of original Mars Volta skinsman Blake Fleming who guests on the record.

The EP is composed of three main set pieces with three instrumental interludes. With these lyric-less segues, the band conjures a glimpse beyond the veil to a realm beyond words. With the physical release, the band is including the companion EP Shadow Queen which further delves into these mythic soundscapes. As for the three main tracks, they all explore the depths of earthly bondage and spiritual deceptions with their trademark wall of progressive metal heft. 'Maya's Jerry Cantrell-inspired intro guitar bleeds into Adam Jones-like chugging. The cauldron is stirred and bubbles over in the cyclonic chorus. Pinna's voice is a force of nature blowing like a raging tempest. 'Crown and Crucify' prickles elegantly with cascading delays reinforcing nature's endlessly recurring cycles. Pinna takes on a mischievous feminine energy, prying the true nature out of her host. The peak of the record comes with the unbridled abandon of the powerhouse second single 'Sever the Tie'. Busting out of the gate with a bustling tabla-led Indian verse, Pinna spells out the hollow objects of worship in this material-obsessed world. Then like a speeding caravan driven off a cliff, the band explodes in a monstrous half-time throwdown. In a cosmic uncoupling, Pinna roars out with inciting words “Let me help you take out your knife/Let's do this together/Sever the tie!/Let me help you cut through the cord/Let's do this together/Sever the tie!” The sorceress sees beyond your bounds. Let her help you find freedom. The band's lassoing riff to her scream to “Let go!” echoes Tool classic Lateralus' plea to spiral out, to free yourself from these sordid bonds to reach for a deeper realm. The song represents a high watermark for the band as one of the preeminent tracks of the genre.

Irkalla is disturbingly moving. Primal, erotic, insatiable. Many who traffic in similar styles go heavy with the dark occult aesthetics but miss the larger point of its metaphysical endgame. To free all bounds of control and delve deeper and deeper into the layers of consciousness. Vajra do this masterfully with powerful musicianship and the brazen essence of Annamaria Pinna. Once the triptych is complete, this will be one monumental conceptual piece.

*4.5 Stars