Review || MaYaN - "Dhyana"

If there's one thing we could say about Mayan mainman, Mark Jansen, is that in every project/band he's been involved with, he is surrounded by very talented musicians. When Mayan first emerged as an Epica side project (at the time also featuring guitarist Isaac Delahaye and drummer Arien Van Weesenbeek) circa 2011, they made quite an impression with their first studio album, "Quarterpast" which could should? have been an Epica album. The sophomore album, "Antagonise", followed in 2014 bringing a much more complex and technical death metal sound. "Dhyana", the band's latest opus, sees the light of day on September 21 via Nuclear Blast records.

If you have followed Mayan's trajectory so far, you will immediately notice this album is more focused, less experimenting and keeping a really nice balance between the orchestral and the instrumental intensity. Jansen uses the best qualities of every participant, primarily the versatility of the female singers. The chemistry between Marcela Bovio and Laura Macri, both now permanent members, is powerful. Both dare to step out of their comfort zone and be more present, demanding to be heard; Marcela explores all the aspects of her vocal abilities, from operatic singing to belting to raw and energetic vocals while Laura with her warm timbre and control is haunting the listener, appearing more frequently during the verses and singing mainly in English and not Italian for a change.

Opener "Rhythm Of Freedom", in its 7-minute glory, integrates and interchanges many themes with quick changes not always allowing the listener to fully focus on all the layers of the song, and yet it is so well-constructed that doesn't feel overwhelming. It looks Jansen and co. are rewriting the rules here."Tornado Of Thoughts" doesn't stray from the recipe while "Saints Don't Die" has a couple of moments that appear tied to the first album, especially on Henning Basse's vocal melodies. Not that I mind, by all means keep going! The transition into the ballad "Dhyana" feels a bit sudden and odd, however. It's cleverly composed to combine the native tongues of both female singers and their classical roots (the fact that their voices mix that well in the English choruses is a very fortunate parameter) but, contrary to the ballads in the previous albums, it lacks a distinctive introduction and appears more like a filler between two equally aggressive tracks. This, consequently, combined with its position in the tracklisting, strips the song from its unique and acoustic approach and doesn't let it shine. "Rebirth From Despair" kicks off with a neck-breaking blastbeat and soaring riffage, and finds true glory in Marcela Bovio's captivating performance. One of my favorites on this album, for sure. 

I can really appreciate the plethora of blackened death riffs which the orchestra and choir fully complement. "Dhyana" is filled with headbanging anthems, aggressive but not fully pissed off. During an interview with Mark Jansen last year, once asked about his lyrics and the possibility of Epica becoming a political band, he was quick to dismiss my hopes and reassure me that the band was focused on the entertainment side. With Mayan, however, his vision and criticism on the tumultuous state of the world remain at the forefront. "The Power Process" builds with an unexpected "duel" duet between the clean/lyric vocals and the screams. Juxtaposition is the key component to the song; from the singing to the death metal parts against the calm piano in the bridge, to the skilled solo followed by the passionate ending, these guys know how to keep the listener's interest. "Illusory Self" has a length of 9', making it the longest song on the album. If you ask me which song best represents "Dhyana", this would be it -and I firmly believe it should have been the final song as it encapsulates all the elements the band has presented so far with a side of classic heavy metal riffs and big choruses. 

Remember when I mentioned that the ballad "Dhyana" was lacking that something that the older ballads had? "Satori" fills that gap, featuring an expressive Laura Macri and a dynamic orchestra backing her, slowly moving towards "Maya - The Veil Of Delusion". This song is almost entirely boys fun and I don't mind it; I find that the combination of all male vocals fits the mood of the song perfectly. We have almost reached the end and I would expect for the intensity to start winding down. This is not the case for "The Flaming Rage Of God" which artfully connects the ferocious character of the album to the impending epic grand finale. The last song, "Set Me Free" is probably the absolute gamechanger on this album; anthemic, captivating, with excellent performances on every level.

If you know me, you know my undying love for "Quarterpast" and how long it took the technicality of "Antagonise" to grow on me. "Dhyana" sits right in the middle musically combining the best features of the two. It's grown up, well-rounded.
A solid 9/10.
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