Two thousand seventeen continues to be the year where bands I thought were finished finally come back with some new material. Almost across the board, all of their offerings have been downright masterpieces so far. Out of blue, Mavara has also come back with a new album, which is set to release September 9th, 2017. “Consciousness” is the album’s name, and that title is rather appropriate.
I first heard of Mavara back with their 2013 album “Season of Salvation”. I was impressed with their grasp of darkly spiritual ideas and liquid melodies. It’s been some time since that album, though not as long as I initially guessed, and that is mainly due to their search for a new guitarist. Nowadays, the line-up includes Farhood Ghadiri on keys, Ashkan Hamedi on vocals and guitar, Sina Khodaeifar on bass, Anis Oveisi on keys, and Jim Welch on drums. This album also includes guest guitarists Saman Saieddi and Bryan Croad.
Mavara plays a form of modern progressive rock that is punctuated with heavier moments, silky keys, and lots of grooves and guitar solos. The band hails originally from Iran (though they live in the States now), and this heritage is at work on this album, possibly more than on anything else they have done. From the opening dialogue that feels like it is taking place in the wilderness to the obvious Middle Eastern vibe to Ashkan’s vocal melodies, “Consciousness” shows us that the band is truly aware of who they are, and that is so comfortably appropriate.
The players here really bring it. Farhood’s and Anis’ keys are spectacularly played with lots of melody and a keen ear for atmosphere. Sina’s bass is ever-present and well heard, and he is responsible for many of the best grooves on the album. Jim’s drums might be the unsung hero of the album, though. His contributions often lead the songs and he is mixed very well into the overall sound. Guitar work, whether by Ashkan or the guest performers, is performed with a strong hand in the riffs and a soulful heart in the solos. Lastly, it can take some time to get used to Ashkan’s vocals. He has a different sense of melody than much of what I am used to hearing (obviously because of his country of origin), but once it clicks in your head, it really clicks hard.
Let me continue with an open statement: The second half of this album is worlds better than the first. In fact, even the production seems better. However, the second half is so good that it helps my brain grasp the first half better; making for a solid, enjoyable album overall. Let me explain what I mean.
“Invasion” starts the album on a heavily ethnic note, and the music is gritty and suitably strange. Next, “Love for Centuries” is the best song on the first half of the album, as it offers a great melody and just a great flow of emotions, plus Ashkan really shines on this one. However, I do feel like the album has a few lows at this point. While I appreciate the nostalgia of “Childhood” quite a bit, I do also feel like it meanders a little too much. “Living the Fast Life” doesn’t feel at all like its name, either. There are some very strong moments in the song, but there are also some less than stellar things, like the chorus. It’s weird, though, because there are some truly soulful moments here, too. Finally, “High on Power”, while featuring some very beautiful moments and a great ending, doesn’t really have a chorus that sticks well.
As I said, the second half of the album is much better than the first half. While the first half has some highs and lows, the album absolutely explodes starting with “Mandatory Hero”. Each and every song from that point has tight production, clear inspiration, and very strong instrumental portions.
Naturally, my favorite tracks are located here. “Mandatory Hero” is a slick, rockin’ piece of music with a fantastic chorus that gets lodged in my head. “Time Makers” (my favorite) is an awesome, groovy piece with great guitar work, a sweet synth solo, and a very haunting vocal performance from Ashkan. “Run Out of the Maze” is beat-heavy instrumental track with great guitar and some very slick keys. All these songs feel like the band is firing on all cylinders musically and compositionally, too.
“Illumination” and “Consciousness” complete the album, and they are really one track in some ways, as the former is just a vocal intro of sorts. The latter is my second favorite track on the album. It features delicate keys and a great melody to start, but then transitions into instrumental excellence and a stunning finale with lots of groove, vigor, and ethereal melody. It’s all so calm, surreal, and “aware”, if that is a word I can use to describe the feeling it exudes. Awareness seems to be a theme throughout this album.
Overall, I’m thrilled to hear Mavara again and I’m more than pleased with the album they have crafted. “Consciousness” is a deep experience that does have some lows, like any other album, but when it shines it absolutely gleams with progressive brilliance. I hope this will be just the kick start this band needs to start producing more and more music.