Back in 2007, a few years before the term ‘clickbait’ came into daily use, I’d been baited by one particular blog piece in The Guardian called ‘Why metal fans are brainier’ by one Ian Winwood, who counts Kerrang!, NME, Mojo, Q and Revolver among publications he has written for. With that shallowish title, those credentials, and the supporting anecdotal “studies”, I set out to convince myself, for the umpteenth time, of something I’d long known to be true. No, I’m not saying every a**hole one bumped into at Rang Bhavan (moshpit pun here) circa late 90s/early 00s, was a regular Foucault. But now and then you’d be surprised with the philosophies and ideas you’d encounter at your regular chai tapri with a group of black tees.
Cut to 2021, 26th June to be precise, that I’d gotten on a long call with Riju Dasgupta AKA Dr. Hex, bassist of the Mumbai-based Horror Heavy Metal band Albatross. It was hard not to be drawn into Albatross’ latest offering, ‘The Neptune Murders’. Almost as hard as it is not to be drawn to the works of the 1950s post-war dramatists Beckett, Genet or Pinter. The similarities between ‘The Neptune Murders’ and the shared pessimistic vision of the dramatists in question don’t really end at the absurdity of the human condition and lack, thereof, of real purpose. Albatross’ story also abandons any conventionally accepted sequence of events or logical structure in favour of a subverted premise.
Influenced by a range of musicians, writers and filmmakers, Albatross is nothing like the typical, run-of-the-mill heavy metal band from Mumbai. Christened thusly by Dasgupta’s brother and inspired by Iron Maiden’s iconic retelling of Coleridge’s harrowing poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the band has strived to set itself apart from other, mostly, death metal bands that existed around the time of its inception.
“We leaned more towards old-school heavy metal, and as far as horror-metal goes, we were more into the Stephen King brand of storytelling than jump-scare horror. Albatross is, in fact, a hat-tip to everyone who has attempted storytelling through metal.”
Horror and metal have always gone hand-in-hand (Remember Demon Knight?). So what is ‘The Neptune Murders’ all about? Well, brace yourself for some major obscurity! According to the official statement by the band, it’s “A story of a serial killer with a fetish for cheek-pulling, who’s been brainwashed by ancient texts of sacrifice to the Roman God of the Sea, The Neptune Murders is an eerie tale from the Indian heavy metal band.”
The story, written by Dasgupta in the style of a lyrical ballad, forms the second part of a larger story. Much like with the Star Wars franchise, ‘The Neptune Murders’, though released first, is part two of three such stories.
“The first part,” Dasgupta begins, “Titled ‘Lord Of The Sea’, is about the king of Atlantis, who, in his dying moments, sees waves rising and consuming all that surrounds him. Instead of reacting in an aghast manner to his citizens dying, he’s quite elated that Neptune is consuming it all. Part two, ‘The Neptune Murders’, is inspired by the widely held notion that no religion is inherently bad, but it’s the interpretation of religion that makes it so. Here, I pondered the implications of what if our antagonist discovers these ancient texts of Atlantis and is now motivated, in his own way, to appease Neptune? And finally, part three is something I won’t tell you about now!” He laughs.
My first reaction when I heard the track was, - Man, this is clean! Dasgupta, along with guitarists Vigneshkumar Venkatraman and Akash Kar, and drummer Jay Thacker, are (for the lack of a better word) tight as expected. But the true award has to go to vocalist Biprorshee Das. In the current Metal scene, rife with over-the-top hammy growlers, Das moves effortlessly between thoughtful lows, melodic highs, window-shattering screams and some pretty decent falsettos tossed in.
Incidentally, Dasgupta shares my aversion to certain ‘types’ of music videos i.e. animated lyric videos for the sake of it and, of course, heavy metal videos with bands performing in dusty warehouses/atop stone quarries/in forests, you get the drill.
“I’m bored with metal videos with musicians playing their instruments. There are way too many of those!” He chuckles.
And though, due to current circumstances, Albatross’ music video uses the animation format, you’ll see why it was possibly the best idea.
“First of all, how are you going to show a serial killer with a cheek-pulling fetish meeting women on a dating app while Neptune simultaneously destroys Atlantis?” Dasgupta rightly points out. “The song demanded a comic book-style animated video. Therefore, my brief to animator Varun Panchal (Also the vocalist and guitarist of Thrash Metal band Carnage Inc.) was literally ‘Give me something that looks like Sin City, the comic book’. We were way behind schedule, and I didn’t have the time to go back and forth with him. Thankfully, Varun delivered the first cut within a month, which ended up being the final cut. Also, the dating app was his idea!”
I realised around the two-hour mark in our conversation that I was running late for work. Something about Albatross and Dasgupta had me lose complete track of time, and right before I absolutely had to leave, Dasgupta had another twist in store for me. Apart from the music and storytelling, it turns out that he is India’s leading WWE journalist and the most-read writer, across ALL sports, on Sportskeeda having conducted over 150 interviews with stars from WWE, Impact Wrestling, PCW Ultra, WOS, UFC, ONE FC and the world of boxing as well. And not only that, he’s written for Star TV, for the iconic Lola Kutty and is also a columnist with Rolling Stone India.
Well, how about that!