Indian composer, Ritwik Shivam, is a skilled multi-instrumentalist and core existentialist. As a man of many talents, it should come as no surprise that his musical influences vary with the universality of his tastes. Astray is his debut album under the Friends from Moon moniker, yet it delves heavy into the back catalogue of Devin Townsend for inspiration. At times, you might ask if Shivam’s aim is to write a sequel to Hevy Devy’s 2019 Empath masterpiece. You need abundant talent to pull it off, but you also need originality.
The bright beginning of ‘Rage On’ will conjure images of mid-90s alternative rock radiance wrapped in yellow and orange textures. It’s expressive and not afraid to step on the distortion pedal with a succession of chunky guitar riffs. Shivam understands how to extract heavy sounds from earthly melodies and delivers a fine mixture of Meshuggah posturing with the luscious multi-harmonies of Cheap Trick. Yet it sounds like nothing other than Devin Townsend. The same applies to the enjoyable features of ‘Rebellion Road,’ which extend from double-handed hi-hat patterns to gliding basslines. This time Devin Townsend Project’s Transcendence LP is the artistic goal. Likewise, the hopeful rock of ‘The Enemy’ is just as pleasing to the ears but deficient in originality. It’s no exaggeration to say this one resembles a cut from Devin’s Ki album from 2009.
The listening experience on Astray is one bordering on admiration and frustration. Every song demonstrates a sublime ear for melody and harmony, yet Shivram is also a master of sharp dynamics and mood changes that can switch from illuminous party lights to despairing SOS signals. Look beyond the homage to Canada’s finest metal genius, and you’ll find plenty to like. ‘Come Together’ dares to be optimistic among a backdrop of weird industrial dub beats and heavy bass loops, but the reference to The Beatles song of the same name is more irksome than innovative. ‘Marvels Beyond Madness’ is far better and the closest thing we get to a prog metal epic. This one lives in the invisible wilderness where observation is the only pastime. You’ll appreciate how the one-minute intro of ambient city noises gives way to thrash beats and headbanging guitars with vocals that sound as righteous as Clawfinger (remember them?). This is more like it, especially the whacky breakdown riffs and carnival vibes that land somewhere between Primus and Stolen Babies.
Like Periphery’s Misha Mansoor, it’s clear that Shivram has a lot to offer and a multitude of ideas to harvest. Closing track, ‘Of the Spirit’, is where we glimpse his true talent as a soundtrack composer. The brooding cello bows give a flavour of melancholy not heard anywhere else on the album, yet he creates an esoteric piano hook to anchor his thoughts and to add a mischievous sparkle of glittering keyboard accents to the palette. At least two more songs like this would turn Astray from a satisfactory album with strong musicianship to a prog metal record worthy of Caligula’s Horse and Leprous.
Friends From Moon is a musical project that’ll discover its true identity in the next couple of years when Shivram is older and wiser. For now, it’s a pleasing piece of prog metal that relies too much on the trail-blazing path of Devin Townsend for its direction and purpose.
Release Date: 15/04/2022
Record Label: Self Released
Standout tracks: Rage On, Marvels Beyond Madness, Of the Spirit
Suggested Further Listening: Devin Townsend – Empath (2019), Stolen Babies – Naught (2012), Tranzat – Ouh La La (2022)