The term "supergroup" has a loose definition as it pertains to a band formed that holds members of previously "successful" acts (the controversy laying on the keyword "success" where some may view the threshold of success differently than others). But what I understand, and most others would agree with, is that labeling a band as a supergroup has the ability to raise expectations where the actual turnout in musical quality is a roll of the dice. Groups such as Killer Be Killed, Serpentine Dominion, Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, etc. have all had considerable hype, yet the opinion on the actual result of the music is without a doubt varied and potentially disappointing with high hopes anchoring the fans inevitably to "wish it sounded like [insert former band] instead."
In the case of The Minerva Conduct, I firstly want to establish that I believe they deserve to be mushed into the "supergroup" category, however I am aware that three quarters of the lineup comes from acts that are less known on an international level. Guitarist/composer Prateek Rajagopal (Gutslit, Reptilian Death), lead guitarist Nishith Hegde (Demonic Resurrection, ex-Albatross), and bassist Ashwin Shriyan (ex-Demonic Resurrection, Reptilian Death) certainly have impressive experience on their resume, yet mentioning these bands to your average American metalhead may result in some head-scratching as the reach of the Indian metal scene hasn't fully been embraced on Western lands yet. On the other hand, say the phrase Animals as Leaders and there's certainly a possibility of ears perking up as drummer and programmer Navene Koperweis is a major contributor to this album. Personally, I've been a longtime fan of Navene's work from his contributions on the Weightless LP, current output through Entheos, and even his live solo performance opening up for Animals as Leaders during their The Joy of Motion release tour. And secondly before diving in, I'd claim that this release will live up to or exceed the hype unlike most recent supergroup records for reasons listed below.
"Vile" opens the LP with such force it's as if Devin Townsend, Born of Osiris, and Porcupine Tree all orgasmed simultaneously and the energy was bundled up into a chunky five minute song. My dearest apologies for such a crude and sticky metaphor, but the song was impeccably compelling not only for the intensity, but the fact that it sews together artists I never thought would mesh easily before. And of course, there are not-so-subtle hints of Animals as Leaders present across the board. While one may have expected such a comparison to leak through exclusively due to Navene's complex drumming patterns and added electronics, Prateek's guitar riffs and tone also parallel moments from Weightless or The Joy of Motion.
When I initially read that the group was instrumental only, I was a bit behooved, but the compositions' dynamic flow carry real emotional weight. From the swirling synths on "Desertion" to the remixed Alan Watts sample within "Exultant," there is a sense of imagery conveyed through the music. On that note, the cover artist hit the nail on the head with the colors and symbolism that I'd visualize when listening to these tracks.
The reason this record keeps one's attention so meticulously is the consistent focus on dynamics. There may be a large amount of repetition within a song, but the piece never reaches monotony as the music ultimately evolves, whether that be layers of other instruments added to the atmosphere or electronics aiding each riff to transition into the next. A perfect example of this would be "Trip Seq," which holds the same guitar riff during the minute long intro without boring the listener.
I always feel strange pointing out an "MVP" on an album as I believe each member is a divine contribution to the record, but it's difficult not to shine the spotlight on Navene. In Entheos' records, I always am blown away by the transitional interludes that he composes, but frustrated once they are ripped away and replaced by death growls and blast beats. I certainly enjoy the musical identity of Entheos, yet I am more intrigued by how the electronic atmospheres are consistently woven through a song on The Minerva Conduct's pieces rather than as mere transitions. Undoubtedly though, this record wouldn't be nearly as intense without Prateek, Nishith, and Ashwin.
Honestly, I don't have much to say in terms of weaknesses or critique. There could have been a larger focus on lead guitar parts to create memorable melodies or perhaps even more subdued, calm transitions to add to their pattern of dynamics. Yet, I think these four musicians did an extremely tight job on this debut. I'm unsure of this project's plan considering a couple oceans rest between the sum, but I am hopeful the future somehow allows for live shows and a follow-up. This self-titled debut is lush, lucid dream inducing, and a beautifully magnificent contradiction where heavy music feels uplifting and natural.