There must have been a point, early in Slipknot‘s rise to fame, where the joy of new fans discovering the band was only matched by the despair of house sound engineers when presented with their technical specifications for a live show. Pushing the size of your band beyond four or five bodies will always generate a number of logistical challenges, and German octet Ayahuasca have met them all head-on to release their long-awaited debut album, Beneath the Mind.
One glance at the band onstage will immediately make a Slipknot reference unavoidable, so let’s get that out of the way right at the top. Ayahuasca also feature a pair of percussionists within their extended personnel, although they do rather more than jump around hitting a bin with a stick. Naturally, each of them is equipped with a pair of floor toms for the type of rhythmic barrages one would expect, but they also marshal a host of other instruments, percussive and otherwise, to further embellish the sound. If that wasn’t enough, they have thrown a third guitarist into the mix, and three members, including imposing frontman Sliman, contribute vocals. Busy.
Three of the eight tracks on Beneath the Mind first saw the light of day on a demo EP back in 2015, but with long, complex song structures and eight layers to deal with, it’s probably unsurprising that it has taken Ayahuasca a little longer than most to deal with the write, rehearse and record process. The average song length on Beneath the Mind is comfortably north of five minutes, and the album is bookended by monstrous, sprawling opening and closing tracks pushing past ten minutes apiece, making for a particularly densely packed hour of music that will take a good few listens to properly get to grips with.
Ayahuasca have taken their name from the South American psychotropic concoction used in Shamanic rituals, and there is a firmly Sepultura-esque tribal element running through Beneath the Mind, both with the hefty percussion and gang chants (and even a spot of throat singing), but also in the unreconstructed, Arise-era death metal skeleton on which Ayahuasca’s music is predominantly built. The bands more progressive tendencies give nods towards the earlier works of Gojira and The Ocean, and “Cult”, in particular, carries a similar feel to Deliverance/Damnation era Opeth. All in, Beneath the Mind is something of a whistle-stop tour through a variety of flavours of millennial metal.
This, however, represents something of an issue. For all of the styles folded into Ayahuasca’s sonic stew, there is little that could really be considered contemporary. Yes, it would be fair to say that this cauldron of sounds have never been mixed together in quite this way before, but nevertheless Beneath the Mind feels more like it should really have been released in about 2003 than in late 2018. Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but Beneath the Mind does feel more like a trip down memory lane than a voyage into the future. Additionally, whilst there are also plenty of genuinely enjoyable moments on Beneath the Mind, Ayahuasca suffer from a lack of focus in their songwriting. Album closer “Summoner of Storms” especially feels like it is twelve minutes long for the sake of being twelve minutes long rather than actually having that much to say. The labyrinthine song structures too often devolve into riff parades where the continually shifting sands deny the tracks the potential for becoming more than the sum of their (multiple) parts and become truly memorable in their own right.
Nevertheless, Beneath the Mind is still an enjoyable album, stuffed with pleasingly meaty passages, and those yearning for an unapologetically heavy metal album will find much to engage them. At no stage does the Ayahuasca kitchen feel over-stuffed with cooks, which is a genuine risk with eight contributing members, and it seems to have only been a slight obsession with writing lengthy epics that has let them down. With Beneath the Mind, Ayahuasca have captured their thrilling live sound and laid out an ambitious proposition, which we hope can be further honed into something genuinely essential in the coming years.