A Triumph of Originality
Original fusion records are a rare breed, far too often does a fusion band fall into the comfortable divots of a well-paved genre blend, so when something truly unique cuts a path out into the unmapped plains, it is wise to perk up your ears and listen. On Shifting Mirrors, American psych rock band Blaak Heat (formerly Blaak Heat Shujaa) does exactly this, taking their unique sound and further refining it until it sparkles with diamond luster.
The album opens up with the instrumental “Anatolia” which does a wonderful job of laying out the subsequent themes of the album. “Anatolia” kicks off with a strangely familiar riff, seemingly straight out of an “Arabian Nights” soundtrack, lulling you into a sense of security before blowing the doors off with a crunching guitar section as the middle eastern flavor collides with American rock music, creating an eruption of technical, but immediately engaging sound that burrows its way into the ear of the listener, grabbing on tightly for the duration of the album. “Anatolia” blends right into the menacing “Sword of Hakim,” the guitar work is immediately shifted downward and takes on a heavier darker tone. The theme of force continues through this song with the addition of Thomas Bellier’s vocals, calling out warnings and stories of warriors in the night. Despite its darker tone, the track never seems overwhelming or bleak oftentimes it rises into euphoric peaks that set the soundtrack to a long, harrowing but ultimately fruitful journey. The theme of a journey continues into “The Approach to Al-Mu’tasim” which incorporates an array of traditional instruments as the subject of the song journeys across the subcontinent through wars and peril in the pursuit of higher knowledge and truth.
The album saves much of its most impressive guitar work for the instrumental “Ballad of Zeta Brown.” The track immediately brings to mind treacherous temples and chaotic battlegrounds ripped straight from the reels of a classic Indiana Jones film. The genre blending is at its finest as the catchiness of American rock complements the relentless technicality of middle eastern/Indian stringed instruments. Following “Ballad of Zeta Brown” is the massive “Black Hawk,” easily the most menacing track on the album. It assails the listener with bone crunching bass while its lyrics describe a terrifying dark angel who “devours friend and foe alike.” This track is one of the most compelling cuts on the entire album its solid thematic instruments lay a strong foundation for the vivid imagery contained within the best lyrics. After a few shorter songs the album suddenly returns with “The Peace Within” a fairly resigned track that acknowledges both victory and defeat simultaneously as the main character concedes defeat but finds light and truth even in the face of this incredible obstacle. “The Peace Within” features one of the most compelling guitar sections at around minute three, after a churning buildup Bellier lets loose into a shredding solo sure to appease rock lovers everywhere, before falling into the song’s main riff and progression leading into a closing build as the album saunters toward its closing track.
Though the album is a triumph in many ways it is not without its share of flaws. Some of the most noticeable are the singing and general repetition found throughout nearly all of the tracks. The singing while not inherently bad, comes across like more of a storytelling section with a loose sense of rhythm, and regardless of its intention, it lacks both the tone and fluidity of traditional singing, as well as the compelling punch and urgency of spoken word or rap. Certain tracks such as “Mola Mamad Djan” and “Danse Nomade” far too readily tread upon previously covered ground and entirely fail to enter into a truly engaging section, causing them to feel utterly forgetful amongst the albums stronger tracks.
Regardless of its flaws Shifting Mirrors and Blaak Heat stand firm and alone atop their hill. Their fiercely original and captivating genre blend should serve as a reminder that the best combinations can often come from seemingly unlikely origins. The album carves out a scenic and engaging valley between traditional middle eastern/Indian music and American rock that tells a compelling story both lyrically and sonically that any fan of world music or rock owes it to themselves to be listening to.