It is refreshing when quality rock and metal spread to all the corners of the globe. We were excited when Girish and the Chronicles came streaking out of India like a shooting star in 2020, doing Sunset Strip hair metal better than most of the acts in L.A. It is with this same attitude that our attentions are drawn to About Us, a melodic rock and metal act, technically also out of India, but let’s be real for a moment. It’s a big country, and anything but a monoculture. About Us hails from the far corner called Nagaland, which is essentially Southeast Asia, and very much possessed of its own unique cultural identity.
The band is composed of a sextet of band-mates of varying rock tastes and backgrounds, which is evident in the zesty salad that is the band’s self-titled debut offering. The band’s label, Frontiers, markets the band as AOR and hard rock, but there’s things ranging from blues to progressive metal happening as well. Without further ado, let’s give this record a spin and see what we’ve got.
The album opens up with “Right Now,” which although having no relation to the Van Halen brothers of translucent tomatoes, does a more than adequate job of putting the band’s cards on the table. Opening with an 80s AOR keyboard sequence, swirling synth quickly gives way to a high-energy riff structure of drums, bass, and guitar, before some fairly Petrucci-Boogie tone provides a taste of the album’s lead guitar tones. We get a verse before launching right into a chorus. While the singer, Sochan, hints at a variety of hard rock and hair metal vocalists, he would seem to be most comparable to Mats Leven, most particularly his work on Malmsteen’s “Facing the Animal” record. This, subjectively speaking, should almost certainly be seen as a positive for the band’s overall sound. What is nice is that although the song’s structure is someplace in the territory of AOR and hair metal, the guitar and bass, paired with the energetic drumming, gives it a refreshing youthful sort of energy. Of course, when the song breaks halfway in, and the band just about stops except for a very slow kick drum and bass guitar, the guitar solo, thick with reverb comes in to demonstrate that these are some world-class chops, technically proficient and well thought-out. Sochan comes in near the end with some even more impressive vocal highs, before the band busts out some even better high-energy metal crescendo.
“Gimme gimme” evidently an older staple of the band’s writing prior to recording with Frontiers, is pure L.A. glam metal, proudly on display. Thankfully, the riffage is someplace between Crüe and Dokken, giving the song a certain technical toughness saving it from being pure Poison. Speaking of which, it’s just shy of the 3 minute mark that the guitar player starts chopping out some very impressive palm-muted arpeggios, leading into another fairly technical solo, walking that always-important line between technical and tasteful. Points awarded once again for great tone. Whatever amp, or amp sim, and reverb is being used for the leads on this album, A+ for nailing a great sound.
The third track, “Lead my Heart,” gives the impression of a filler track, or at least one that does not get picked for the obligatory YouTube music videos, but it’s still a solid enough composition. In the last 30 seconds of the song, the lead vocalist certainly pulls a new trick when it sounds like during one sustained high note, he is rapidly karate-chopping his own voice box or something. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him.
Getting back into the tracks tapped for YouTube greatness, we have “Our Fairyland.” The track is mid-tempo, and medium on the heavy-scale. It is most definable as a hard rock ballad, with a few twists as the boys in About Us like to include. Vocalist Sochan certainly has upper range, and this vehicle is most definitely used as a vehicle to show that off to its fullest. Our apologies for going on about the lead guitars, but they are just so good. It is unclear on whether Pona or Renlamo (the two credited axe-slingers) are responsible for the lead work, but the solo on this song is absolutely world-class, and could have appeared on any hair metal track from 1985 to 1990 and no one would have for a moment said “this track could have used better guitar.” If anything, thanks to the wonders of modern recording technology, this album has a better sonic “perspective” than most anything recorded prior to 2000. It’s a great mix.
We almost thought we had a handle on this band’s sound and their occasional tricks, but the fifth track, “Loaded Love,” opens with twangy single-coil Fender tone that flirts with a sound that goes past Texas blues and almost becomes country Western. Once verse structure comes together, the song ends up in a groove that is someplace between Bon Jovi and later-era Heart. While it might not be chart-topper material, it is nice to get some compositional and textural variety, especially from such a new act.
The band gets back to business with “Rock on Top,” which comes hammering down the door with some snarling George Lynch style, and some cool change-ups. Speaking of Mister Scary, the song is full of cool fills, and unless we’re not hearing something right in our powered monitors here, there’s even a smattering of cowbell. And some movie quote about prophecy and revolution? OK, that’s fine, we’re into that. There is also two-hand tapping in the solo, and big surprise, joke’s on you, we’re into that shit too.
Things get even heavier with “Rise,” complete with muted chugging and pinch harmonics Dime would enjoy. There are some creative elements to be found here, from ethereal backing gang vocals, to unpredictable time change-ups and riff structures. Speaking of Dime, Sochan decides to channel his inner Phil Anselmo (and who doesn’t have a little Phil Anselmo inside) and let it rip over top of some heavy chugging on “The Golden Troops.” The vocal fry is impressive. Let’s hope he’s not shredding his cords as badly as it sounds, because this is some hardcore borderline black metal stuff happening here. Hey, this album is a great value. Buy some AOR, get one free thrash metal. We can dig that.
On the subject of AOR, the album goes from “brootal” thrash to piano-and-strings love ballad with what is technically the final track of the album, “Open Your Heart.” The song is already sweet and tender with piano, violin, and vocals, although there are parts where the song is accented nicely by acoustic guitar, and later with semi-clean electric guitar doing some noodling right out of Jason Becker’s “Raspberry Jams”. The CD does include a bonus track, “Love and Affection,” which does not break any rules or set any new standards, but it’s a good enough AOR track, although once again the lead guitar work absolutely steals the show.
In a genre (or genres?) of same-old, same-old, About Us does enough new tricks to make it really worthwhile. If it suffers from anything, it would be scattered energies from trying to be a variety sample-pack of different things, but arguably that is also the greatest strength. So no, if you want a pure AOR album or metal album or thrash album, this isn’t it. To some listeners, “Our Fairyland” would be delightful, but “Golden Troops” is a bridge too far. Alternatively, someone might headbang for “Right Now,” and fall asleep during “Open Your Heart.” It could be line pineapple on pizza for some listeners, but they just need to go with it, because it’s delicious, like this album. If you are a rock and metal-head of a certain age, you are probably into just about every style and sound on this album, to some extent. Check out the videos, and if you get any kind of cool vibes at all, it will be worth your while to check out the rest of the record. Meanwhile, we will be waiting to see what this new band does next. The self-titled debut album recently hit the stores and the streaming services, so give it a go.
Release Date: November 11th, 2022
Record Label: Independent
Genre: Hard Rock / Melodic Metal
- Sochan Kikon / Vocals
- Renlamo Lotha / Guitars
- Pona Kikon / Guitars
- Soren Kikon / Bass
- Renbomo Yanthan / Keyboards
- Yanni Ennie / Drums
“About Us” Track List:
1. Right Now
2. Gimme Gimme
3. Lead My Heart
4. Our Fairyland
5. Loaded Love
6. Rock On Top
8. Golden Troops
9. Open Your Heart
10. Love And Affection (Bonus Track)
Order “About Us” HERE
Who knew there was innovative rock and metal hiding in the mountains of Southeast Asia? Somehow Frontiers records found them, and we are glad they did, because About Us is so many things at once, and they do all of them well. From AOR to melodic hair rock to elements of thrash, with great guitars and vocals, this is one to check out