Back to the last few years before the turn of the century. A relatively unknown, or perhaps underrated and ignored genre of metal music started to attract a lot of attention from metal fans from various genres. Characterized by an often classically schooled female vocalist the female fronted metal earned itself an important spot in the metal scene in just a few years. In the first decade of the new millennium its popularity reached all-time highs which inevitably led to a torrent of new bands within the genre, ultimately more or less polluting it. In the slipstream of the success of female fronted symphonic metal bands such as Nightwish, Epica and Within Temptation, to name a few, the scene was flooded with bands trying to get their piece of the pie regardless whether they had any rights to it quality-wise. Starting a symphonic metal band which would have a substantial portion of its vocal lines performed by operatically schooled female vocalists around those years would be considered madness, unless you were more than 100% convinced its quality would be high enough to guarantee its survival.
Apparently Mark Jansen, one of the masters of successful band formation in the Netherlands, was just that, because all of this didn’t stop him from starting MaYaN, presumably a reference to his name, in 2010. Initially meant as a project between two friends, Mark Jansen and Jack Driessen, who wanted to compose an album in the musical style they truly preferred it wasn’t long before guitarist Frank Schiphorst was asked to join the alliance, a move that would later prove to be crucial. Between the three of them the songs kept coming and coming, transforming ‘project MaYaN’ into a full-blown band, heavily leaning on bombastic, symphonic metal with distinct death metal influences. A handful of artists, Simone Simons and Floor Jansen among others, were added to the line-up to cover all musical bases. But why stop there? More and more artists were added to the list of contributors, eventually leading to a huge list of members, former members, friend- and guest musicians and (live-) contributors. I’m not even going to bother including the current line-up, chances are there will be new additions when you read this…
Anyway, with such a large pool of high-quality, versatile artists at your disposal one would be forgiven to think it would be a walk in the park to compose exceptionally high quality music time and time again, but having so many choices could very well make things harder instead. However, the guys from MaYaN have proven they are perfectly capable of making the right choices on the band’s first two releases, Quarterpast in 2011 and Antagonise in 2014. So even though the list of contributors kept growing over the years, I’m not at all worried MaYaN’s latest release called Dhyana, the Sanskrit word for meditation and contemplation, might disappoint. Especially since equally much attention has been payed to the rest of the production as there has been to the music and musicians themselves. For example, the bombastic aspect in MaYaN’s music is the responsibility of the world famous The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, proving they have gone to great lengths to make this a quality release. From the looks of it, this should be a treat, let’s figure out if my ears agree.
The first strike is dealt by said Czech orchestra as the album kicks off in full bombastic gear with The Rhythm of Freedom, where a tension building intro serves as a warning for the full force of MaYaN’s art that will be unleashed on you for the next hour. No restrains, no brakes, it’s full throttle from the start and that is exactly how it should be. Drummer Ariën van Weesenbeek goes all out with a bone-crushing drum line, dragging the others along in this raging rhythm, accompanied by an angry grunt. Later in the track the guitarist and key manager Jack Driessen go all out as well with flaming solo-work, making this a high-powered, very energetic song with, among many others, both death and progressive metal influences. Some way to start an album! After all this the pressure is on for the second song, called Tornado of Thoughts – I don’t think, therefore I am, but it meets the expectations seemingly effortless. Still following the high-powered path the opener sent us on, this too bursts with energy which, peppered with a subtle, yet unmistakable oriental hint throughout and more emphasis on the female vocals, makes this an equally pleasant song to experience. Then the band shaves the roughness off the edges a bit with Saints Don’t Die, although it still has the by now familiar MaYaN vibe, working towards a point of rest and, most likely, meditation and contemplation which comes in the form of the beautiful, fragile Dhyana, where the spotlights are on the two female vocalists of duty, Laura Macrì and Marcela Bovio (Stream Of Passion, Ayreon).
After this short moment of introspection the show continues with, how appropriate, Rebirth from Despair, a song that admittedly has some very catchy vocal lines, but still has plenty of fire in it. Yet, it does feel as if things have taken a turn, though not at all for the worse, and considering what Dhyana means, that might very well have been a deliberate action. Completely conform the concept of Dhyana there’s a definite shift in aggression in about every aspect of the songs, with as most striking proof the less raging, more rhythmic drum lines. The slow, at times heavily lingering The Power Process, the in positively confusing, thus fittingly titled The Illusory Self, the operatic ballad Satori (understanding), they all fit the changed atmosphere, though not all equally strong. A perhaps surprising, but all the same pleasant change. It does not end there, though. With Maya – The Veil of Delusion and the very strong The Flaming Rage of God the fire is re-lit once again, with the band pulling out all the stops including a wicked, foul-sounding screech that could have easily been pulled straight from hell. There’s only one possible ending to all this, and here too MaYaN ticks all the boxes with Set Me Free, the album closer that builds towards a somewhat predictable, but mandatory and perfectly suiting outro.
MaYaN aims to make music that in essence is not new, nor particularly innovating within metal in general, partly due to the still overcrowded symphonic metal genre. Of course the attentive listener will hear shards of the most well-known players in the genre like Epica and Nightwish on Dhyana, but its many different layers have been blended so superbly that, mixed together, MaYaN has a rather unique sound. Add to that the expert execution by carefully selected artists that potentially are among the leaders in their specific field of expertise and it’s safe to say Dhyana is a true gem. Though theoretically it seems easy enough to compose and produce a high quality album when you have so many great artists at your disposal, there is no guarantee it will actually all work out as it should. There’s a multitude of problems you could run into, so the fact MaYaN managed to conjure up such a great album is proof of their capability to see things in the right perspective and to set priorities. The result is an awesome album with many hidden features and details that will surprise you time and time again. Don’t hesitate and start uncovering all the beauty and pleasure this album has to offer you. It does ask quite a lot from your senses, but it’s well worth it. I have no doubt this one is a serious competitor for the top rank in many year lists among which mine is definitely one. Truly an impressive release!