“From the life that you turned away/ It hurts me to the end of sorrow/ the crying children kneel and pray/ for a light within a black tomorrow.”
A heartbreaking sentiment, indeed. In their song “Jacob’s Dance,” Long Island, New York-based Wicked Maraya could have been lamenting the state of heavy metal and hard rock music in 1994. After all, it was a truly sad and dismal time to be a metalhead in the United States. Grunge and alternative-rock music had taken over the radio and MTV airwaves to the point in which erstwhile metal icons from the ‘80s were virtually derided, then ignored, and finally relegated to obsolescence. Album and ticket sales for most hard rock and metal bands plummeted, and it became damn-near impossible to find any traditional, melodic metal albums on the shelves of any record stores (remember those wonderful places?). In fact, to this recent high-school graduate and college freshman, it seemed as if my beloved real metal had vanished from the face of the earth. Needless to say, the situation had become dire, and I was not happy about it.
Sure, there were a few beacons along the dark musical coastline back then. Contemporary new releases such as Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven, Dream Theater’s Awake, Megadeth’s Youthanasia, and Danzig 4 achieved considerable mainstream success while keeping the general metal flag flying. But as far as old-school, melodic metal albums are considered, Wicked Maraya’s Cycles is a 100-karat diamond in the rough mid-’90s music scene. I remember it clear as yesterday: picking the Cycles CD up after class at the Media Play store on the 16th St. Mall in Denver. At the time, I was ravenous, obsessed with blowing my eardrums out with whatever new metal release I could find. I had heard about Wicked Maraya through my nascent involvement in the international underground, more specifically the New Jersey-based Sentinel Steel magazine. That iconic fanzine was as essential to any true metalhead as it was obscure. SS editor/publisher/writer Denis Gulbey had reviewed Cycles in his pages as one of the few solid metal releases then available on U.S. shores (not counting ultra-expensive imports). Cycles is one of those remarkable albums that bridges the divide between metal’s past, present, and future; it is a fantastic record that remains as underrated today as it was virtually ignored upon release.
The story of Wicked Maraya begins in Long Island with brothers John Iadevaio (bass) and Michael Iadevaio (guitar). They formed the band with singer and childhood friend Falco, alongside cousin Dan Malsch on guitar and another friend, Mike Nack, on drums. Their familial relationship as a band seems to have translated into a distinct and natural musical style, as well. On Cycles, Wicked Maraya somehow absorbed the contemporary music scene’s overwhelming sense of darkness without corrupting their sound with the trends of the omnipresent grunge-alternative movement. The record seamlessly combines the down-tuned riffing, heavy groove, and beefier production of modern metal with the soaring vocal melodies and irresistible guitar harmonies of 1980s bands. These comparisons may be an over-simplification, but Cycles simultaneously covers similar ground as Pantera and ‘80s prog-power bands like Queensryche and Crimson Glory. Wicked Maraya’s tempos range from moderate to slow-and-deliberate, almost doomy. Speedy bursts of palm-muted guitar riffs are just that, temporary bursts, but stirring melodies, underlying clean-guitar arpeggios, and moody dynamics rule the proceedings. It’s the sort of musical journey that thrills even though it doesn’t raise the listener’s pulse rate, with Falco’s unique and classy vocal lines floating effortlessly over the top.
Sure, the album received some valid criticisms upon its release. Some purists (I was guilty as charged) said the album lacked speed, the production and riffing-style was too modern, and the filter on some of Falco’s vocal tracks was annoyingly reminiscent of popular industrial-metal bands. Were these critiques valid at the time? Perhaps, but the benefits of time and nostalgia should be kinder to Wicked Maraya’s idiosyncrasies. For the truth is that the worldwide metal market is currently flooded with hundreds, if not thousands of bands that ply the predictably-speedy, ‘80s-style metal trade. Therefore, Cycles simply should be appreciated on the merit of its greatest strength – the songs.
“Another Day” is Cycles’ mid-paced opener; the slow, swung pair of eighth notes in the verse riff foreshadow a typically crushing and catchy chorus. This is only the beginning, however, as the doomy “Jacob’s Dance” mesmerizes and then bludgeons the listener with lush, atmospheric keyboards, a deliberate, stomping chorus riff, and glorious guitar harmonies fresh from the Gates of Valhalla itself. But “Resurrection” is Wicked Maraya’s masterpiece: a showcase of stunning dynamic contrasts and Falco’s passionate vocal entreaties. Falco invokes the late Crimson Glory singer Midnight in one of the most infectious choruses ever, and the harmonized guitar lines are delicious. Other highlights include the dramatic “Face in the Mirror,” the crunchy gallop of “Watching Over,” the lone speedster, ironically dubbed “Alone,” and the compellingly melodic album closer, “The Legacy.”
So that begs the question: what is Wicked Maraya’s legacy? Shortly after Cycles, the band changed their name to Maraya and released two more albums to diminishing returns before breaking up in 1998. But that’s not quite the end of the Wicked Maraya story just yet. A surprising twist awaits. Stay tuned…
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot--