Review by Vard Aman
What are the first things that come to the minds of the average John and Jane Doe when they hear the name “Armenia”? The Armenian genocide of 1915 (assuming that the person in question has got the courage and the honesty to admit it happened)? The devastating 1988 earthquake and the subsequent humanitarian fund-raiser “Rock Aid Armenia”? Kim Kardashian’s ancestry perhaps? (A quick question for the adherents of deceptive politically correct newspeak while I’m on the subject: Are people of Armenian ancestry living in the US called “Armenian Americans” or “Caucasians”?) The place where Lou Gevorkian from Louna and Tracktor Bowling comes from? Or am I stretching the limits of knowledge, both musically and geographically, of the average John and Jane Doe now? How about an awesome and interesting little country full of awesome and interesting people which this particular reviewer would love to visit (if you’ve already guessed where this might be going)? Well, let me just say this then: it doesn’t matter how much or how little you know about Armenia, there is one thing that you can add to the list if you have not already done so: a band called Dogma! Actually, you can also add Ambehr (now based in Moscow) and Divahar to what is now a steadily increasing list of Armenian awesomeness, but that’s for another day; this is going to be about Dogma.
Dogma (Դոգմա) was founded in 2008 by bassist, Vardan Grigoryan, and guitarist, Heno Grigoryan, both already well known in the Armenian rock scene. They were joined by drummer, Derik Vardumyan, and vocalist, Zara Gevorgyan. Since then, they have released 2 albums: “Ethnic-Methnic” in 2009 and this one, “Under Dogma”; and they have played at Wave Gotik Treffen, and shared the stage with Ian Anderson (and when I say “shared the stage with Ian Anderson” I don’t only mean opening for Jethro Tull, I mean literally shared the stage with him in a kind of Dogma – Jethro Tull supergroup playing songs from both bands). Dogma plays a unique form of Progressive Ethnic Rock/Metal – a blend of powerful, almost 70s-style Progressive Metal interlaced with Armenian folk, quiet acoustic passages and moody atmospheres. Put it all together and Dogma is, to quote Ian Anderson himself: “The best musical Metal band this side of Mars. Amazing bass player. Brilliant vocals. Searing guitar. Thundering neutron drums. This band feature instruments which are weapons of mass destruction…. Oh, to be so young.”
Well, it appears that Ian Anderson might have been a bit starstruck (and I certainly don’t blame him) so let’s go through some of his descriptions: “Amazing bass player.” Definitely! Vardan does not play the bass just to provide some low end that follows the guitars and drums but as an actual lead instrument itself just as a Geezer Butler or a Steve Harris (or my friend Diccon Harper, formerly of VOD and Pagan Altar) would. “Searing guitar.” Once again, it’s impossible to disagree with Ian‘s assessment. But the guitars are more than just “searing”, they are masterfully intricate and controlled. The acoustic sections are very detailed, and the heavy sections powerful and rich sounding – very Tony Iommi-esque. “Thundering neutron drums.” Hair splitting aside, this is once again hard to disagree with. The drums are like the guitars – intricate and controlled, and brutally powerful in the heavy bits. Fear the drummer! Trust me, I’m a drummer!
“Brilliant vocals.” If anything, this is an understatement. Musically Dogma are more than good enough to make it purely as an instrumental band if they wanted to, but why settle for that when, by adding a more than just brilliant vocalist, you can be “the best musical Metal band this side of Mars”? Zara‘s vocals are an instrument in their own right, and the raw emotion of her vocals brings out the mood of the music as a whole. She has great control, versatility, subtlety and power. The vocals, like the music, can easily be enjoyed on their own; but together they make an awesome combination… or as Ian Anderson would say a “weapon of mass destruction”. But in my opinion Dogma‘s music is too subtle and refined for such a description; I’d say it’s more like a slow acting but highly addictive drug that you just can’t get enough of.
There are also the very important things about Dogma that Ian Anderson forgot to mention: the uniqueness of the band and the moody soundscapes they create. There is no mistaking Dogma’s music for anything else, and unless another band comes along that successfully combines Armenian folk music with intricate and powerful Progressive Metal with a 70s edge, it is likely to stay that way. Dogma‘s new album, “Under Dogma” carries on from where their debut left off with “Sand Leopard” before adding a darker and more moody feel which continues throughout most of the rest of the album, and this is the one thing that “Ethnic-Methnic” was missing because Dogma do it so well. Also featuring on “Under Dogma” are a few songs (4) in English, and they lose nothing from this because they are very competent in English. Their lyrics are poetic and very well thought out. An example from “Melancholy”: “Hey you, my old friend, where you come from? You save all my words, you count my wrongs….. Hey you, my old friend, where do you go? You take the echo, you take my voice.” “Melancholy” could be regarded as the single from the album; and what a song it is! It’s a perfect example of that highly addictive drug that you just can’t get enough of; only it’s not so slow acting; this one grabs you immediately and won’t let you go; it’s about as close as one can get to the perfect piece of musical artistry. As a single it provides the gateway to the rest of the album. The music, with all of its contrasts and intricacies and subtleties, is so well crafted that “Under Dogma” is an album that you have to, and will certainly want to listen to over and over again; there is a lot here to discover. The next songs that grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go were “Who Has Seen?”, “Argument” and “Falling” and the rest followed shortly after. You might well listen to this album and end up selecting totally different songs; they’re all different and will therefore appeal to different tastes. Personal favourites are also likely to change from day to day. Well, they do for me anyway.
Unfortunately, I have not seen Dogma play live (yet), but there is footage on Youtube of some of Dogma‘s shows. I mention this because Dogma‘s music translates incredibly well live. Go check it out. And if you happen to live somewhere where Dogma might be touring at the time, this band is not one to be missed. Meanwhile, “Under Dogma” is a CD you’ll be listening to and remembering for quite some time – the uniqueness and atmosphere of this music, and the beautiful way it is delivered will ensure that. But you’re going to have to hear it and experience it for yourself. Actually, that really is the bottom line.
Rating – 95/100
- Sand Leopard [Ավազե Հովազ]
- Who Has Seen? [Ո՞վ Է Տեսել]
- Who Are You For? [Ու՞մ Համար Ես]
- Expectation [Սպասում]
- Hori-Loro [Հորի-Լորո]
- Joyspread [Ուրախացան]
- Zara Gevorgyan – Vocals
- Heno Grigoryan – Guitars
- Serge Melkonyan – Keyboards
- Vardan Grigoryan – Bass Guitar, Keyboards
- Derik Vardumyan – Drums & Percussion