EP’s first release was reputed to be filled with weird electronic sounds, synthesizer magic and the poppish guitar-driven anthems, long before the album saw the light of day or the introspective title Irtiqa was associated with this ambitious effort. With all the hype surrounding the album, Irtiqa is certainly one of the albums that Pakistani aficionados have anxiously been waiting for. Now, living up to all the hype and expectations, I imagine, is probably one of the band’s prime concerns. The album does deliver. Ambition and dedication is clearly visible or audible, rather, amidst the rising and falling of synthesized crescendos, aggressive alternative rock guitars and the meticulously crafted and programmed drums.
The album starts with the eerily atmospheric Irtiqa I, which gave me sudden emotional head rush. For a moment, I elevated the band to the highest levels of my devotion for creating such good experimental music in Pakistan. The song also had one of my favorite moments on the whole album, which was the crackled sound of a baby crying after being born. The feeling of euphoria lingered on as the second track kicked in with similar meticulously arranged ambient sounds and vocals bits and pieces in the intro. The second track is perhaps EP’s most famous track to date. Hamein Aazma is a melodious alternative rock song with catchy lyrics and a powerful chorus; complete with a sonic arsenal of heavy guitars, drums and aggressive vocals it instantly appealed to me, a testosterone-based life form. The high browed pseudo-intellectual appreciation for the ambient Irtiqa was suddenly and shamelessly replaced by my own little moshing ritual. Songs like Hamein Aazma might not have the artistic innovation of the Irtiqa songs (yes there are three, thankfully), however they do serve as pop numbers which will provide the band to reach to a wider audience.
Allow me to make just a small, tangential comment about the audience of the band. It is apparently very difficult to market hard rock songs in Pakistan, not to mention the fact that they have a rapper rapping in English and the band’s name is a complex mouthful of angrezee syllables: Entity Paradigm. Therefore, I suspect that the target audience is the urban Westernized elites, which in a country like Pakistan translates to a relatively small amount of people. Nevertheless, widespread success for EP is not improbable at all, since rock bands such as Noori, Junoon, Fuzon and Aaroh have recently achieved massive success. EP might be a little more avant-garde, edgier and definitely more Western but I think there is enough influx of foreign culture and satellite channels in urban Pakistani households to not only approve of this effort, but actually embrace it. With catchy melodies, these songs are sure to cause stir in the big cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad where the “underground” rock scene has already been the cause of much hype.
The aspect of the album that I found greatly repulsive was the rapping that insidiously crept in and around the first half of the album. The intellectual void in Ahmed’s rapping was impossible for me to digest. Ahmed seems to be suffering from a severe condition of existential dilemma because on Kahan Hai Tu Ahmad quite repugnantly raps that he’s “a white boy coming straight from the L town”. Now as Nirvana aficionados aggressively claim that Kurt Cobain’s lyrics were not just chants about alienation; they were an elaborate philosophical commentary akin to Confucian teachings, EP fans might do the same. In that case I step forth and take all credit for being an ignorant pig. However, the negativity engendered by Ahmed’s rapping was insignificant, for in my eyes it did not tarnish my appreciation for the otherwise nicely crafted record. Hamein Aazma is followed by another alternative rock formulaic track, Kahan Hai Tu complete with power chords and aggressive vocals. Hamesha is no different in regards to its song-structure and arrangement. Nevertheless, Zulfiqar and Fawad have enough power chord variations and agro vocal melodies in their bag of tricks to prevent any two songs from sounding alike. And that applies to the whole record, where each song has a character of its own.
Aghosh the next track opens with a sweet string intro followed by Zulfiqar’s lonely acoustic opening the door to the rest of the song which is an unorthodox nationalistic song; unorthodox because it abandons the Dil Dil Pakistan formula of declaring their undying love and dedication (funny how this dedication never translates to material progress for our “beloved” homeland), EP chose to lament (and legitimately so) about the metaphorical death of a dream and fondly mourn its demise for the first two verses. After taking blame for the faux pas that led to the miserable state of the motherland, the song ends on a hopeful (pronounced “commercial”) note that “we the people” will change things. The highlight of the song being the wonderful lyrics by Ali A. Khan that really pierce the soul and instigate a feeling of love, devotion and the need to change things, while clearly demonstrating that its not as simple as Hai Jazba Junoon To Himmat Na Har. The arrangement of the song is very similar to A Perfect Circle’s arrangement of the song 3 Libras and the riff playing behind the pre-chorus sounds somewhat similar to a riff from the APC song The Hollow. This is not rare, Tool and APC ‘influence’ is seen throughout the album. The arrangement of the latter half of the album is heavily inspired by Tool.
Waqt follows in direction of guitar-driven poppy melodies like Hamein Aazma and Kahan Hai Tu, however the mood is less tense and hopeful, like on Aghosh. Following Waqt is the second dose of Irtiqa, appropriately titled Irtiqa II. Rahguzar is undoubtedly a hidden gem and a big surprise. The lonely acoustic notes fly from Zulfiqar’s guitar and later get accompanied by an excellently scored string part. Fawad’s grungy vocals get replaced by a more soulful sound that breathes life into Fawad and Salman Nasir’s introspective lyrics. Fitrat and Barzakh are two really explosive and hard tracks before the final Irtiqa. They are perhaps the hardest tracks released on a mainstream record in Pakistan, yet are surprisingly personable and memorable. Barzakh’s guitar parts, albeit being excellently performed and arranged, are heavily “influenced” by Tool guitar licks. Especially, the main guitar riff which strangely resembles the main riff from the Tool song “Schism” off the Lateralus release.
With that out of the system, I will proceed to shamelessly rave about the last and in my opinion the best track on the album: Irtiqa III. I assure you the term ‘grand finale’ cannot be embodied by anything better than the final track of the album. EP did save the best for last. This ambient and experimental track is heavy on synthesizers and ethereal sounds, but is extremely listen-able because of a constant and irresistible beat. The lyrics by Danish J. Khan are edgier than anything else heard in mainstream Pakistani music to date. This track is unlike any other track on the album and is closer to something being presented by a tormented orator at a poetry slam. The fact that the song lacks vocal melodies makes it appear more like a poem than a song – a poem that is accompanied by spine-chilling ethereal sounds. Together, these elements create a dark and scary ambiance which is perfect for the message being advanced by the lyrics. A dark, abstract painting filled with black paint, leaving no space for light to creep in from; not unlike the society EP seems to be criticizing in this outstanding track.
Well, that was the run-down of what the album is all about. Despite unsettling “similarities” (take liberty to employ the truest connotation of the term similar) to Western artists, the album is indeed an ambitious effort that materializes very well. The lyrics are the highlight of the album; especially at a time when Sabir Zafar has gone commercial and Junoon has gone the Pappu Yaar way, this album stands out as having poignant and introspective lyrics on most songs. Employing deep metaphors and salees Urdu the various lyricists who worked on the album have crafted words that perfectly compliment the power-chord energy of Zufliqar’s guitar. The different styles of songs and their proximity to various Western artists suggests that EP are not really sure and have yet to master the art of creating something coherent and tangible. Irtiqa, although eclipsed by “foreign influences”, has some truly memorable moments – the fervor and dedication, the attention to detail, good musicianship and production skills shown in this album is only evidence that the various musical influences of this band will amalgamate into something new and exciting in the future. The band has tremendous potential and, if this record is anything to go by, it is obvious that EP is easily the best new act around.