Lahore metal band Takatak on creating their stand-out upcoming album ‘Acrophase’

It’s not easy being a metal band in most parts of the world, but if you’re in Pakistan like the seven-member band Takatak, you really have an uphill task at hand. Formed just about a decade ago as a trio who then become a five-piece and now have two vocalists (Mohammad Ali Suhail and Altamash Sever) plus two drummers (brothers Daud Ramay and Yusuf Ramay) supporting guitarists Zain Peerzada and Luke Azariah (who also handles synth duties) along with bassist Isa Najam.

The prog metal band have scaled up not just in terms of personnel, but also in the chasmic, emphatic quality of their songwriting. While their 2019 EP Out of Something was quirky in bringing forward an instrumental and prog-leaning rock and metal sound, their upcoming album Acrophase goes all-out with a mesmerizing sonic assault, heard so far in five singles that have released – “Fault Lines”, “Voyager”, “Volition”, “The Whale” and “Phantom”.

Recalling the likes of bands such as Gojira, Meshuggah, Periphery and more, Takatak seem to go from presenting a slab of riffs to swirling rhythms and catchy choruses, often all packed into one song.

There’s an Indian connect that exists on Acrophase, which has three more singles set to release – Bangalore’s Gaurav Basu aka Acid Toad (from Inner Sanctum) created the cover art, while guitarist-producer Keshav Dhar helmed mixing duties for the record and contributed guitars to “Fault Lines.” Their first release from the album in January this year, Takatak also lined up guitarist Shamsher Rana to present something perhaps never heard before from Pakistan.

In this chat with Indiegaga, the members take us through the road to the creation processes of Acrophase, why they have two drummers, working with Keshav Dhar and more. Edited excerpts below.

Your performance at the Lahore Music Meet seems to be cited as a pretty important gig. What was the atmosphere like at that gig and was Takatak the only metal band on that billing?

Yusuf Ramay: The Mainstage at the Lahore Music Meet festival has always been the epitome of prestigious platforms to perform on, not only in Lahore but in all of Pakistan. Needless to say, the atmosphere leading up to our performance was one filled with stress, excitement, nervousness, and extreme pressure. Once we hit the stage though, all that stress and nervousness quickly transformed into a surge of energy, partly because the response we got from the crowd was unprecedented. Having been a metal band in Pakistan for 10 years now, we were accustomed to people responding negatively to our music, but our performance at the Lahore Music Meet changed that perception greatly.

Ali Suhail: I wasn't really 'in the band' at the time, I was still in close proximity with the band and was there at the jam sessions for that gig where Phantom and Voyager was created. They were titled "YusufLMM" and "DaudLMM" for the longest time respectively as placeholder titles based on which brother was on the kit for which song.

But once the music started, it was ridiculous. A whole auditorium packed with people who were there to listen to a Kawwaal (Qawwali) group was enamored and completely encapsulated by their performance and their energy and their music. There were lots of uncles and aunties with fingers in their ears but simultaneously vibing to the music. It was pretty amazing overall, as an audience member.

Daud Ramay: Takatak might have been the only metal band in the esteemed festival’s history to play main stage. Lahore music meet is one of the few instances where we can get the opportunity to perform in front of true lovers of music. Recently we were able to perform at Koblumpi festival, (a new venture celebrating the indie music scene in Pakistan), in Islamabad which served as the first time we played our new record in front of a live audience.

What was it like flying to Karachi to record an album, in the larger sense of putting in that kind of investment into an album that you would record in a different studio in a different city?

Yusuf Ramay: Those 14/15 days were by far the most productive, professional, stressful, and testing days of our musical careers. We had to record and edit tracks (drums, guitars, bass, vocals) for all the songs on the album - the work NEVER STOPPED (except for when we had to eat and sleep).

Ali Suhail: So, I already lived in Karachi at the time so it was fairly convenient for me for the whole band to just come there and record (laughs). But no, literally living in the studio to record an album, I grew up on documentaries about this stuff. It was physically and mentally exhausting and it was amazingly gratifying at the same time.

Isa Najam: It was unbelievable! For us to go as a band and record the album in a different city was a very big deal since every member also has their jobs/studies and lives and stuff (laughs).

Zain Peerzada: I’ll have to give a lot of credit to Umair Dar, producer and owner at A for Aleph, who actually made it possible for us to fly out, literally take over his whole house and studio facility for 14 days, without any time restraints or anything. I don’t think we could’ve pulled off something that ambitious without Umair.

Luke Azariah: I am afraid of heights, so flying was a terrible experience for me. However the only thing I looked forward to more than landing was tracking the album at a prestigious establishment like Aleph.

Altamash Sever: That time I was pretty stacked up with my college work. My thesis jury was held on the same day as my flight to Karachi. So I had no fucks for Takatak at the moment, but as soon as I gave my jury I remember having a game face on, went home packed my bag, got to the airport, messaged Zain that I’m on my way.

You've mentioned that working with Keshav Dhar was a big, big thing - can you tell me a bit about how you came across Skyharbor and why you wanted him on board?

Isa Najam: Having Keshav Dhar mix our record is just insane, it's like a dream. I personally came across Skyharbor in like end of 2014, early 2015 sorta, while I was still in college and Guiding Lights was literally my work music! I finished my final project with that album playing on repeat in the background.

Yusuf Ramay: it’s the biggest thing ever! All of us have been heavy Skyharbor fans since 2014. I used to listen to Guiding Lights in its entirety twice every day. Once on my way to college, then once on my way back.

Zain Peerzada: I came across Skyharbor sometime around 2012, when I was discovering bands such as Periphery, Tesseract, Monuments and that whole djent movement. I really, really dug Skyharbor, and for the first couple of months I didn’t know they were actually from India. When I found out, I was blown away, and felt like a huge surge of pride cause these dudes were from my land, and they were as good as any other band out there.

Super inspiring story for anyone who wants to do something cool from this part of the world. Their take on the modern progressive sound was super refreshing, since they were focusing more on the songwriting than anything else, and we really dug his production work in general, specially the first Skyharbor record that he self-produced.

The obvious question I'm going to ask here is why there are not just two vocalists but also two drummers? How did these specific parts of the band come together and what is it like making it all work?

Yusuf Ramay: (Laughs) We get asked this a lot! In essence, we’re all just a bunch of homies who enjoy making noise - so when Zain and I started jamming in school, Daud (my brother) also joined the fun, and it’s been that way since then. Till now, we’ve divided drum duties between us, but for the next one we’re trying to incorporate the both of us on songs in a cool way. Let’s see what we come up with!

Ali Suhail: The two drummers came before the two vocalists. The two drummers just happen to be brothers, and also just happen to be two of the best drummers in Pakistan. Who'd turn that down for convention?

Daud Ramay: Yusuf, my older brother, and I started our musical journey almost side by side, and he would always serve as my guide whenever he would learn new things. We teach other. We progress together. And it’s the same with our bands. We shift duties playing drums, dividing songs between the two of us. And to be honest since all of us are so close we have never questioned the absurdity of having two drummers. It’s just how it is for us. It’s how we create.

You've released four singles so far, what's the plan like coming up? Were there specific videos you had planned for each song and because of the pandemic situation, you've had to rethink some of the creative packaging/promo of the album, apart from missing out on gigs presumably.

Yusuf Ramay: We had narrowed down music videos for 3 songs: “Fault Lines”, “The Whale”, and “Flash Your Bones”, a plan which we’re still true to. For the rest of the album, we agreed on making Playthroughs and lyric Videos as we see fit. The only thing the pandemic has changed is the logistics and timeline of it all. Other than the delays we’re facing, the pandemic has not been able to stop us from getting our shit out!

Isa Najam: Right now we're looking into all sorts of resources online and what all we can use to fill this gap that has been created by the whole COVID situation.

For example, we now have a Patreon page where we have exclusive content/rewards for anyone who wants to sign up. So like before we had gigs where people can pay a ticket, go see their favorite bands, interact with them (kinda), now we have Patreon!

Zain Peerzada: As far as shows go, we didn’t have anything lined up that got canceled. Being a metal band in Pakistan, we play a show, or maybe two if we’re lucky, a year. We’d love to tour India, someday. We’ve heard the crowds over there are insane!

Pictures credit: Bilal Kazi

Interview by ANURAG TAGAT