Puerto Rico’s Avandra present expansive, alluring music on their intense new sophomore album Descender, available now via Blood Music. The band poignantly unify metallic and atmospheric textures into a musical encapsulation of the feeling of looking down from a metaphorical mountaintop at bustling humanity. There’s a good reason for that sonic elevation delivered via Descender — much of it came together in the aftermath of 2017’s deadly Hurricane Maria, which wreaked havoc across Puerto Rico and surrounding areas. Descender helps prove that widespread destruction as definitely not the full story of the island and opens up the connective force binding together its community.
Christian Ayala Cruz founded the project and now serves as its vocalist, guitarist, and synth player. In the gently progressing compositions of Avandra’s newest album, he remarkably captures some of that community connectivity via music. He explains: “One of the biggest traits I believe the album espouses is that of dynamic variance while maintaining an interconnected mood and telling a story through it.” Rather than some “fleeting state of affection,” Cruz believes the album’s mood to rest with “a sense of belonging in the world.” Unifying a range of elements from intense technical guitar playing to flowing piano solos, Cruz and his bandmates enact bringing that belonging out to the open.
“One of the things I set out to do since day one of forming Avandra was to give the multiple dimensions of my musical influences a way to articulate themselves in a coherent and cohesive manner,” Cruz says. “By this, I mean that I didn’t want to just throw in a mixed bag of things, where the softer music seemed out of place with the stronger ones. Heavy or soft, all the songs had to have an essence or mood which would serve as the bonding glue which intertwined them in a logical and consistent way.”
He adds: “I always try to balance out the technical dimension with feel and emotion. I would never sacrifice creating an emotional atmosphere for technique.”
In the aftermath of Maria, Cruz and his community faced their environment stripped down to the point where that raw communal belonging Avandra’s craft exemplifies was front and center. “When you are creating in an environment that is akin to a renaissance town in 16th century Europe, everything affects how you write, mainly because you are more aware of your surroundings, since distractions are scarce – no computers, internet, barely any cellphone service, etc. The darkness and stillness of the night; the early morning sunrise that you are now more aware of; the experience of “togetherness” with the people surrounding you; the truly alone time when they go about their day or go to sleep at night, and you are left with only your guitar and creativity to keep you afloat.”
Although the progression has long been set in motion at this point, few of us these days have experienced a community stripped to the core and left with elements forming it into some revival of centuries long gone, where at times all we had was each other. Descender helps with that. No matter the ultimate specifics, Cruz says, “I hope the album gives every listener the otherworldly experience I get every time I listen to it.” Outside of the strict confines of his own newest music, he reaches out — some of the lyrics grew under inspiration from philosophy of language studies for his Master’s thesis. On another front, Descender also includes contributions from former Dream Theater member Kevin Moore, Astronoid’s Daniel Schwartz, and Haken’s Richard Henshall.
Ask any attuned music fan and they’ll tell you — the “otherworldly,” enlightening experiences Avandra offer possess deeply rooted, essentially tangible power. Cruz hopes that some of that power expressed via Descender helps bring attention to the music community of his home, Puerto Rico, allowing for an increased exchange with other pockets of creativity throughout the world. “Paradigm cultural shifts are never easy, and in fact some may say are impossible,” Cruz notes, “But if younger generations look at us and think “so it IS possible”, then that’s a lot of good done.”
In the meantime, you can help enact the change by checking out Descender below and maybe even diving into the other music the Puerto Rican scene has to offer. Cruz notes the heavy, riff-laden band Moths as a good starting point among the “myriad of great musicians” available comprising what he calls an ultimately “very diverse scene.”