Caged Bastard has always been a fascinating project ever since I discovered it with 2019’s Artificially Alive EP. Muhammad Oun’s peculiar mix of metal and non-metal genres really made an impression on me, seeing as I haven’t quite found something that scratches the same itch outside of the man’s own work. 2021’s Strive EP is the band’s first release in 2 years, which is notable due to the fact that Muhammad had been releasing quite a bit of material ever since the project’s inception in 2018. Thankfully, the wait between this and 2019’s Scour… definitely wasn’t for naught, seeing as we’ve received another quality project.
The EP is comprised of the eponymous track, a sprawling 25 minute long behemoth that undoubtedly warrants its length. It ebbs and flows through many different sections, alternating from ambient noise and feedback to sludgy bass driven riffs and furious tremolo riffing, constantly ramping up tension throughout. Every tempo shift and every drone that is experienced serves as a stepping stone towards “Enlightenment”, a core theme of the lyrics. It’s almost as if the different moods and levels of aggression are a means to show that the path to one’s end goal is filled with moments where there’s motivation and drive, as well as ones where things feel hopeless and hard to progress through. Eventually though it all culminates in a cathartic release of tension by way of chaotic riffing overlaid with noise, signalling the end of one’s path, whichever that may be.
The production also serves the music quite well with how it’s handled. The mixing is quite roomy, with the reverb applied on the instruments filling up the space quite nicely, while the vocals hovering further in the back, being a spectral presence over the music. The instruments also sound quite good, with the bass in particular being a standout for its rumbly tone, which helps prop up the guitars during the more mid-paced segments, as well as provide some hefty drones in the latter half of the track.
The lyrics, as one might be able to infer from the title of the EP and my description of it so far, deal with one’s path to enlightenment, a search for answers to questions of the spiritual kind, as well as a deeper meaning to life. While the idea behind them and Muhammad’s delivery are quite good, what dulls their impact ever so slightly is some, strange, for lack of a better word, expressions. It’s clear that English isn’t Muhammad’s first language, but I cannot fault him for trying to express something very intimate to him through his music. That being said, I do not have much of an issue with them, but it’s worth a mention if you’re someone who pays extreme attention to lyrics. There are also a couple of clunky transitions between sections here and there but I can’t say they severely impacted my enjoyment of the project.
Strive is an impressive project from one of metal’s most fringe and experimental artists, and definitely something fans of more “out there” forms of metal should look into. It’s a statement from Muhammad that even after all the difficulties the pandemic, he will still strive towards his goal of making music, and nothing will stand in the way of that.
Highlights: It’s a single song and it’s good, so the whole thing