New York-based dark rock mavens Vajra (pronounced “vaag-rah”) have returned. The long silence between debut album Pleroma (2012) and the group’s remarkable new album, Irkalla, was the product of a rigorous touring schedule and a complex confluence of unexpected life events that paused vocalist / visionary Annamaria Pinna’s prolific (and profound) songwriting output. Indeed, the creation process for Irkalla pushed forward in the darkest shadows and the most brilliant of lights. That this drive, ambition, and perseverance originate and radiate outward from a self-sufficient—not corralled by a record label—vehicle like Vajra is not only inspiring but mind-bending.

“We have the freedom to musically, lyrically, and visually explore what we are driven to explore, and to release what we decide to release when the time is right,” offers Pinna. “It’s a combination of instinct and business. We usually release on auspicious days. For Irkalla, each release also will be released on a day that is a derivative of three in terms of numerology. For Pleroma, it was the summer solstice. In terms of content, I see us as travelers who go outside the bounds of a sense-based perception to catch a musical or lyrical idea and then translate it to the material realm. When we get out of our own ways, we are translators or conduits for energies that move through us. Honoring what comes through is important for us.”

Pinna’s complex puzzle of lyrics, music, and themes are always in constant kaleidoscopic motion. While some pieces of Vajra’s musical picture come together with relative ease, others take time to marshal into place. The push and pull of the process isn’t nested in time per se. The songwriting (and overall aesthetic) comes together through surreptitious cosmic provenance and sheer artistic will. An album, like Irkalla for instance, isn’t merely the sum of its parts. To wit, Vajra recently released (and internally-produced by bass player Dave Sussman) the video for “Maya,” the first of several stunning singles. They operate as separate but part of Irkalla’s whole.

“Things shift and move throughout the album depending on the song and each moment within the song,” Pinna reveals. “More concretely, we attempt to weave a tapestry of melodic rock with dark ambient experimental interludes. Perhaps the music and lyrics of Irkalla reflect an esoteric space to explore the dark night of our souls. What is important is that the music may provide a portal to go on a journey. The journey will be different for each individual. My musical heroes have done this for me.”

Throughout Irkalla, Pinna and bandmates Sussman (bass), Al Javier (guitar), Mark Collom (guitar), and Jimmy DeMarco (drums/percussion) conjure music from a diverse panoply of threads. At its core, Vajra can be called dark rock, but the spectrum isn’t always pinned to the tinges of the abyss. Throughout the journey on Irkalla, Vajra paint with vibrant reds (“Maya”), splash blues and greens (“Irkalla”), project arboreal greens (“Wind”), and weave autumnal oranges (“Crown or Crucify”). This is possibly a natural outcome of Pinna’s perceptional condition called Synesthesia, but more likely the varied influences coming into the Vajra camp.

“The influences are varied,” affirms Pinna. “I lived in India for five years, Italy for a summer, NOLA for three years, and San Francisco for a couple of months. My dad was a monk before he met my mom. I'm a yogi and mediation person, and I have this condition called Synesthesia, which affects how I process music. Nature, life, art, Tarkovsky, von Trier, Kubrick, Lynch, philosophers and consciousness astronauts (e.g., Terence McKenna, Alan Watts, Baba Ram Das, Joseph Campbell, etc.), mysticism, the occult, history, dance and politics are influences. Musically, Tool, A Perfect Circle, Om, Classical Hindustani, Alice In Chains, Duran Duran, Black Sabbath, Deftones, soul music, The Mars Volta, etc.”

Conceptually, Irkalla is the first part of a trilogy exploring the various levels of consciousness. Not the medical definition, but rather the philosophical (Eastern and Western) and esoteric. The use of the Sumerian word, “Irkalla,” which is a mythological Underworld of sorts for which there’s no return, is both metaphorical and literal. The trials and tribulations Pinna experienced while writing Irkalla appeared overlapping and ceaseless. Her own personal Hell. Similarly, the lyricist wanted to also venture into the lowest level of consciousness as theme entwined throughout the album’s six snake-like songs. The metaphoric association to the ancient Underworld also plays out in the bonus tracks on Irkalla, where Vajra deconstruct their influences and spirit animals into a three-part music ritual dedicated to the Shadow Queen (her Sumerian name is Ereshkigal and her Greek counterpart is Hekate).

“Irkalla focuses on the lowest level of consciousness,” Pinna says. “It is the base, material, selfish, ego aspects of ourselves (i.e., the ego-driven, lie, cheat, steal, aspects of the self). It is the place that we must shine a light and acknowledge before we move to the next levels of awareness. Also, I’m obsessed with the Sumerian history right now. I was contemplating Goddess energy, and when and what prompted what I see as an imbalance between the masculine and feminine energies. I was wondering what it really meant to have a God and why it was considered, by some, a ‘He.’ I’m also interested in what is behind the concepts of heaven and hell.”

Irkalla was produced by New York native Daniel ‘Sahaj’ Ticotin (Ra, Mötley Crüe). Pinna was introduced to Ticotin in 2018 after both were on different spiritual missions while in India. The twosome hit it off as former expats and with similar interests in music. The majority of the sessions were captured in Los Angeles, with keyboards and some harmony vocals being put to proverbial tape at Pinna’s home studio in New York. The drums were also tracked in upstate New York at a different studio by session drummer and long-time friend Blake Fleming (ex-The Mars Volta). Based off his impressive work for non-album single, “The Mirror,” Vajra again hired two-time Grammy winning studio ace Camilo Silva. Between Ticotin’s sage experience as producer/mixer and Silva’s deft mastering job, Irkalla, with all its hidden caves and spectacular peaks, sounds positively explosive.

For sure, Vajra have the future pegged to today with the launch of the riveting “Maya” video and the broadcast of their striking Tas Limur (Volto, Tool) designed cover art. It’s from here that the adventurous outfit will continue to unfurl angels and demons, light and dark as they prowl into the release of Irkalla on new indie Thunder Cult Records on January 15th, 2021.

By Chris Dick

Listen to Vajra


Annamaria Pinna

The child of a former monk and school teacher, Annamaria Pinna was encouraged to learn about the world around her and to question her assumptions. She believes there is divinity in creativity. Annamaria has a neurological condition called synesthesia, where she attaches color and shapes to sound. Anna began playing violin at age 6 and then switched to the flute when she was 9. Anna wrote her first lyrics when she was 8. She later studied music theory at the Juilliard Institute and voice with Francesca Mondanaro and Don Lawrence.  Anna’s lyrics canvass spirituality, politics, self discovery, the corporate machine, nonduality and consciousness.


Mark Collom

Originally hailing from sunny Southern California, Mark Collom immersed himself into Hollywood's seedy glam/punk/goth underground scene before reaching LA's legal drinking age. Embracing the glitz yet yearning for a harsher edge, Mark relocated to New York after realizing that the gritty, high octane pulse of the city was more to his liking. He quickly found kindred spirits in music, art and culture in NYC’s East Village alternative underground. Over the years, he’s sharpened his playing with a crazy range of garage and punk/post punk bands, and his finely-honed esoteric style of blending rock guitar with sonic, effects-laden soundscapes has proven to be the perfect counterpoint to the hard-driving and darkened eastern rhythms that define Vajra’s music.


Al Javier

By the age of 7, Al Javier recognized music as the perfect asylum that unlocked the tools necessary to express his true being. Born in Columbia, Al was a music student at Universidad del Cauca Music Conservatory in the instrumental music program and furthered his studies in the Master Of Music Arts program at Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas ASAB in Bogotá. With a style that hammers with apotheosic riffs, soars with majestic melodies and weaves with intricate arpeggios, Al's musical journey led him to different cities and countries all over South America, apexing with a move to NYC in 2016 to pursue his quest to reach the divine.


Jimmy DeMarco

Understanding that the advanced coordination of his interneurons and the independence of the rhythmic movements of each of his limbs are driven by his central pattern-generating circuits, Jimmy DeMarco took to studying with drumming greats such as Thomas Lang and Terry Bozzio to capitulate each cycle of his pummeling output onto the skins with a penchant for intense rhythms and driving melodies. Playing music practically his entire life, Jimmy landed his first professional gig at the ripe old age of 12, and he's proud to be part of the SOULTONE CYMBALS family of artists.


Dave Sussman

Crawling out of New York City's goth/metal underground, bassist and guitarist Dave Süssmann cut his teeth playing shitty clubs to rabid outcasts of the dark electro/dance/industrial music scene. Playing lead guitar in New York's industrial pioneers BILE during their most prolific "Sex Reflex/Demonic Electronic" period, Dave has now embraced bass duties and brings a bottom end to Vajra reminiscent of Tool, Motörhead and Ministry.