Tavern of Ruin is a collection of orphic sentiments formed throughout years of built-up personal documentation. Qais Essar unfurls the human ego and its delicate presence within a vast space while creating a sound that feels almost tangible—but not quite. It’s like cupping sunlight in the palm of your hands and wishing that the warmth would exist permanently.
The new album is grounded in Essar’s Rabab and various instrumentation to orchestrate a Western sound yet has the power to completely encompass your mind, body and soul with its deeply rooted Eastern feeling. The Rabab, Afghanistan’s traditional instrument, is presented in its most daunting and compelling form in Tavern of Ruin. There is no coming back once you’ve been submerged into the vibrations of the plucked strings and melodies.
I had the chance to talk to Qais Essar and gain some insight on the intentions behind his album. Thematically, Tavern of Ruin arrived as the conceptual confluence of Sufi literature and the rebirth of oneself. Named after Mawlana’s (widely known as Rumi) journey to the Tavern where his ultimate goal was to detach himself from his ego in order to transcend into the best version of himself. Essar progresses through the album in such a way that you can spiritually witness his rebirth as he transforms to another cosmic dimension.
Tavern of Ruin begins cold, elevating to the beat of a rocking chair while giving you a sense of iciness trickling down your bones. The song is an ode to the years of built up hardness that accumulates around your heart—like little construction workers building a house around your beating vesicle with sultry wood, only for it to explode with the utmost fiery brightness.
The hardness begins to melt and drip through every pour of your skin, leading to his single “The Thaw”—which also comes along with an eerie music video directed by Mexican filmmaker, César Orozco (You can watch it here). As the making of the album progressed, Essar made a conscious effort to collaborate with local artists of color on his project. His personal agenda correlating to the overall wholesome quality of Tavern of Ruin is both inspiring and necessary. It also becomes a parallel to the concept of melting away misconstrued societal expectations and empowers the idea of positive representation.
As your insides continue to thaw and soften, so does the album with the track “Poppy Flowers Bloom in the Springtime of My Love“. It’s sweet and real and almost feels like a romantic gesture imbued by Afghanistan’s love songs that still howl in Kabul’s mountains. The song will sink to the bottom of your heart effortlessly as you fall in love with the lullaby and the singing robot that is also featured in the track.
One of the most pulsating pieces, “Night Flight With Singed Wings” is paralyzing. There are no pauses to catch your breath as the song seizes your vitality. Melodic variants accompanying a stellar Tabla beat played by Neelamjit Dhillon is one of the most addictive sounds you’ll encounter in this lifetime. The two of them together create an immense and boundless force that will keep your heart beating and your body panting and yearning for more.
Tavern of Ruin isn’t shaped like a halo; it doesn’t come full circle, it’s jagged and sharp and sometimes linear. It lives everywhere. It lives in between the spaces of your bookshelf, it lives in the golden hues that the sun so fervently bleeds, it lives in the silent moments and it lives twice as hard in the loud ones too. Qais Essar has created a space for a very special sound that will live on forever. His soul is a hidden orchestra and you do not want to miss out on the unique pieces that he is passing out.
Read more about Qais in an interview I had with him during the making of Tavern of Ruin.