Darien 17-year-old's death metal album named one of Spin Magazine’s top ten of 2022

Musician Nikhil Talwalkar, 17, poses in his home studio in Darien, Conn., on Wednesday January 18, 2023. Talwalkar's solo album, Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference, landed on Spin Magazine's top ten metal albums of the year alongside genre legends like Ozzy Osbourne.
Musician Nikhil Talwalkar, 17, poses in his home studio in Darien, Conn., on Wednesday January 18, 2023. Talwalkar's solo album, Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference, landed on Spin Magazine's top ten metal albums of the year alongside genre legends like Ozzy Osbourne.Christian Abraham/Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — Despite being only 17 years old, Nikhil Talwalkar has been making a name for himself within the death metal scene, backing up bands from around the world on the drums and recently embarking on his own solo music career.

His latest release, “Reality Drips Into the Mouth of Indifference,” was named one of Spin Magazine’s top ten metal albums of the year alongside legends of the genre like Ozzy Osbourne. 

"The idea that one 17-year-old kid, operating out of his parents’ house in Connecticut, could single-handedly write and record an album that ranks with recent efforts by established giants in the field like Germany’s Defeated Sanity and Spain’s Wormed, seems just a tad far-fetched. But that’s just what young Nikhil Talwalkar has done,” critic Hank Shteamer wrote in his review. "It would take years to properly savor the inspired madness on display here; I suspect by that time, Talwalkar will have made five or six more albums at least this impressive."

Despite the thousands of views on his YouTube channel, some people find it difficult to believe that a teenager could display such skill on an album he built in his family’s suburban home.

“I've gotten a few claims that it's not actually me, which is really funny to me,” Talwalkar said. “It’s flattering that they think it would be faked cause I don't think I have the time to do that.” 

Talwalkar, who turns 18 in less than two weeks, has been playing drums for nearly 15 years, ever since his parents bought him his first drum kit after they saw him playing on pots and pans. Talwalkar’s father exposed him to rock music at an early age through bands such as Rush and Led Zeppelin.

“We always had music playing in the house,” Talwalkar said. “He used to play with me when I was like four on drums, playing guitar, AC/DC and stuff like that.”

Drums ended up becoming a gateway for him as he learned to teach himself guitar and bass, inspired to reach the technical skills of Neil Peart or Jimmy Page. As he searched for increasingly challenging music, Talwalkar discovered metal.

Talwalkar was “blown away by the insane musicians” from bands like Necrophagist, a neo-classical death metal band that blends the tonalities of European classical music with the aesthetics of metal. To Talwalkar, they were "virtuosic."

“In a lot of genres, there isn't really a need to be performing at such a high level technicality wise,” Talwalkar said. “With a lot of metal, it's such demanding music that there's more of a higher concentration of people who actually have to be that skilled and proficient at their instruments.”

In between his time with School of Rock in New Canaan and the Darien High School jazz band, Talwalkar honed his musical ear teaching himself to play metal and posting monthly covers to his YouTube channel.

His videos caught the attention of Oscar Ortega, a prolific metal guitarist and one of the musicians who first inspired Talwalkar to play. Impressed with Talwalkar's skill, Ortega invited him to play drums on an album.

“I wanted to ask him ‘Are you sure?’ because at the time I didn't really feel up to the task,” Talwalkar said. “I really wanted to do my best on the first thing that people would hear with me on an actual album. I'm grateful I said yes, because it did freak me out a bit.”

Since fall of 2020, Talwalkar has appeared as a drummer on 15 albums, with more set to release in the new year. Working with other artists virtually was the only outlet for musicians like Talwalkar after the pandemic had shuttered live events.

“I just found myself with a lot more time to actually engage with that music and record from home which was really nice,” Talwalkar said. “It allowed a lot of people to make music or albums that they wouldn't have made without the inclination, just stay home and record their parts and send it out to other people. I think it definitely got me to be more productive with music.”

Talwalkar took full advantage of that productivity, releasing two albums written and performed entirely by him. He had been writing for several years, but said he held off until he felt confident in his abilities on all instruments.

“I found that I could really, freely express my ideas if I wasn't relying on other people,” Talwalkar said. “Not that collaboration isn't good, which it obviously is, but (it’s) a way to make something that purely came from my own influences and my own playing style.”

After learning from the creative process of his first album, written when he was between 12 and 13, Talwalkar aimed to essentially create one cohesive piece, a 35 minute song split into 10 parts.

“All of the songs together were paced, sort of like one very long song to try to not tire the listener but to also have like a meaningful arc from the beginning to the end,” he said. “I had the idea to sort of weave different musical motifs throughout the entire album that would only make sense contextually when listening to the entire thing.”

To see his effort on the album recognized in Spin, let alone be included on the same list as Osbourne, was “crazy.”

“I get more enjoyment out of hearing that my album resonated with someone in some personal way,” he said. “(Music magazines) gloss over a lot of the underground metal releases, of which there's a whole world that I think a lot of people should tap into more. It was sort of surreal to see that.”

He said his parents have also been incredibly supportive of his career, if sometimes in disbelief of the news he shares with them.

“They came to my first death metal gig in Seattle last summer, which was interesting,” he said. “They sort of stuck out amongst the crowd of death metal fans.”

With concerts back in full swing, Talwalkar has plans for more live gigs and a tour over the summer. It's a chance to finally meet some of the artists he's worked with over the past two years.

He may cut back on some of his outside musical endeavors once he begins his freshman year at New York University in the fall, where he plans to study music technology.

“I'm not really sure how I'm going to balance that but we'll see,” he said. “Ideally, I don't want to completely stop recording for bands or working with musicians in college, but I think I'll definitely have to do less than I'm doing now.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Talwalkar's name.