Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Violent Revolution

Like all revolutions, it began fearlessly and then hit a brick wall.

Make that a concrete wall. An iron wall. An ironic heavy metal wall, if you will.

First, the great Indian government denied Iced Earth – one of the co-headlining acts – their visas. For unclear and clearly vague reasons. And then the hallowed Palace Grounds, no stranger to heavy metal, inexplicably retracted/did not give permission. And if that wasn’t bad enough, many sponsors pulled out at the last minute.

Those were the odds. Now stack them up against the intent. Bangalore Open Air was India’s first attempt at being a daylong metal fest. Something that borrowed from Wacken and would also pay back in full, by sending there one of India’s best, judged Wacken-class after a grueling slugfest with other local zonal acts. BOA was to be 12 hours of metal massacre, with 4 zonal finalists competing for a spot at Wacken, followed by 6 of the bigger Indian bands, and to be sweet-spotted by 2 international acts.

It was designed to be a day only for those who had seen enough Sam Dunn documentaries to want to script that own.

Like I said, the revolution hit a wall. And then like all good revolutions, it didn’t lose steam or die out. It simply turned violent. Suidakra, one of Germany’s melodic death metal bands with Celtic influences, stepped in for Iced Earth. Acharya Institute of Technology, a less-known college in a lesser-known area lent their grounds, and as far as the sponsors that pulled out went – BOA just went along without them.

Quite often, the quality of a pilgrimage is determined by the effort the pilgrim has to put in. And this was no exception. The change of venue and the sheer purity of purpose meant that those who flirt with metal stayed home. Kreator being the main act, didn’t help their cause. Now to BOA. The college was far away. On Hesaraghatta main road, off the face of Bangalore. So far away that a cold beer would be warm by the time you raised it to your lips. But once you reached, you knew you were among your own. The ground was big and the stage – a tribute to one of the biggest metal legends ever, Ronnie James Dio – was big enough. If the revolution needed a sign, this was it.

I missed the Wacken winners, Zygnema, as it took me a while to locate the media desk and get my entry-band. It’s entirely my loss, as they must have been good enough to beat Crypted, who I thought were simply magnificent. The other zonal band – Damage Era from Gangtok – was tight but today wasn’t their day. One zonal band couldn’t make it; and so three bands ultimately competed for a spot at Wacken. After the zonal bands, the first of the “non-Wacken-competing” Indian acts took stage.  

Theorized, a melodic thrash band from Bangalore, was a last minute addition to the list. They started the first mosh pit of the day and played some of their newer stuff like ‘Genetic Variants’ and ‘Venomous Tormentia’. You could see that the intensity was up and so was the sound. For while the levels were going from loud to low to muddy when the zonal bands were playing, this clearly was the gig at the next level.

Albatross from Mumbai played next. They are doomy, gloomy and this was the first time I saw them play. Actually, the first time I heard their music or even heard of them. But they were quite good. They also played tribute to the Dio stage by doing a very competent rendition of ‘Holy Diver’. Their original, ‘The Dining Table’, whet the appetite though the intro section reminded you of Megadeth’s ‘Sweating Bullets’. 

Bevar Sea took stage after Albatross, and you could see that the crowd loved them. The riffs were slow and ominous and brooding, a cross between Black Sabbath and Mastodon and something more funereal. They also looked like one of the more professional acts – the band art was stunning and added to the ambience. ‘Abishtu’ was the pick of the list, the crowd chanting the chorus like they’d written it. And when Jack ended with “We’re Bevar Sea…” the crowd knew what to say: “…and so are you!”. Overall, it was a tight performance with a fair bit of showmanship thrown in.

But I was craving for something heavier, something that would grab me by my throat and grudge me my breath. 1833 AD, a bleak black metal band from sadda Dilli, was the answer. Now, I’ve heard of these guys but never heard them play, and I realized what I’ve been missing. The vocalist, Nishant, could be from Norway and the fury and beauty of their compositions was unbelievable. They had to pause when the guitarist’s string broke and bled him, and that’s when the crowd demanded a drum solo and Raghav gamely obliged. It was a moment that I saw with the clarity of oncoming headlights – here I was among my own, here metal heads could ask and they would be heard. Here, the revolution was in safe hands. And when I heard the much demanded ‘Who will kill the Emperor?’ I knew Ihsahn had something to think about. 1833 AD, truly, you are something from another age.

Epiphany hit me like a beautiful woman whispering sweet nothings. This show was getting better with each band and we hadn’t gotten to the main act yet. Only, the seductive siren turned out to be a four-member, all male act that growled, vomited and carried the burden of doom. Dying-fucking-Embrace. Take-a-fucking-bow-already. They began with ‘Blood Rites’ from the Misanthrope EP, and took everyone back some twenty years. As a band, their importance to the scene cannot be overstated. They were tough on the ear when Indian metal was finding its feet and they’re still tough on the ear when newer acts are walking tall. They demand respect, earn it easily and hold their own. ‘As Eternity Fades’ saw Jimmy Palkhivala rouse himself from the afternoon siesta and attack the strings, and the soloing was as much a lesson as it was a treat. ‘Grotesque Entity’, ‘Degeneration’, ‘Dagda – His Time Has Come’, ‘The Passing Away’ and ‘Spawn of the Depths’ (with its Slayer-like opening riff), were gems rarely brought out and lovingly spewed by Vikram Bhat, whose throat is as diseased as it is palliative.

Eccentric Pendulum played next, and while they were tight, their progressive metal act found it tough to make inroads after Dying Embrace. ‘My Eucalyptine Death’ was well received, but to tell you the truth, the long day was beginning to take its toll, and the crowd looked like they wanted to save some energy for Kreator.

The same happened with Kryptos, one of Bangalore’s own. They were the last of the bigger Indian bands to take stage, and I dare say they would have been even better received if they played earlier. ‘Mask of Anubis’, ‘Heretic Supreme’ and ‘Descension’ were some of the songs they nailed. Nolan (vocals/guitar) connected well with the fans and as they walked off, chants of “Krytos…Kryptos!” stayed on.

Indian metal had raised its fist and punched its way through. I remember feeling thankful for being there, for feeling that even without seeing Suidakra and Kreator, this day was a landmark one in our metal history.

And then it was time for the German-Celtic metallers. Never mind the fact that Suidakra had just recently played in Bangalore some four months ago, when they opened for Opeth. In fact, sometimes, familiarity breeds appreciation. When Suidakra took stage and the banshee bagpipes filled the air, the very heavens opened in applause. What began as a drizzle soon became a downpour. Imagine brooding skies, rain and the haunting melody of the pipes. The vocalist Arkadius Antonik in fact, stepped off stage and got drenched with all of us, who loved him more for it. Few songs later, the drummer joined him as the duo crowd surfed, much to the alarm of the Security guys. The bagpipes were complemented with a Mandolin piece, and when Suidakra played their last number, the devastatingly-beautiful instrumental ‘Wartunes’, it was obvious that they had made new fans. Suidakra announced the Wacken winners and said they’d be playing the week after with Zygnema and Kryptos. For free, at Palace Grounds.

And as they left to loud cheering, the crowd grew silent. The day had been long and lovely, but the night promised more. The Kreator crew fiddled with lights and sound check, the backdrop came up and stood and teased, and you could have cut the anticipation with a blunt knife. German thrash gods, Kreator took stage more than half an hour after their scheduled time. And the first song they played? Prophetically enough, it was ‘Violent Revolution’. And as Millie Petrozza screamed “Society has failed to tolerate me, and I have failed to tolerate society…”, we knew all was very right with the world. Here was a band we’d all idolized growing up, here was a man who was still our hero. Kreator played mostly their fast old stuff, and they played it fast and like they were young. Violent Revolution led to the title track from ‘Hordes of Chaos’, and the just released ‘Phantom Antichrist’ and then ‘Phobia’, ‘Extreme Aggression’, ‘People of the Lie’, ‘Voices of the Dead’, ‘Terrorzone’, ‘Enemy of God’, ‘Pleasure to Kill’, ‘Terrible Certainty’, ‘Endless Pain’ and the new-and-deceptively-softer ‘From Flood into Fire’ followed like a scream. Each song was perfectly set to Ventor’s belligerent bludgeoning; his drum kit glowered down from front-center of the dais. (As if one could have ignored him, even if he were to occupy the traditional back-of-stage spot). Sami Yli Sirnio, their other lead guitarist, played some blazing solos while maintaining an indulgent smile on his face, his calmness in complete contrast with the rage bursting from his six-stringer. Petrozza brought forth a huge Kreator flag and we knew itewas time to raise the ‘Flag of Hate’. Millie repeatedly commanded mosh pits to the left and right of stage and it was evident (and he said as much) that playing in India was as much a dream for them as it was for us. I might have missed a few songs or messed with the sequencing, but frankly, my head had other things to worry about. Like how to stay on while my neck tried to fling it off. For a band that had just celebrated its 25th anniversary, the years had left the fingers and the voice remarkably untouched. The riffs, the rage and the rasp – it was all were there. As was our respect. The last song was probably ‘Tormenter’, but I can’t be sure.

Kreator came as a whirlwind and left in the same way, without so much as an encore. But hopefully they loved what they saw, just as much as we did. Bangalore Open Air had not only survived, it had grown stronger as the curtain fell.

What does it mean for the scene? Good things, great things. A concert may end once the stage has been dismantled, but the statement lives on. Metal in India is alive and kicking. The bands know it. The fans know it. And hopefully now, the bureaucracy does too.

The violent revolution is here to stay.

P.S. This post was originally written for Metalindia

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