DEATH METAL SPECIAL
(appeared on ktmROCKS Magazine Issue 14, 2006)
By: Mahendra Rai, Sunil Dev Pant, Umes Shrestha (with references from some Internet websites)
PART 4: METALEVOLUTION IN NEPAL
Metal and it’s emergence in the Nepali music scene has never been properly documented in the past. Hence, through this article, an effort will be made to present a general overview of bands, musicians and the “underground” scene as a whole which was responsible for infusing the first seeds of “metal” here in Nepal, especially in the Kathmandu Valley.
A Brief Rock History in Nepal (before 2000)
Back in 1970s and 1980s, bands such as – The Prism, Brotherhood, Revival, Kathmandu Katz, Raduim, etc and much later in the late 1980s bands like Newaz, Wrathchild, Criss Cross, The Paduwas, Maneater, etc were rocking the streets of Kathmandu Valley. Wrathchild was among the few bands that did heavy metal covers exclusively in the concerts. Newaz even had an album out which was predominantly rock and actually did quite well in the early days of commercial music in Nepal.
During the early 1990s, Vegetarian Vampires and Dead Soul were two of the prominent bands playing “thrash metal” in various concerts. Vegetarian Vampires were one of the first bands to cover Slayer, and Sodom, while Dead Soul frequently covered Iron Maiden, Overkill and Metallica. Dead Soul is also remembered as one of the best cover bands in the metal scene then, doing many ‘tribute’ gigs.
There were of course already lots of other regular as well as “one gig” bands that were doing metal covers live. During the early and mid 90s Iron Maiden’s Losfer Words and Metallica’s Am I Evil were concert staples. Almost every hard rock show would have those two songs played by at least one band. It’s too bad that many such bands have never been documented properly.
That was also a time when several ‘beat contests’ were held all around the valley where bands competed for a prize. Although a lot of songs played in those competitions were of the Heavy Metal/Hard Rock genre, original songs were a crowd turn-off and were rarely performed.
Bands were sprouting in the Pokhara valley at the same time as well. Anamesis, and later Vivax, came with some thrash metal stuff while Grease and Numskull started a grunge/punk movement.
Cobweb has to be the most prominent and consistent rock band of Nepal. In 1993, this band from Patan released their first album “Anjaan” which showcased their heavy metal and classic rock influences. Their live shows have always been full of energy and true showmanship. Around late 90’s, a few songs from the band Drishty (formed by Iman B. Shah while he was studying in Nebraska, Omaha) hit the FM airwaves in a few rock shows. It was probably the first ‘metal’ based original song by a Nepali band to get recorded and played on air. While in USA, Drishty recorded two albums in the bedroom studio setup by Iman B. Shah himself, but sadly, none of the albums were formally released. Mukti and Revival, which consisted one of the most “senior” rock/blues musicians, also released “Kalanki Ko Jam” in 2000, the album became an instant hit in the Nepali music market. In the same period, Robin n Looza: also made it big in the rock scene.
THE UNDERGROUND UPROAR:
2000 – 2006:
Without a shred of doubt, Ugrakarma’s release of demo “Himalayan Metal of Death” can be termed as the monumental epoch of the starting of metal scene in Nepal. Of course there were already some bands playing metal in the concerts, but metal remained within the confines of concert hall walls.
Aayush Maskey (Guitarist, Ugrakarma) reminiscences: “Back then the scene was just starting. Most of the bands were focused on playing popular music. Almost in every concert you went to, bands were playing the same songs Paranoid, Smoke on the water, Roadhouse Blues. There used to be a lot of street festivals and rock concerts but metal in concerts were virtually non-existent. Hearing Metallica in a show would get people talking – Metallica bajayo yaar… kyaa hyabby. “
While the scene was slowing picking up pace, many of the so-called “bands” sadly never had any originals. Few bands which had originals never managed to get it recorded. The same story of lack of resources, and lack of better recording studios haltered the progress of many potential good Metal bands. By 2000, there were already several professional recording studios in Kathmandu, but none equipped well enough to record any heavy stuff and none having any qualified recording engineers with sound knowledge of what “metal” music actually is.
The emergence of BMI Studios (otherwise known as Sacred Soundz) was an important event in the history of Metal in Nepal. The owner/engineer Iman B. Shah (Guitarist – Drishty and formerly of Vegetarian Vampires) was a himself a ‘metalhead’ and was familiar with capturing the essence of Metal – heavy riffs, thundering drums, thumping bass and deafening vocals – in the recording studio. Out of the few albums/songs that were ever recorded by local bands at that time, most of them like Ugrakarma’s Himalayan Metal of Death, Blood Metal Initiation and Albatross’ Hi: Fly were done at BMI/Sacred Soundz. The existence of a ‘metal’ recording studio opened up a lot of avenues for future bands trying to cut a record or a demo.
By the time Ugrakarma finally released their full length album “Blood Metal Initiation“ around 2001, there were already a horde of bands in the valley playing quite a range of metal music. Several band contests, where an original was mandatory to compete, also fueled the new bands to seek the creativity within them and come up with something imperative. While such contests more than often yielded 9 pop bands for every metal band, it still was a very significant step forward. More gigs were being organized, and more bands emerged. But the difference between these gigs and the gigs 5 years ago was monumental – these new bands were playing their own songs.
One of those bands was Refused 13. The band had played their first gig opening for Dead Soul (on Metallica Anthology Concert, 2001)The band started creating a formidable reputation in the valley as a very “tight” metal band with a “in your face” attitude, conceived by many as the band to pick metal where Dead Soul had left and then elevate the scene into another level. During the band’s active years, the band organized another memorable gig “Keep Suffering” at Nakkhipot, Lalitpur city.
Anuraag Sharma, former vocalist of Albatross on the band: “Refused 13 was definitely a force – the band and the persona of the band. I still remember that when they would walk into a concert, I would try to look at them without getting caught, because they were “Refused13″ and they looked like hardcore badasses that would kill you if you looked at them wrong”.
STRENGTH BEYOND STRENGTH:
Albatross, which started as an alternative rock band, changed their initial line up and importantly, the direction towards performing metal songs. The release of “Hi: Fly” in 2003 is also another benchmark in the metal history of Nepal. About the album, Mahendra M. Rai, former member of Cruentus states – “All the ten songs cover the aspect of all that is rock n roll. It’s heavy, it’s groovy and it’s trippy. Almost all of the songs are memorable and after you’ve gone through the record couple of times the songs will be imprinted within your head for quite a long time. Such is the power of ‘Hi:Fly’ and I envy Diwas and Sunny for coming up with such great riffs. I would like to classify this record as a ‘Stoner Rock/Metal’ as it quite fits the style. The first of its kind in our whole local underground scene!”
Another noteworthy band that pushed the underground scene upward from obscurity was Nastik. Formed in the late 2001, Nastik became the new leader among the “metal” bands, solely because of the use of growling vocals (aided by the fact that even though Ugrakarma is the first DM band, they really never performed live). Nastik released a self titled demo album on 2002, which featured “Maukil” – a fan favorite song in concerts. Nastik then released “Judge Death” – an all out death metal album on 2003. However, as in many other cases, the album was never released officially but fans had their own ways to get their hands on the album.
Third World Chaos’s four song EP “Infero” was released in 2003 which is significant in the terms that it introduced “hardcore” influenced metal into Kathmandu’s scene. During the active days, TWC performed regularly in concerts with Nastik and X-mantra and helped the scene to become stronger.
The release of X-mantra’s debut album “Crying For Peace” in 2003 hit the underground metal scene like a tsunami and created an astonishing aftermath. Their “No Cover Songs in Gigs” code created an astounding impact among other active bands in the scene. Several bands started performing originals who gradually realized that performing “decent originals” was more important than doing any “babbal cover songs”. “Shalik” and “Chidiya Ghar” became new anthems in the metal concerts. In simple words, X-mantra did it. What Cobweb stood for the mainstream rock scene in Nepal, X-mantra proudly stood for the metal and underground scene in Nepal. Anuraag Sharma (ex-Albatross): “Even though the album ‘Crying for Peace’ is 50% crap and the band eventually lost it, the other half of the album that does work is too well-done and too innovative to ignore. I think ‘Crying for Peace’ paved the way for a more noise-receptive audience than there would have been otherwise.”
Until their philosophical demise and in an attempt to garner commercial limelight by changing the direction, X-mantra’s first two albums (the second one being “Kurshi”, 2004) set a standard in the Nepali Metal history – proving that it was possible to fuse aggression in the almost poetic styled Nepali lyrics with riff based groovy metal.
The year 2003 saw the recording of a song titled “Itihaas” by Maya. With a strong Black Metal style riffing and probably the strongest lyrics ever in the whole Nepali music scene, Maya had an admirable influence on the next generation of Black Metal bands like Beyond, Antim Grahan and Cruentus.
The same year, members of Nastik and Albatross also joined forces as Abattoir and recorded a self titled album before disbanding.
THE UNDERGROUND REVOLT:
At the end of 2004, the bands like Ugrakarma, Nastik, TWC, Albatross, Refused 13 and X-mantra were either permanently inactive or disbanded or have moved away from the underground scene. By 2005, a group of more powerful bands such as Antim Grahan, Cruentus, Muga:, Brutal, Holocaust, and Breeding Pestilence started to bring “new” and “innovative” stuff into the scene. And later, bands like Epitaph, Morgoth and Vhumi forged new styles into the scene.
With an almost apocalyptic name for a band, Antim Grahan then quickly grabbed the attention of the scene. Individually, the band members were just a bunch of average musicians, however as a band, their live performance lacked no bullshit – it was tight, powerful and inspiring. With the release of EP “Forever Winter” in the early 2005 was a bold testimony of their brand of symphonic black metal. Without wasting much time just after three months, Antim Grahan released their full length album “Tales of the Darkened Woods”. Recorded and mixed in the Sacred Soundz, this album was one of the best produced metal albums – able to capture the atmosphere and aggression of black metal.
Cruentus started as a metal cover band playing generally Sepultura on concerts. Their choice of music gradually shifted towards Black Metal and eventually Cruentus started covering Immortal, Amon Amarth, Graveworm and so on. Just like Antim Grahan, the band took the underground scene into the next level as the band started performing originals in the concerts. The band gained a huge sense of respect in the underground community as one of the most tightest live bands in Ktm – majorly because of the talented band members, twin vocals and most importantly because of originality in the scene. And, Cruentus had Allan Shrestha on drums, THE Best Drummer ever in the underground scene!
Cruentus recorded their EP “Massacre of the Holy Ones” in 2004 and later in 2005, recorded a full length album, “Ashantusta Aatma” – another milestone in the history of Nepali Metal History. Ashantusta Aatma, the album featured rawness and aggression of black metal with a touch of death metal and the title song became a new anthem in the metal concerts.
Holocaust was a pure death metal outfit while Breeding Pestilence is credited for introducing technical death metal to the scene. At the same time, Blood Blisters were creating a strong following with in Patan, Lalitpur area. Blood Blisters started out as a cover band playing Iron Maiden exclusively. The band also took parts in several band competitions – increasing their popularity – and inspiring some new bands in Patan like Morceous, Metalbox and Bequeath.
The year of 2006 has been a great year in the history of Nepali metal scene. There have been many metal concerts and many new metal bands have joined the scene. Metal bands have been winning several inter-college band competitions which also cements the fact that “metal” is on the rise.
The year also saw the formation of one of the super group projects – the progressive metal band Atomic Bush. Formed by the members of Breeding Pestilence, Ozzobozo and Elysium – Atomic Bush propelled the scene into a new and interesting frontier of progressive, virtuoso and eclectic metal.
Vhumi, on the other hand, is regarded as the significant band that started playing melodic death metal style. The band has become one of the most consistent and active bands in the underground scene. Similarly, Epitaph has pummeled the scene with a new breed of metal – thrash-death. Bitter Euphemism has stepped up a notch into the realm of technicality and groove while bands like Arachnids, Morgoth, Prakanda Bimba, Cryptic Violence, Fallen, Obscured, Pralay, The Time, Ushma Weg and Night have contributed in their own way to the scene. What these bands bring out on stage is interesting and more importantly unique in the Nepali metal scene, probably even in the whole South East Asia.
A very few level of involvement can be seen from the so called senior musicians and bands (of 1980s or 1990s) on the current scene. However few inspirations, motivations and guidance remain. (Respect!) Fronted by two inspiring “senior” guitarists Iman B. Shah and Deep S. Rana, HMG-Ministry of Rock, even though a strictly heavy metal cover band till now, helped motivate a new generation of young guys into playing music.
Besides the bands and musicians and ktmROCKS and most importantly the metalheads – the Internet has been a great contributing factor in the development and evolution of Nepal’s metal scene. The ktmROCKS forum is vibrantly alive from compositions of the forum members (mostly musicians and band members). With styles ranging from extreme death metal to virtuoso shredding to ambient to psychedelic acid techno to grunge to ‘you name it’, the forum users have taken the scene to heed and started recording their own songs and expressing themselves with the aid of modern tools. The year 2007 seems to be a promising start for “our” metal scene as beckoned by the releases of “Barbaric Regulation” (Epitaph) and “The Last Verse of Madness” (Morgoth/Lost Oblivion).
Metal has come a long way in Nepal and despite the fact that it has never been embraced by the mainstream (and probably because of it) it will always exist in the hearts and minds of the fans and the few dedicated musicians who are in it not for the fame or fortune but for their love of the music. Metal is not tied to the changing trends in any given society so it is free from the web of ever-changing public opinion and “trendiness”. No matter how culture evolves, there will always be a few metalheads on the fringes of society embracing a culture all of their own because nothing else can match the sheer brutality, controlled chaos and dynamic intensity of Metal.
METAL lives forever. All hails to the NEPALI METAL SCENE!
All the Significant Releases:
Ugrakarma – Blood Metal Initiation 2001
Ugrakarma – Himalayan Metal Of Death 2002
Nemesis – Nemesis Demo 2002
Nastik – Nastik 2002
X-mantra – Crying for Peace 2002
Albatross – Hi Fly 2003
Nastik – Judge Death 2003
X-mantra – Kurshi 2003
Third World Chaos – Inferno 2003
Abattoir – Abattoir 2004
Cruentus – Massacre of the Holy Ones EP 2004
Antim Grahan – Forever Winter EP 2005
Antim Grahan – Tales from the Darkened Woods 2005
Cruentus – Aashantusta Aatma 2005
Epitaph – Barbaric Regulation 2007
Morgoth/Lost Oblivion – The Last Verse of Madness 2007
This series/article should prove to be an introductory metal history of “our” scene. Indebted to my personal inspirations: Sunil Pant (Ugrakarma), Aayush Maskey (Ugrakarma), Iman B. Shah, Deep S. Rana and Puru Lama (ex X-mantra) for all their support and information. Thanks to Bikash Rajkarnikar, Dipesh Gautam and Mahendra Rai for ideas, infos and corrections. For the world history, I had to click on some internet website. My own observations have been limited to Kathmandu and to the concerts organized by ktmROCKS (and few others), thus the possibilities of missing some band names exist. Any correction/change required, please inform.
- Umes Shrestha