How has India’s metal music scene evolved?

He could be a geek with short hair, an old school leather wearing guy, a teenager in a black t-shirt with explicit graphics or a scary man with a long gruff beard. The Indian metal head is likely to have an identity as diverse as the country, but today, his existence is a well-known reality.

Even two decades ago, things were a lot different. Millennium, credited with being India’s first heavy metal band, was formed in 1986. “Bands mainly played covers back then. We wanted to play original stuff,” says Vehrnon Ibrahim, lead vocalist. The band went on to open for international acts such as Deep Purple and No Doubt. At the same time, the North-East was witnessing the beginnings of a metal culture. A bunch of teenagers formed the band, Post Mark. “What they did was revolutionary; they launched the first-ever, full-length heavy metal album here,” says Kaushik Jai Baruah, a contributor at Eclectic Vibes, a magazine. “But, it was mainly in the 90s that metal started to become a movement,” he adds.

In Bangalore, another storm was brewing in the form of Kryptos. Formed in 1998, Kryptos is one of the longest-standing thrash metal bands of India. “Back then, all communication was limited to the landline,” says Nolan Lewis, vocalist and guitarist. He cites this lack of communication as the main factor that prevented metal from spreading rapidly.

Despite this, more metal bands were being formed. Death metal band Dying Embrace released its mini album, Serenades of Depravity, in 1998. In 1999, progressive thrash metal band Thrienody went on to win Strawberry Fields, the acclaimed musical festival of National Law School, Bangalore.

A platform for metal

In 1993, Amit Saigal, often referred to as ‘papa rock’, gave the underground what it needed most: a platform. He announced the launch of Rock Street Journal, dedicated to original Indian music, and began the Great Indian Rock festival in 1997. It was a two-day festival in Calcutta.

This was also the time when Independence Rock, a major festival for Indian rock artists that started in 1986, began to feature metal artistes. In Chennai, the 90s saw the rise of extreme metal bands Blasphemy and Bone Saw. Founder of Bone Saw, Edison Prithviraj, is known as the godfather of the metal scene in Chennai. He also founded the extreme metal band Blood Covenant, and started Exodus, which provides support services for music events and bands. He has organised various editions of the June Rock Out Festival (JRO). Started in 1999, JRO became a major platform for local and national metal bands in Chennai.

In Mumbai, speed metal band Naked Earth (founded in 1996) released its first album in 2001. Other bands active at that time were Fate, Morticide and Sceptre, which recently released its Age of Calamity as a tribute to rape victims in India.

In 2000, Demonic Resurrection, the popular symphonic death metal band was founded by four teenagers. In 2002, front man Sahil Makhija, popularly called ‘Demonstealer’, launched Deamonstealer Records when he was just 19. It was the only label in the country dedicated to extreme metal at the time. He is also the host of India’s first metal cookery show ‘Headbanger's Kitchen’. June 2000 also saw Mumbai receive its very first extreme metal fest, Domination — Deathfest. Conceptualised by the band members of Morticide, it was held at the lawns outside Razzberry Rhinoceros.

Since 2000, there has been immense growth in the scene — both in terms of audience and bands. Bands such as Lucid Recess, Dark Carnage from the Northeast; Bhayanak Maut, Devoid, Scribe, Zygnema, Providence from Mumbai; Inner Sanctum, Eccentric Pendulum from Bangalore; Skyharbour, Undying Inc. from Delhi; Blind Image, Escher’s Knot and Wolf’s Lair from Chennai have taken the metal music movement to the mainstream.

The new rage of company-sponsored fests along with university-affiliated ‘battles of bands’ have helped greatly. Since Iron Maiden’s visit in 2007, India has seen about 50 or more International metal acts. In fact, metal is seeing a healthy International exchange of bands. Five Indian metal acts have already been confirmed to play in various festivals abroad.

Besides this, Metal bands in India have cultivated a brotherhood over a period of time. This brotherhood is often limited as well as determined by the city/state/region a band is active in. Think Mumbai Metal Project, Delhi Metal Project and Bangalore Metal Project! There’s also a metal comic series, Metal Bharat.

To this, Sahil’s reply is: “The Indian metal head cannot have a singular, unanimous identity. It can, however, be a collective identity. Every city’s lifestyle nurtures a unique metal culture. This makes India a market as well as a producer of a plethora of metal genres. I think it works for us.”

Studying Metal

The Indian metal scene is also being explored academically. Vishal Kapatkar, a student of MA in Public Relations and Communications at Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom, is doing his dissertation on this topic. Join Vishal on his journey to uncover the Indian Metal Scene via his blog www.indianmetalscene.wordpress.com.