The early days
I grew up in a small town in the state of Meghalaya which is in the North-Eastern part of mainland India. A tl;dr history lesson of that region would be that christian missionaries (Irish, Scots, Brits) ran amok in the 17th-18th century, evangelized the tribal population and eventually set up christian schools, hospitals and of course, churches. It wasn’t long until the English language ended up being one of the official languages of the particular region. I’ll bet you wouldn’t have guessed that fun fact about India. But you may wonder why am I starting my “baptized in metal” post with this information? It’s because of this history, in my opinion, that English music proliferated greatly out there. It wasn’t uncommon to have households and taxi-cabs blasting out Bon Jovi or Scorpions or the Beatles back in the late 80s and early 90s. And thus began my initiation into (heavy) music.
I was fortunate to have my mother’s musical tastes be passed down to me. We had cassette tapes of bands like CCR, Bread, Queen, the Eagles, the Beatles and Scorpions. For most of the early 90s, my primary source of music consumption was my mother’s cassette tapes. This somehow changed with the introduction of cable television. With MTV and Channel V, I was introduced to the world of mainstream pop-punk bands like The Offspring and Greenday, nu-metal bands like Korn and Deftones and alternative bands like RATM and the Prodigy. I remember back in 1998-99, I’d record songs off the television onto my tape deck, just so that I could have the songs readily available anytime for my listening pleasures. My friends did the same by acquiring seemingly rare songs on mixtapes and we would end up trading mixtapes of our favorite heavy songs. Those mixtapes were low on quality on account of being severely re-recorded but that definitely didn’t deter me from spinning them on my walkman. Looking back at those days, I’ll admit that this wasn’t the uber kvlt tape trade movement that older metalheads speak of, but what it did for me was cement my passion for (heavy) music.
Baptism in metal: A tiny dab of unholy water
After the summer holidays in 2000, I recall joining my friend, Jeff, and his older brother in their car for a listening session. Consider it like hotboxing sans the weed but with listening to music at an unhealthy high volume. Jeff whipped out a cassette with a ghastly looking album cover. He said that he had gotten it from a record store when he visited Thailand during the holidays. It was the most provocative album cover I had ever laid my eyes on. The album cover read out ‘Cannibal Corpse’ in red. Within short notice, the cassette was pushed into the car stereo and out came the most incomprehensible obnoxious sounds. I could never fathom vocals to be that gurgly and grotesque. Within moments of that jarring music being subjected to me, I felt like I was experiencing tinnitus and everything had come to a stand still – the kind that is portrayed when soldiers survive a grenade explosion and are just gathering themselves up. Deep down, I had an inclination for music pushing boundaries. I was looking for something heavier, something more extreme. The horrendous wall of sound by this band called ‘Cannibal Corpse’ was definitely extreme. Pfft, Korn had nothing on them. By the second song, I found myself mouthing to the vocal growling patterns in ‘Mummified in Barbed Wire’ – the only track name I could remember on that cassette because of the visual imagery that the title gave off. It was etched in my brain forever. After that listening session, I felt this obsession to explore this genre deeper into the trenches. Could it get more extreme than Cannibal Corpse? What else was I missing out on?
Baptism in metal: A bucket o’er me head
A few months later, I discovered a music label in India called Music Gallery, which also distributed titles released on Roadrunner, Earache and Nuclear Blast records. This was monumental because that meant easier access to underground music. One of my first purchases was actually a soundtrack of the movie Faust: Love of the Damned. This was sometime in 2002, when I was about to enter high school. I remember seeing the cover and it looked pretty ominous. Yes, I succumbed to judging the cassette tape by its cover. I could barely recognize any of the names on the track list but it was a gamble I was willing to take. And boy, did it pay off! When I was introduced to Cannibal Corpse, I felt a bit stunned from that aural onslaught. It felt like swallowing a whole turkey when all I wanted to do was start off by taking a few nibbles. With the tracks on the Faust soundtrack, I felt I was nibbling away at my own pace.
The roster of bands on this soundtrack included Obituary, Deicide, Sepultura, Carnivore, Fear Factory, Machine Head, Soulfly, Type O Negative and many more. Back then, I had a cursory idea of the sub-genres and was still searching for that definitive sound that clicked with me. Obituary’s ‘Chopped in Half‘ blew me away. It remains to be one of my all time favorite death metal anthems. The pacy tempo and hilarious lyrics of Carnivore’s ‘Sex and Violence‘ made me a fan of the band right away. I also didn’t think I’d fancy the very low bass-y vocals in Type O Negative’s ‘Everybody I Love Is Dead‘ track. In the coming months since I laid my hands on the Faust soundtrack, I tried my best to procure full length albums of the same bands. Again, thanks to Music Gallery’s sweet distribution arrangement, I managed to snag Deicide’s Legion, Obituary’s Back from the Dead and Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes. These albums formulated my tastes going forward and while they’re gathering moss somewhere in my parents’ home, they have been some of my prized possessions to date.
Baptism in metal: Of full immersion and the interweb
I think it was around 2002-03, after having dipped my toes in metal, that my curiosity wandered off on the interweb in search for more metal. Back in the early 2000s, the internet was a scarce commodity in my hometown, with limited speeds and it was also quite expensive. We had a 56 kbps dial up modem at home and there was a cap on the download limit per month. Nonetheless, I managed to browse websites of bands, record labels, the Brave Words, the Blabbermouths and other websites of their ilk. I also chanced upon metal chat rooms on IRC and on Soulseek (P2P sharing platform). It was also in these forums that I got to know what a ‘poser’ meant. Apparently I was one and it’s someone who even mentions Dimmu Borgir or Cradle of Filth. 🤷🏻♂️With that, ladies and gents, I was introduced to metal elitism 101.
In 2004, I relocated to Dubai and that change was pivotal in terms of my metal music journey. Firstly, there was a faster internet (heh) and secondly, UAE had a small and passionate metal scene then. I soon became a regular on phpbb forums like metal-archives and Phride.com (a local UAE/Middle-East forum which is now dead) were my go-to sources for lively metal discussion. A year later, I went to my first ever metal festival/concert. It was the Dubai Desert Rock festival which had Sepultura, Machine Head, Within Temptation, the Darkness (not metal but still good ol’ hard rock fun) and locals Nervecell. It was an unforgettable experience. I still remember the moshpits opening up during Sepultura’s ‘Arise‘ or chanting the lyrics to Machine Head’s ‘Old‘. After the festival, I was hooked onto live music and my life would never be the same again. I’ve made some really good friends via these online forums (local and international). It’s amazing how people who share the same passion in music can connect easily no matter who you are or where you are from.
Thanks to the interweb, I learnt a lot about the history of heavy music and the various subcultures around the globe. From the Hellenic black metal to NWOBHM to the Swedeath metal legions to American metalcore to Cold Meat Industry’s dark ambient and industrial artists. If you look in the right places, the interweb delivers. I also tried to familiarize myself with the classic bands and the who’s who of heavy music. I had clearly skipped that aspect in my journey and so I started listening to Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, the big 4 of thrash, the big 3 of teutonic thrash, the early Florida death metal scene and everything that Quorthon of Bathory touched.
Riding to Asa bay and beyond
It’s been 19 years since my ears got pummelled by that Cannibal Corpse tune. There was no turning back and since then I’ve had this genre shape my lifestyle, my travels and the many people who I surround myself with. I’ve grown to appreciate a multitude of sub-genres in heavy metal and I enjoy going beyond the surface to understand their origin stories better. I search for authenticity in heavy music. For example, if I listen to the newer bands playing “viking/folk metal” for instance, then one cannot discredit the influence of Bathory’s late era albums. It’s blasphemy. Or every good stoner/sludge riff is a permutation or combination of what Tony Iommi wrote with Black Sabbath. It’s pretty clear that I have my roots entrenched in the old school spirit but at the same time, I do love music that pushes the envelope and is innovative.
With 2020 just around the corner, I’m not sure what the new decade will usher in for heavy metal. More bands rehashing music from the 70s and 80s? A resurgence of nu-metal? More cross-genre spinoffs? I’m not sure if I’m overly excited for post-apocalyptic blackened death jazz but I am definitely keeping an open mind!