Kathmandu's Extreme Metal Scene Puts Nepal on the Global Metal Map
From Kathmandu to the hinterlands of the Himalayan foothills, extreme metal gains a foothold in the second-highest country on earth.
In our current hyper-connected age, there are very few heretofore uncharted spaces left in the extreme metal atlas. By the late 90s, extreme music had permeated, to some extent, most places on earth—but even then, not everywhere had enjoyed the rank privilege of becoming jaded. In some places, local metal heads were only entering the first stage of the equation. Small groups of diehards were starting their first extreme bands, and hosting the first metal nights at pubs whose owners were unfamiliar with the harsh, new style of music, entirely foreign to their ears. They slowly introduced a heavier, faster, eviler, and more dangerous brand of metal to rock fans hungry for something new. One of those places was the landlocked Himalayan nation of Nepal.
"Nepal's extreme music scene started from the end of 90s when Ugrakarma introduced themselves in Kathmandu and Suicide Theory in Hetauda," says Visha Rai, extreme metal promoter in Kathmandu and front man of now defunct Nepalese grindcore band Wakk Thuu.
"Ugrakarma came out with their debut album, Blood Metal Initiation, in the early 2000s. Suicide Theory played few shows. Also, X-Mantra came out with their album, Crying For Peace," Rai says of the early days when Nepalese bands started moving on from putting out demos and singles to releasing the country's first extreme metal full-lengths. In the early days of the Nepalese scene, heavy music was spread the old school way, says fellow promoter Zivon Gurung, who works closely with Rai to promulgate extreme metal in Nepal, he operating out of the city of Pokhara.
"During the early days we did not have internet," Gurung recalls. "Kids back then would buy ugly-looking pirated cassettes and would trade with each other and learn to play by listening to them. They would teach each other, set up listening sessions, jam and what not."
Rai and Gurung each started their own extreme metal appreciation societies, Rai heading the Extreme Underground Metal Society of Nepal, Gurung at the helm of an organization known as Brutal Pokhara. The two joined forces, hoping to grow the nascent scene into an active player on the Southeast Asian regional circuit. Of course, things started small.
"EUMSN's first show was attended by 20 people," says Rai of the society's first foray into show promotion, a gig called Brutal Lunchbox that took place in a jam spot. "These 20 people joined along with rest of the band members to start the new culture in Nepal. The mosh pit of this show was extremely wild and the sickest to date. You ask to any bands who played that show they still talk about this pit. Everyone was throwing themselves on each other, bodies were flying everywhere. Some were moshing naked, some were hurt, girls were screaming their lungs out, the door was broken, and still no fights."
From those humble beginnings, says Gurung, the Nepalese scene evolved relatively quickly. The bands got tighter. The number of fans increased. And the atmosphere at gigs, where some fans used to sit on the floor, unsure of how to react to the violent new form of music, grew more energetic.
"The scene on the whole has grown a lot," Gurung says. "The number of shows has risen up considerably, not just in Kathmandu and Pokhara but other cities as well, and so has the number of gig attendees. The fans have become more supportive towards attending shows and buying CDs and merch. The mosh pits are becoming bigger and more and more electrifying and violent. We can now proudly boast that Nepalese mosh pits are some of the most chaotic ones you could find anywhere."
Nepal now boasts a semi-regular touring circuit for local an international bands, a route test-driven for the first time on the Extreme Underground Tour of 2013 when Nepalese extreme metal favorites such as Dying Out Flame and Aakrosh hit Kathmandu, Nepal, and Hetauda. Today EUMSN is active in six cities throughout the country, and has even branched out into neighboring India.
It's only in the past few years that international touring bands have started headlining Nepal's first attempts at putting on major extreme metal events. In 2010 Swiss death metal act Enigmatik was the first to test the waters. Polish death metal legends Vader headlined Kathmandu's Silence Fest II the following year, while Birmingham grindcore lifers Napalm Death and another Polish death metal mainstay, Decapitated, would follow in the ensuing years. For the fans in Nepal, the sporadic appearance of international headliners presents a rare opportunity, international travel being difficult for most Nepalese for both economic and political reasons.
"Nepalese are always eager to see those bands here because, first, they can't go to see them live outside this country, event to India," says Rai.
"The ever-changing political scenario here also doesn't help much, and then there is the huge currency variation issue," Gurung elaborates. "Nepal has one of the lowest currency values. Most foreigners also think that there is no respectable scene and that no extreme music exists here. But when they come and play, we always give them one of the most remarkable experiences."
As for the future of the Nepalese extreme scene, the next edition of what has been a yearly event since 2014, Nepal Deathfest, is set to take place on March 10 and 11 in Kathmandu. This year, the headliner is long-running German brutal death metal machine Defeated Sanity. As it is with many in the international metal community, bassist Jacob Schmidt says he only had the most cursory knowledge of the extreme scene in Nepal until the invitation to go and play there came through.
"I have a few people from Nepal on Facebook and I remember seeing fliers of Nepal Deathfest on there," Schmidt recalls. "That was pretty much my only connection until we got contacted if we want to play this fest and do a tour around it."
Part of the appeal of playing in Nepal no doubt has to do with the perpetual desire of the touring band to break new territory. Of course, the proximity to the world's highest mountain can't hurt, either. The boys in Defeated Sanity won't be making it to the Mount Everest Base Camp this time, unfortunately. But if all goes well, who knows what the next tour to Nepal might bring.
"Unfortunately we won't spend any more days in Nepal besides the show date because we are moving on to Bangkok afterwards," says Schmidt. "We have two off days on the tour though and hope to spend them doing cool things. I'd really love to do a little hike in the Himalayas next time!"
And so the extreme metal scene in Nepal moves steadily forward. These days, Kathmandu plays host to one or two gigs a month, and the country is currently home to somewhere in the neighbourhood of 100 underground metal bands of varying ilk. Outside the capital, in towns such as Dharan and Biratnagar, gigs happen sporadically thanks to the efforts of EUSMN, which has even grown to develop its own splinter groups—one of which is run entirely by women.
"Recently, a group of women from Kathmandu came together to start EUMSN Sisters to support extreme music," Rai explains. "The future looks beautiful but, it depends on those states of mind. Are they going to continue here, or will they move out to make their life? Staying in extreme music will cost you a lot. If you don't have passion and that strong state of mind then sooner or later you will give up."
"If it keeps growing at a similar rate, it is going to be huge," adds Gurung. "We will have one of the strongest scenes in Asia for sure. Monetarily, obviously, we cannot compete with the likes of Japan or Indonesia or most of our Asian counterparts, but passion is here in abundance. We already have many foreign bands come and play here and there will be plenty of them in 2017 as well. They love playing in Nepal, and we love having them here. Things will only get better."
Nepal's only consistently active metal band dating back to the scene's first days less than 20 years ago, X-Mantra play a meld of old school meets new school thrash tinged with a bit of death metal coming through at times, like a mix of early era and latter day Sepultura. The band's lyrics are sung in their native tongue, and the group have earned a strong following at home, describing themselves humbly as cult favourites of the Kathmandu Valley.
Ugrakarma were also formed in the Nepalese scene's early days in the late nineties, getting together to play what they call "Himalayan Metal of Death," a title which also became the name of the band's first demo in the year 2000. Their name comes from the Sanskrit for "a malicious action," and the sound is pure old school death metal with a high mountain flavour on tracks with titles such as "Annapurna the Serial Killer" and "Mount Blasphemy." Hailing from Kathmandu, the band has had releases put out internationally, most notably by French label Legion of Death, which released the band's latest seven-inch, Mountain Grinders, in 2015.
Dying Out Flame
Perhaps the most prominent Nepalese extreme band on the world stage, thanks to a deal with Spain's Xtreem Music, and due to the band taking home the 2014 award for Best Asian Metal Album from the U.K.'s Global Metal Apocalypse, Kathmandu's Dying Out Flame have had a chance to introduce their brand of death metal, inspired in part by Vedic rituals, Hindu philosophy, and Sanskrit chants, to a larger portion of the international community than most of their local counterparts. Formed in 2011, the band takes a somewhat mystical, spiritual approach to modern technical death metal, using the guitar to simulate the sounds of the sitar, and introducing eastern classical rhythms to the genre's usual blast beats and alternate picking chug.
Kathmandu's Binaash, which features guitarist Prateek Raj Neupane, also of Ugrakarma, plays a mix of brutal death metal and acerbic, humour-laden grind a la Birdflesh. Formed in 2009, the band's name means "Destruction" in Nepali, and they have dubbed their grinding take on death metal as "ramailo death metal," or "fun death metal." So far, the band's output consists of one full length (Binaashkaari, 2012), a split, and an EP that came out in 2016.
Of all the offshoots and branches of extreme metal, those in the know say grindcore enjoys the largest following in Nepal. One of the most prominent acts in this sub-sect is Nude Terror. Playing a socially conscious brand of straight ahead grind, the band has been featured regularly on the bills of the country's one-off shows and mini-fests, such as the aforementioned Brutal Lunchbox and Nepal Deathfest, since forming in 2012. The band has also made a few trips into India, having gigged in Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Kurseong, enjoying the fruits of a regional touring circuit between the neighbouring nations that has formed in recent years through grassroots efforts.
Though they have yet to put out so much as a demo, Aakrosh have already won themselves a loyal following in their hometown of Kathmandu and throughout Nepal, fans embracing their take on old school/technical death metal like a tahr to the Himalayan steppes (look it up). The band has been going strong since 2012, honing their sound in what looks to be, according to videos on YouTube, the most cramped jam room on the Asian continent.
Another band that has managed to win itself a following in Nepal based solely thus far on live performances is Undefined Human. Hailing from the town of Hetauda, about 130 kilometres southwest of Kathmandu, Undefined Human has imported the old school Finnish and Swedish death metal sound to their native land, bringing a bit of far east groove to the genre. Nothing modern or trendy here. This is a band that keeps their metal of death strictly within the bounds of the genre's gore-soaked halcyon days.
Thrash too has made inroads in Nepal, and one of the forerunners of the modern-day thrash scene in the country is Lalitpur/Kathmandu old school ragers Disorder. Taking a no-frills approach to the bullet belt thrash of early Sodom along with the punk-infused attitude of crossover artists such as D.R.I. and Suicidal Tendencies, the young thrashers in Disorder have kept busy gigging around their home country since forming in 2013, taking time to record a demo the year after their formation. The band recently wrapped another mini-tour of Nepal in mid-December.
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All photos courtesy of the Extreme Underground Metal Society of Nepal