Dhaka's Extreme Metal Scene Worships the Old School
Bangladesh's most densely populated city also boasts its highest concentration of killer death, black, and thrash metal bands.
The places we talk about when we talk about extreme metal of the old school variety often emerge through the lens of a strong Westward-leaning bias. We talk about places like Tampa, Florida; the San Francisco Bay Area; Birmingham, England; Gothenburg, Sweden; Oslo or Bergen, Norway. Those with a cursory knowledge of the Asian scene might make mention of obvious places like Tokyo or Nagoya, Japan, or perhaps drop a more obscure reference such as Bandung, Indonesia, one of the true yet oft overlooked death metal capitals of the world.
Few, if any, would make mention of a place where metal bands rank among the most popular acts in the country—Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Yes, Dhaka—the Bengal capital and one of the most densely populated urban centers on the plane— boasts a scene rife with bands riding a fresh wave of old school revivalism, a fanatic tide wherein Sepultura never released anything after Max Cavalera ingloriously departed, Metallica folded following ...And Justice For All, and the alphabetical Morbid Angel discography skipped over that horrific "I" record altogether. The history of Dhaka heavy metal goes back to the early 80s, perhaps not surprising considering the country's British colonial history, which was exploitative and tumultuous time period from which bands of an extreme nature still draw lyrical inspiration to this day.
Thirty years ago, hard rock and heavy metal bands like Warfaze (who are still active today and among the most popular bands in the country of some 156 million odd souls), got their start, later paving the way for heavier bands, such as prog rock favorites Artcell, to achieve mainstream success in the 90s. In the late 90s and early 2000s, Dhaka's first extreme metal bands started to emerge. Bloodlust (widely regarded as the country's first death metal band) was there in those early days, as was death thrash three-piece Orator (formerly Barzak), and Weapon; many may remember them as a Canadian band, but Weapon actually originated in Dhaka, where founder Vetis Monarch was born and returned in 2004 to record the Within the Flesh of the Satanist demo.
Today, the crop of bands looking to keep that old school spirit alive in Dhaka are as numerous as ever. The current Dhaka extreme metal scene is comprised a slew of raw and cultish worshipers, the demo-era days of Schuldiner, Becerra, and Quorthon nourishing the spoils of their own underground resistance. Here, in no particular order, are ten of those counted among the blessed and the sick.
From the ashes of the blackened death metal band Barzak (2003-2008), Orator has arisen as one of the leaders of old school thrash in Dhaka, the most widely popular sub-sect of the local extreme scene. The band likes their thrash with a heavy dose of death metal and seems to enjoy the Exploited just as much as Exodus did back in the days when Paul Baloff was terrorizing posers up and down Interstate 880.
Since making their live debut outside their home country in Bangkok in 2010, the band has run the gamut over the course of their four releases, already putting out a demo, an EP, a full length, and a live album. The band has managed to tour regionally several times over the years, and missed out on a chance to play Maryland Death Fest several years back (reportedly due to visa issues). Currently, Orator is signed to the Singaporean bastion of all things unabashedly old school, Pulverised Records.
Hailed as one of the bands that has helped draw both regional and international attention to the Dhaka scene, Severe Dementia play a tech-tinged version of old school death metal with touches of musical styles native to the Indian subcontinent. Lyrically, Severe Dementia take the Bolt Thrower/Hail of Bullets approach, focusing on historical military conflicts in their oft-embroiled homeland. Their debut EP, Epitaph of Plassey, for example, tells the tale of the Battle of Plassey fought between the Bengal people and the Dutch East India Company in 1757.
The band also features members of Powersurge, a thrashy groove metal act that came to national prominence in 2007 when it won the D-Rockstars band competition which was broadcast nationwide—a win that played no small part in cementing thrash as the most popular form of extreme music in the country.
Though secularism is one of the four founding principles of the 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh, it is still a country wherein over 85 percent of the population is of the Muslim faith, and one where calling your band Nafarmaan—"The Blasphemer" in Bengali—is more than likely to raise a few eyebrows.
Nevertheless, since 2008, the band has forged ahead with its brand of anti-religious blackened death metal. They often appear at gigs run by one of Dhaka's foremost extreme metal organizers, distro owners, and fanzine publishers, Primitive Invocation—the same group which brought over Manzer (the first international metal band to play Dhaka) in 2010. Sound-wise, think of them as a more black metal version of Angelcorpse with far rawer musicianship and production. Nafarmaan has a single EP to its name to date, Quayamat Lullaby, which was put out by Sweden's Salute Records in 2014.
Fan favorites Enmachined were formed in 2011, but that line of their bio could just as easily read 1985. This is a band that worships Overkill, Nuclear Assault, and Flotsam and Jetsam as much as they do Judas Priest and Motorhead. The vocals are definitely over the top, switching back and forth on some tracks between low growls and falsetto screeching that toes the line of tongue-in-cheek. The Dhaka trio also function as their own private poser patrol, mowing down the false and the corrupt (Bangladesh ranked as the 145th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries surveyed in 2016) with their socially and politically conscious brand of buzzsaw thrash.
This is a "supergroup," of sorts, as Nekrohowl has boasted members of a few other prominent Dhaka-based bands, such as Homicide, Dissector, Abaddon, and Enmachined, and recently added Warmonger (Warhound, ex-Orator) on drums. This band was reportedly put together for a one-off Death tribute gig last year, but the boys had so much fun they decided to record a self-titled demo live in their rehearsal room and make this a full-fledged project.
Nekrohowl sounds like a mix of the techy and the groovy ends of old school death metal, with a particular penchant for in-the-pocket stuff like Sinister, as well as more angular beasts like Immolation, Morbid Angel, and Suffocation (said demo has a form faithful cover of "Infecting the Crypts"). Late in 2016, Nekrohowl traveled beyond its own borders to Kolkata, India to play the Black Mass Ritual, and the band has promised more touring to come in 2017, as well as a debut full length by the middle of this year and an EP by year's end or early 2018.
Much like Orator, Exalter fly the flag for old school thrash; their clean production and minimalist grooves point towards latter-day Destruction and the Toxic Holocaust catalog.It goes without saying that Exalter don't shy away from courting political controversy, but then again, nor have Slayer, Nuclear Assault, and a whole host of other thrash bands that, for good and for bad, have considered themselves politically aware.
For example, it may come as no surprise in a country where so much of the population identifies as Muslim, but the band are no fans of Israeli military aggression toward the Palestinian people; they address the issue in a song called "White Phosphorous Shell," a reference to a weapon supposedly used by the Israeli Armed Forces in violation of international law. Since forming in 2013, Exalter has released a pair of EPs, Demacrasodomy and Obituary For The Living, each focused heavily on war and its inherent atrocities.
Burial Dust play a raw, primitive form of black metal, going back to the early days of Mayhem, Archgoat, and Beherit. Like Nafarmaan, this is a band bent on purging the scourge of religion from the land of Bengal. In songs such as "Where is Your Rahmaa?" (taken from their Oshubho Ahobaan EP), vocalist Necrophiliac waxes direct on the hypocrisies of organized religion, taking aim at those who would use Islam as justification for violence and the persecution of women. While Burial Dust does focus heavily on occult themes, it also delves into Egyptian mythology, telling the tale of Amun, the King of the Gods when ancient Egypt was at the height of its power.
Warhound have been around since 2006. The band started out as Carnage when the members were still in college; Carnage split up in 2008 after losing their vocalist and drummer, only to reform in 2012 under the current moniker. Since then, Warhound has kept busy pumping out war-themed meat and potatoes metal of death.
Like Severe Dementia, Warhound also often focuses on the war-torn history of Bengal, with songs such as "Ironborn," from the Ominous Death Carnage EP, telling of the invasion of Turk slave general Ikhtiyar Uddin Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khilji in 1206 AD. In addition to the EP, Warhound also released a split with legendary Swedish death metal outfit Wombbath entitled Ascending Into The Oblivion of Duskon (Dark Descent, 2015 ).
Most metal scenes are incestuous affairs where band members do time in multiple bands at once, and Dhaka is no exception. Blackened death metal beast Abominable Carnivore has within its ranks current members of Nekrohowl, Enmachined and Nafarmaan. Despite its brutal pedigree, this band puts a slightly ethereal touch on its songwriting, adding atmospheric delays and reverb straight out of the post-rock playbook. Since forming in 2011, AC has put out an EP— Light Devours Our Lust—and released a split with old school Brazilian black metal act Barrabás. Most recently, the band has released a demo track, "Twilight of the Gods," which will appear on an upcoming LP.
Old Witch Cemetery
Does Dhaka do doom? Yes, Dhaka does indeed do doom... or at least one guy does. Old Witch Cemetery is the solo project of one T.J. Salam, a.k.a. Father WitchChaser. On the six-song Doom Over Bengal demo, Mr. WitchChaser handles all vocals and instrumentation through four originals and a pair of covers ("Relentless" by Pentagram and Black Sabbath's "Into the Void"). Each of the tracks offers up all you could ever want of old school, world class, horror-inspired doom. The vocals soar like Scott Reager's, and on "This Is Halloween" WitchChaser even falls into a pretty dead-on King Diamond impersonation. This is music from a man who worships at the altar of the greats, and is definitely deserving of their blessing to join them.
Cover photo: Severe Dementia (courtesy of the band)
Joe Henley is defending the old school on Twitter.