Sunday, February 26, 2012

Impiety's Super Secret KL Show

Do you ever complain that black metal has gotten too commercial, and wish you were around for the days when the genre was synonymous with church burnings and murder? Well, then, you'll want to join your amigo Adrian here in Malaysia, where black metal is officially banned, and has been since 2006. The official reasons being that it's "totally against the syariat (Islamic principles) and could lead its followers to being murtad (apostate)." This means foreign black metal bands with shows scheduled in the country are barred from entering, and any local bands performing the style could be arrested, along with their audience members. And since the police and religious authorities have only the vaguest notion of what "black metal" is, they have license to shut down any rock concert they want.

So with this in mind, information about black metal shows seems to spread mostly through word of mouth, and kept very much on the downlow. I was lucky enough to hear about a secret black metal show from a friend, and made plans to see for myself what a truly underground scene looks like. I jokingly told a metal buddy back in NY that if he didn't hear from me in a few days, he should assume I was in prison. In light of everything I've read and been told about the risks, I'll admit I was kidding on the square.

The gig was a big deal, featuring Singapore's Impiety playing their first show in Kuala Lumpur since 2005 (which I was in town for and attempted to attend, before confusing Malaysian directions left me lost and heat fatigued in the middle of the city). Impiety are the biggest black metal band in the region and as such, would easily attract the ire of religious authorities if the show was widely publicized. Thus, everything was very hush-hush.

[Curiously enough, Impiety have played shows without a hitch in East Malaysia, which is mostly Christian. I guess there's something to be said about turning the other cheek.]

Because there were no flyers or even a Facebook page to refer to, I relied on my friend Han to keep me in the loop about where it was being held. In fact, the location had changed the night before the show was to take place. It's unclear to me whether the original venue got cold feet at the last minute or if it was purposeful disinformation to stymie Big Brother; both seemed equally likely.

Han and I met at a local punk squat, which we were told was the replacement venue. I was immediately alarmed by two things: the presence of a police station that was literally across the street, and the complete lack of anyone who looked like they might be into heavy music. We were in fact at the wrong spot, but luckily the crust kids who lived there helped us find the actual location.

When we finally drove up to the venue for the night's blasphemy (in a strange bit of irony, it also serves as a Christian ministry and bible study hall), we knew we had come to the right place by the amount of metal shirts we saw. I wondered if all the care put into keeping the gig under wraps would be undone by the conspicuous number of guys in black t-shirts loitering about. Luckily, no one else seemed to notice or care.

As is the wont of a last minute gig, the line up had dwindled from 6 bands to 4 (and the start time shifted from 1 pm to 5 pm). Deathcore kids Daarchlea were given the opening spot - strange, considering their more mainstream approach seemingly runs counter to the night's seditious tone. Not much has changed since I saw them open for Heaven Shall Burn: Their keyboards are still disappearing in the mix; they still sound too generic to appreciate; their lead guitarist's jeans are still way too skinny. Personally, I think that they were helped by the night's rough sound: the rawness gave them a power that they wouldn't have otherwise. It's clear that they have chops, and may in fact become huge in the region. But those jeans are way too tight for me to take them seriously.

Insanhak (which translates to "human rights" but is also the name of a Muslim NGO that's alleged to have ties to Al Queda and Hamas) are from Ipoh, a city in the middle of Malaysia that was once the center of the country's black and death metal explosion. Insanhak, though clearly veterans, are still very much a middling act; their covers of Amon Amarth and Unleashed aren't much to recommend them by, nor is their singer's monotone bark. They ended their set with the questionably titled "Supremacist," which is apparently a paean to their home town's metal scene.

Mistik, from the Malaysian island of Penang, began with a long keyboard instrumental, before their singer appeared out of nowhere, goblin-like, as the music ramped up into traditional black metal not unlike early Sigh or Rotting Christ. The audience was loving it, and I was impressed with the band's command of the style. Mid-set, it all took a strange turn when Mistik's vocalist went off on an extended diatribe in Malay, one that that the (entirely Malay) crowd responded to with gusto. With my limited grasp of the language, the only phrases I could pick out from his rant were "Orang Christian" (Christians), "Orang Islam" (Muslims)...and "jihad." Hmmm.

After Mistik finished, the audience was asked to leave the venue so that Impiety could set up (I guess watching them set up their gear and soundcheck would have killed some of the mystery, corpse paint or not).

Malaysians are naturally inquisitive and friendly, and while waiting to be let back in a number of my fellow concert goers wanted to talk to me. I did my best to be friendly in return, but by the third time I was asked "Did you come here alone?" the question took an ominous tone. Still, it was hard to deny the openness and spirit of brotherhood that the night engendered. A group stopped me and asked me to take photos; when I motioned for them to pass along the camera, I was informed that they wanted me to take photos WITH them, not of them. [One young Malay hesher, rocking spiked gauntlets and a bullet belt, told me quite seriously, "We're all brothers here. Brothers in metal." ]

When we were finally let inside, Impiety were already on stage, covered in blood (unlike their European counterparts, Impiety are apparently using the real deal - the entire room smelled like a wet market). Despite taking more than an hour to set up and soundcheck, the mix was terrible and unusually bass-heavy for the first few songs, before levelling out mid-set. By that point, the band had hit their stride; tongue lolling and headbanging, mainman Shyaithan was a commanding presence, and one of the few "real" frontmen I've seen here.

Not for the first time I find myself lamenting Impiety's politics; they're one of the few bands from South East Asia who could be embraced on a global scale (indeed, a decade ago there was a lot of excitement for them in the West before their antisemitism caused metal labels and journos to recoil). Their style of uncompromising blackened death metal will always have a built in audience - just ask Nuclear War Now. They could easily have been our Sepultura - the band that broke open South East Asian metal to the rest of the world. Instead, they're our Angelcorpse, weighed down by their boneheaded beliefs and past racist statements as they struggle to make it to the next tier.

Not that any of this mattered to their audience that night; as pure spectacle, Impiety's power is undeniable, and those assembled lapped it up. Their set comprised of songs from their upcoming album, Ravage and Conquer. Like everything else the band has done, the new material is all unbridled fury and blast beats (courtesy of their new Australian drummer). When it was over, they ignored calls for an encore and broke down their gear while their fans waited for the meet and greet session (pretty standard for the shows I've seen here - it's a trip to see people line up to get autographs from a death metal band like they're about to meet Kiss).

I was happy enough to consider the night a success, having taken part in a black metal show in Malaysia without being arrested, and headed home. On my way out, audience members were still giddily posing with each other for pictures. I was struck by the dichotomy between the very real camaraderie I witnessed that night and the local authorities' perception of what takes place in a "black metal concert." In fact, rather than suffocating the scene, the restrictions placed unintentionally brought everyone together even more. If the scene here was as open as it is in the rest of the world, it would quickly be invaded by bandwagon hoppers and hangers on. As it is, it's a rare and precious commodity that's not for the weak of heart, and has to be guarded out of fear that what's been built might be lost. No matter where you live, chances are the Malaysian black metal scene is more KVLT than yours.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Dead Shall Rise

There's a new Terrorizer album, featuring the return of World Downfall alum (and dance club enthusiast) David Vincent. Pete Sandoval is also present, making this the first time Vincent and Sandoval have appeared on an album together since Morbid Angel's 1996 live album Entangled in Chaos, as well as the only time that Vincent has been involved with Terrorizer since their 1989 debut.

If I was being honest, I'd say that Hordes of Zombies is fucking brilliant, despite my cynicism about anything David Vincent-related. It even briefly threatened to usurp the new Napalm Death as my favourite album of 2012 (before I revisited the new Napalm for the 4th time in 2 days and remembered who I am). As good as it is, though, my interest in Terrorizer began and ended with late founder and guitarist Jesse Pintado, and I have mixed feelings about his bandmates continuing the Terrorizer name without him.

Pintado reformed the long-dead Terrorizer in 2005 after being asked to leave Napalm Death. The resulting album, Darker Days Ahead, was the last album Pintado recorded before he passed away. It was a little rough around the edges and perhaps didn't live up to people's expectations of what a new Terrorizer album should be, but it did have flashes of brilliance. As such, it was a fitting epitaph for Pintado, himself a brilliant if somewhat troubled and inconsistent musician.

Taking Pintado's place on the new album is Katina of LA grindcore band Resistant Culture, who also feature new Terrorizer vocalist Anthony Rezhawk (original vocalist Oscar Garcia is MIA since appearing on Nausea LA's 1991 debut). Rezhawk and Pintado apparently went way back, having been in the pre-Terrorizer grind outfit Resistant Militia (which one assumes evolved into the similarly named Resistant Culture).

So what on the surface looks like half of Morbid Angel and two scabs cashing in on the Terrorizer name may well be four lifers continuing the work of a friend who helped shape modern death and grind before being taken before his time. That's how I'm reading it, anyways: Rather than pilfering Pintado's legacy, Hordes of Zombies pays tribute to it. RIP, Jesse.

Metal Injection's MSRcast did a pretty good tribute to Jesse Pintado back in 2006, featuring songs he wrote throughout the years with Terrorizer, Napalm Death, and Lock Up. It may be from a while back, but Jesse's songs never get old.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

NWOBHM for Dummies

Jason Heller, one of the best writers at the AV Club, just put up a great primer for anyone who wants to delve into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Iron Maiden and Diamond Head top the list of essentials (natch) but Heller does win points for including Angel Witch - possibly the most under-rated band of that whole era.

Meanwile, Judas Priest and Motörhead are excluded for predating the movement, as are Venom and Witchfinder General (whom he classifies as black metal and doom metal, respectively). I sort of disagree, as I feel that Priest's twin guitar histrionics coupled with Motörhead's biker gallop were the defining aspects of the NWOBHM sound, copied endlessly by the bands who came later (cough cough, Maiden). Besides, Priest and Motörhead both had a much closer kinship with the NWOBHM than the increasingly more self-indulgent "dinosaur" bands like Sabbath, Zep, and Purple that epitomized metal's first wave.

Meanwhile, Venom may have coined the term "black metal" but what they recorded was much closer to NWOBHM's punk-via-Sabbath bluster. Chalk these minor disagreements up to the populist in me trying to be inclusive and the hesher in me always wanting to argue.

A couple important bands overlooked in the article (and metal fans in general) are Tank, Demon, and Raven - get these before wasting your money on Huntress or any other retro chic poser garbage. Minor quibbles aside, the article is still fantastic. For a self-defined punk rocker, Heller sure can hesh with the best of them.

The Requiem Podcast guys, still the last word on metal, have already aired some exhaustive shows on Witchfinder General, Angel Witch, Di'Anno era Maiden, and not one, not two, but three episodes on Priest. So get on it n00bs. Why you gotta be ignant all your life?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Brimstone in Fire - "War in My Thoughts" Video

While his band Brimstone in Fire was in the studio recording their live EP, my buddy Ian Cuevas shot some footage of them...which he used to create this music video. Check it out:

Brimstone in Fire's Youtube page here, and more of Ian's motion graphics/video talents here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Heaven Shall Burn @ Doppel Kafé, Kuala Lumpur 2.17.12

This is a weird one for me. I experienced metalcore burnout almost immediately, despite being a huge fan of both melodic death metal and hardcore. Reneging on the promise of its earliest incarnations (Catharsis, Purusam), metalcore as embraced by the mainstream lacked both the DIY spirit of hardcore and the relentless aggression of metal. It pretty much epitomized cookie cutter songs, emo choruses and stupid haircuts. And while I'm unabashed in my love for Darkest Hour and Himsa, I don't think Germany's Heaven Shall Burn will be remembered as more than also-rans in a flooded scene.

Still, it's not like KL is teeming with metal shows, and being at the frontlines of any concert is a nice break from my usual Friday night routine of push-ups and file piracy. And supporting the promoters can only mean better and heavier bands coming mind boggles at the thought of Fuck the Facts or even mighty Origin tearing up this sleepy town.

It's also an excuse to check out one of KL's few venues for heavy music. The venue in question is the Doppel Kafé, an art-and-music space in the center of Kuala Lumpur. Part ABC No Rio and part Malaysian mamak stall, it's a pretty big (if bare bones) space. One hapless employee is charged with wandering through the crowd to sell drinks, often in the middle of sets and the breaks between songs. Honestly...this is more hardcore than anything I saw in the moshpit that night.

Opening for Heaven Shall Burn were two local Malaysian acts, Daarchlea and Incarnation, both tied to the metalcore mast despite the fact that the ship is sinking.

A metalcore band with a keyboardist is usually enough to send me running to my Deicide albums. But in Daarchlea's case, it didn't matter, as the PA reduced whatever hopes they have to be the next Bleeding Through down to an indistinct roar. They may as well have been playing Darkthrone covers over an AM radio (preferable to their actual music). Despite KL being their hometown, the audience's reaction was muted, though they did get a few kids to dance like happy prospectors.

Incarnation, from the Northern Malaysian state of Kedah, are a throwback to the days when bands like Diecast were inescapable as opening acts. This made me slightly nostalgic for the early 2000's before remembering that Diecast fucking sucked. Incarnation themselves aren't bad, and were pretty entertaining as they attempted to film a DVD with a camera strapped to the drummer's head. They have the stage presence of scene veterans, comfortably joking with the crowd and even inciting a tame Wall of Death. [The strange thing about Malaysian bands is that their between song banter is almost always in English. Our colonial roots run deep.] Still, there's no getting around the fact that their sound is severely dated, and unless there's some kind of Trustkill revival I don't know about, they'll have to be content with local hero status.

[Curmudgeon interlude]
I'm pretty critical of local bands and their bandwagon mentality, but not without reason. Compare the South East Asian scene with the South American or Eastern European scenes from a couple decades ago, where there was a similar lack of resources and government antipathy. And while bands from those areas went on to greater success in the larger metal world, we have yet to produce anything of real note (besides Impiety and their blockheaded antisemitism). Where's our Sepultura? Where's our Vader? It seems like most of the musicians I talk to in Malaysia confuse having the right gear with having a unique vision and a work ethic.

Heaven Shall Burn's vision may not be all that unique, but I can't fault their work ethic. They tear through their set devoid of pretension and clean choruses. I couldn't help but do a "metal cred" checklist (I have been accused of being a cred whore): They named themselves after a Marduk album; their guitarist is rocking a skullet; they're from Germany, the land of metal (and chocolate); their bassist is a doppelganger for thrash god Tom Angelripper.

At the end of the day, though, they've held steadfast their hxc roots when it comes to putting on a storming live show (something most of the bands in their genre lack). It's been a while since I've seen a band so comfortably interacting with their audience; and whether it's Vital Remains or Sick of it All, I'm always impressed when a band disregards the sanctity of the stage to commune with the people who came to see them. I'll admit, "metalcore" or not, these guys had me heshing out pretty hard, despite not knowing a single song...until the very last number of the night. I was shocked when they closed with Edge of Sanity's "Black Tears;" even more shocked that most of the audience knew the words. Anyone trotting the globe, teaching children to worship Swanö, is all right in my book.

Monday, February 13, 2012


Taking a break from writing up my Opeth post (which is taking FOR FUCKING EVER) to plug NPR's free concert downloads from MDF 2011: Hooded Menace, Oak, Drop Dead, Pulling Teeth, and Exhumed...which is old news, but I only got internet here in Malaysia a week ago, so it's new to me. Plus, free metal - my favourite kind (especially after shelling out close to $200 for Opeth and Priest tickets).

Original article here. The original download link for Exhumed seems to have expired, but you can still get it here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Opeth @ Fort Canning Park, Singapore 2-09-2012

News had reached me through some of my martial arts buddies in KL that Opeth would be playing Singapore. As lukewarm as I am to the last few albums, I couldn't pass up the chance to see them here in Asia (I'd already seen them in New York - once on their first US tour in 2001, and once in 2008). Besides, it's not like KL is teeming with metal shows - and I'll jump on any reason to get out of Malaysia.

With its huge trees and ivy growing over everything, Fort Canning Park was the perfect place for Opeth's folk-inflected forest metal (and, as I later discovered, it contains a graveyard where over 600 are buried - KVLT!). It's also much bigger than I expected; wandering in circles, I started to worry that I was going to miss the opening time when I heard the strains of vintage Opeth ringing through the park. Running to find the source, I came to the designated concert area (Fort Canning Gate) where the band was performing their soundcheck - which itself drew a reverent crowd (and applause).

[This, unfortunately, was as close as my camera got to Opeth. More on that later.]

The walls around the concert area were barely knee high, and one imagines that the crowd could have stormed past security (such as it was) to stand before their heroes if they wanted to. But everyone chose to stand respectfully outside and wait to be let in. Ah, Singaporeans and their deference to's a nice change from the chaos of Malaysia.

It turned out my cousin Abel (who I hadn't seen since at least 2007) drove down from Malaysia with his friends for the concert. Even though Abel is my youngest cousin (there's a 10 year age difference between us), he's the only one in my family who shares my love for extreme metal. Maybe it skips a generation. One of his friends told me that Abel got him into Opeth; Abel replied in turn that I was the one who introduced him to the band, back in 2005.
And on it goes, this thing of ours.

When the "doors" were finally opened, we had to go through the token security checkpoint...where my camera was confiscated. Apparently the instruction had come down from the concert promoters that DSLRs weren't allowed in. I was annoyed...I'm no real journalist, nor a professional photographer. But I am a guy who spent $80 on a concert ticket and 4 hours on a bus, just so I could support the "local" scene. What possible harm could my camera cause?

Even more irritating: there were rows of kids with their pocket cams and smart phones piled in front of the stage, shooting at will. I tried to plead my case with the security staff: My camera wasn't a video camera (which was specifically prohibited), and I just wanted to shoot still images for my blog. The security staff was extremely apologetic, saying "Management said no DSLR cameras. I'm sorry, bro." My lips pressed into a thin line, and I nodded grimly and patted the girl on the shoulder. But I was extremely annoyed, and being surrounded by hundreds of kids with cameras that weren't confiscated didn't exactly pacify me.

So, lacking any real photos of the band, I present Opeth as played by the foliage of Fort Canning Park:

Opeth opened their set with "The Devil's Orchard" (featuring the most courtly invocation of "God is Dead" since Nietzsche), and yet there wasn't the mad rush to the stage that generally typifies the start of a rock concert. Singaporean politeness wins out over heshitude once again.

Or maybe the crowd just didn't know what to do with themselves; prog rock, after all, isn't known for inciting mosh pits. Whereas older Opeth albums went from somber passages to storming grandiloquence (and back again, usually within the same song), their newer material is lacking in menace. Like the American and European Heritage tours, the majority of the set was culled from Opeth's quieter moments - if you were an OG fan hoping for something off of the first two albums, you were left in the cold (though they did play "Credence," updated with a layer of Moog keyboards for that extra 70's verisimilitude).

Opeth's live show isn't the only thing that's not as heavy as it used to be; mainman Åkerfeldt himself looks Scarecrow thin. Luckily, he's still rocking the 70's porn 'stache, which is as much his signature as his between-song-banter (second only to Immortal's Abbath). Some choice bits:

- Exhorting the crowd to fistbang during the Rainbow inspired "Slither", explaining "That's what they did before someone invented headbanging."

- In response to numerous calls for older Opeth songs: "Do we look like we take requests?"

- Introducing his longtime bassist Martin Mendez as, alternately, "a Satanist," "a Buddhist," "a Christian," and finally, "an asshole."

- An ingenious bit of business where he threw his guitar picks to the audience one by one, called up a roadie to bring him some more (while the band played some oompah music), only to throw out all his picks again and repeat the process. Maybe you had to be there.

Luckily for everyone in the park that night, the band broke with their "clean vocals only" mandate and acquiesced to fans' expectations. Starting with "Heir Apparent," they launched into the second part of their set - the part that we all were waiting for, where Mikael displays why he's one of the preeminent death metal vocalists on the planet. Is there anyone in the world who can match his inhuman bellows? I grabbed my cousin and one of his friends for a group headbang [This isn't as gay as it sounds. Okay, it's exactly as it gay as it sounds].

"The Grand Conjuration" got the crowd really going for the first time, with one brave soul trying to show his appreciation by crowd surfing - and got dropped on his head for his troubles. "The Drapery Falls" was jokingly introduced as their "hit single," but considering the audience's reaction - their singing nearly drowned out the band - there's a lot of truth in that statement.

The bad declined to walk offstage for their encore ("We've got nowhere to go!"), instead telling the audience how much they enjoyed playing [insert town here]. Mikael teased the intro of "Welcome to the Jungle" before the band launched into the syncopated thrashfest that is "Deliverance," the ending to which never fails to give me whiplash.

And with that, the band lined up for their traditional end-of-show bow. Based on the rapturous applause, they earned it. As we exited the concert area, my camera was waiting for me at security... in a Subway sandwich bag. I'm still annoyed.

Making Friends, starring my Napalm Death hoodie [Vol. 2]

Just got back from Singapore, where I saw Opeth on the sole South East Asian date of their world tour (possibly the only time they've ever played South East Asia). While I'm working on that post, enjoy this little exchange that I had while going through Customs/Immigration:

Immigration Officer: Nice weather?
Me: [hoodie zipped to top] Actually, I'm drenched in sweat underneath this.
Immigration Officer: You like Napalm Death?
Me: Yeah! Actually, I was in Singapore to see a concert. Opeth played last night in Fort Canning Park.
Immigration Officer: [while stamping passport] Damn it! I knew it!

This made me laugh for two reasons: 1) Singaporean Immigration can be pretty stiff, so I never thought one of their officers might be a metalhead, and 2) I never expect to get into a discussion about metal while going through immigration, though apparently that's a worldwide phenomenon (go to 0:56):