India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, they all have a lot in common. Historical connotations, geographical locations, seasonal conditions, cricket, religious festivals among others... but nothing as striking as the sheer size of their metal music scenes. Sure not many people in the West know that these scenes exist with India being the exception, after all Kryptos and Demonic Resurrection have been gracing the UK and European shores many times. As for the rest of the subcontinental contingent, there is Orobas from Bangladesh causing a buzz, Pakistan's Black Warrant perhaps being one of the oldest bands from there and Sri Lanka's Dhishti leading the Sri Lankan Black Metal wave... overarching all of that is a passion for extreme music, a passion for metalheads expressing themselves and a passion for thriving in an 'Extreme Nation', this is what Indian director Roy Dipankar's latest documentary is called and is about. He gladly spoke to GMA about the documentary, the troubles funding and filming such a feat and what it means to be a metalhead in this part of the world.
"The subcontinent now has her own flag-bearers in extreme metal being recognised worldwide thanks to the internet, supportive distributions and record labels."
Roy, what gave you the idea of doing a documentary about the Indian subcontinent's extreme underground metal scene?
"My affinity for independent and alternative music has traversed a long way, a decade plus later, manifesting itself as a film via videos and documentaries capturing the panorama of non-mainstream music and emerging voices from the Indian subcontinent. The professional experience in the commercial and institutional sector of record labels eventually left me not so satisfied in terms of creativity, progress and space to showcase emerging sub-cultures and alternative voices of the youth. I began to feel (and see) the societal fissures and cultural bias (injustice) which ran from pillar to post, within mainstream culture, be it the case in India or Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The more I searched, the more I discovered concurrent narratives of musicians, fans and propagators from far corners of the underground subcontinent.
The fledgling emergence of an unique subculture against the backdrop of religious radicalism, rising nationalism, traditional hegemony makes this documentary loaded in contrast, conversations and controversy. This led me to develop a first-of-its-kind attempt to document and showcase voices, the prevailing conditions and questions raised by metal musicians from the fringe communities based in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Almost five years in the making, 'Extreme Nation' is now debuting at various film-festivals, media outlets and panoramas in India and outside."
What challenges did you have to overcome to deliver the documentary? How long did it take to create?
"Several! Especially when one embarks upon an independent task towards creative art which is all about subversiveness and anti-creation. Be it the interpersonal relationship of the countries, or the highly elusive or inert nature of bands and characters involved in the underground. Finding the right people and convincing them to be a part of a bigger spectrum was a massive deal.
Financial hurdles were / are the most difficult ones. Especially when the international documentary world is looking at India to produce more apparent hard-pressed issues related to environment, gender identity and equality, caste-based politics and such, a feature film on subculture takes a second or rather a second-last silver lining on the path to fruition.
Security was another concern regarding the cast and 'politically sensitive' content due to long term internal disputes and border-territory issues across the subcontinent. Diplomatic problems like visas have always been a chimera for extreme musicians to travel across our borders for performances. Struggling against the pre-fixated mindsets towards music that is metal, noise, power electronics, hardcore, is tough. But I took this as an anti-morose challenge which is both exciting and satisfying as the awareness spreads... a film about dark music! A film about the seething yet fragile voices within nations of the Indian subcontinent."
Do you feel that Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan (along with Nepal, Bhutan and The Maldives) are being noticed worldwide as forces within the extreme metal scene?
"Very much. The subcontinent now has her own flag-bearers in extreme metal that is being recognised worldwide thanks to the internet as well as supportive distribution and syndication by record labels."
What have you noticed about the scenes there, that at first came as a surprise to you?
"More than as a surprise, the feeling was that of a kind of discovery. The bands, their message, performances and imagery came across as crisp and sharp. It was both unique and seminal that would lay the path of an organised scene is what became clear to me."
Do you feel it will come to a point where a lot more Western labels take note of bands in this region; with Demonic Resurrection and Kryptos leading the way?
"Further to the aforementioned bands there are substantial releases of Indian subcontinental bands like Genocide Shrines, Konflict, Tetragrammacide to the now recent Kapala that has gained severe international recognition by release through 'Western labels' in the extreme underground."
What was life like growing up as a metalhead in India? What does your family think of your choice of music and your film-making?
"Growing up in the early 90's, the only two unique distinctions in sound for me was AR Rahman's music and Heavy Metal. Don't get me wrong, I mean, I grew up in the Bombay heartland (thus being) exposed to Bollywood, devotional cacophony of loudspeakers blaring during festivals, cassettes and LPs of international artists like ABBA, Boney M, Kraftwerk, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Rabindra Sangeet published by Polydor, Columbia, HMV (my grandfather's lifetime as an Exports Manager at HMV, Calcutta). But the teenage angst in me would be satiated by metal music alone and a bit of Bruce Lee films maybe. What attracts me in metal or extreme music (as currently what I listen to might not easily be identified as metal: 8MM, mz412, Bell, Black Cilice, Qrixkuor), it probably is that naked, unabashed and true openness of expressionist art that needn't adhere to a form, method or general formulae. My family is fine with me whether be it choice of profession or passion."
Will people in Europe get to see this documentary? Will you look to release it on DVD in the future?
"The film is completed and is making its way through film and music festivals. 'Extreme Nation' had her world premiere at the prolific Jecheon International Music Film Festival in South Korea this August. It was also screened at Wacken Open Air 2019, Germany and FICIME, Bogota, Colombia. The film is scheduled to screen at more avenues like Infierno Fest, Peru and a possible screening at Brutal Assault, Czech Republic next year. More announcements to follow. Currently I am in talks with a record label in Europe for a DVD release of the film later this year!"
Any final thoughts? Greetings you wish to send out?
Sigh on to you my friend,
Might be, is this the end,
The pain hurts the fear inside,
Kill be, the weak to ride."
Foreskin, the Thrash Metal band hailing from the mass populated Muslim city of Lahore, the cultural hub of Pakistan and ancient capital of Punjab, speak up on how Metal in general has evolved in Pakistan and about their journey in making music, life and the ever-raging battle they face against preserving Metal against other genre's.
Vocalist / Lyricist Hassan Umer Amin of Foreskin spoke to GMA's Indian Correspondent Farzand Ali Bawa.
Farzand: Greetings from India, how is it going over there brother?
Hassan: Hey bro. Going alright, we're finishing up our EP recording and jamming for an upcoming gig.
Farzand: How has Pakistan had its effect on metal music?
Hassan: Difficult to say. On one hand, you'd expect that places like Pakistan would be able to produce some of the most insane, original, ass-kicking metal on the planet simply 'cos of the daily s**t we go through. There's been a precedent in history for this, New York and Brazil in the 80's for example, which were f**ked up dangerous places but with some of the most forward-thinking Metal / Hardcore / Punk scenes.
But with Pakistan, music as a whole seems dead and stagnating. There are some prominent 'popular' metal bands these days but none of those tickle my fancy, a lot of them lack originality and just have a basic understanding of 'metal', ends up making them feel soulless and contrived.
It wasn't until recently when Dionysus, us, Lohikarma, Necktarium, Khorne, Irritum, Myosis, and some other bands injected some originality and genuine underground ethos back in the scene. Dusk is also returning which is great. Those guys are by far the best metal act to have existed in this country.
Farzand: Bands like Strings, Jal and cults like The Zeest have been fairly known before, but the curiosity as to how the metal scene evolved back then still remains and where it currently is now.
Hassan: Metal started back in the late 80's with a Heavy Metal band called The Barbarians, apparently. Then Dusk started in the early 90's, influenced by the growing Death, Doom and Black metal scenes. They ended up being a very creative and forward thinking Doom metal band responsible for some of my favorite music.
In the late 90's to mid-2000's Karachi was the basic hub with frequent gigs, Lahore giving it a run too, but most of those bands never recorded and were just there to play gigs. A lot of them just died out when the Music TV channels started, because everyone suddenly wanted to play pop or rock. Bands like Soul Vomit stuck around but disappeared eventually despite a decent comeback. Some people involved with Hell Dormant / Autopsy Gothic can be seen in Karachi Butcher Clan these days.
In the mid-2000's, Eleventh Hour / Venom Vault was responsible for thrusting Islamabad into the limelight and it's still one of the top places for metal, though personally I think the quality has dropped since the golden days of Venom Vault and Depletion. Some of the folks from that scene are still around, and you can find them in the bands Black Hour and Inferner - Black Hour especially being a fantastic live band.
Lahore is a bit strange. It starts something then dies out, then starts again. We had the legendary Corpsepyre a decade ago along with other Death metal bands but when the gigs died out, they died out too. There was then a kind of revival with Dementia, Orion, Odyssey, Takatak, and other cool bands... but it died out too. Nowadays the Lahore scene has bands like Keeray Makoray, Takatak, Dementia, Dionysus, Foreskin, Irritum so it's a pretty musically varied environment, though splintered.
Farzand: Now coming to Foreskin, how did this project come into existence?
Hassan: In 2009, Amar and I were sick of the scene at that point and wanted to start a Punk Crossover / Thrash band. We just hated everything around us and wanted to give everyone the middle f**king finger. We named ourselves Foreskin because, well, f**k the world we're FORESKIN hahaha! We played some gigs, the first gig we played was also Dionysus' first gig - we've been sister bands ever since. We put out a demo called BITP in 2011 showcasing our old crossover sound in all its sloppy flavor and then split up for a time. Got together again and puked out the Anger Management demo with longer songs and more extreme influences added along with Sheraz of Dionysus doing the most of the songwriting whilst I continued to just focus on Vocals / Lyrics.
The Anger Management demo was well recieved, especially Hack N' Slash which is my favorite song from us to this day. So we started working on an EP after buying some new equipment. You can hear 2 promo songs from it on our Bandcamp, but the final version will be different. The song Anti-Kvlt is also available on the Ghalazat compilation.