Sounds without feeling, energy or aggression
From money hungry brains and not from the heart
Fortune, fame and glory are their obsessions
Salesmen, deaf to music, blind to art
– Kreator, 1989
There is a curious phenomenon at speed in the miniscule Indian metal scene. An ideologically outsider music is slowly being appropriated by those who would have it reduced to little more than an avenue for social hobnobbing. In a society where image and posturing is paramount, and an abject lack of introspection, grace, and humility the norm, these self-styled defenders of the faith have bored out an ideal niche for themselves. The vast majority is only too glad to be shown a path, any path, as paved with robed intentions as it may be. Group hierarchy asserts itself through hollow, embarrassing proclamations of piety; “I say it is so, hence it has to be so. How dare you think otherwise?”. One would expect only the intellectually fallow to fall prey to such soothsayers but reality hints otherwise. The morally ambiguous come in all stripes and shades; a decrepit sense of conviction resting on a spavined spine is almost the only constant among these sheep.
To the East we have an assortment of malnourished urchins with a propensity towards posing in desaturated pictures and hailing any two-bit demo from twenty years ago as the greatest thing since chopped liver. Objectivity goes out of the window, devoured in a Youtube frenzy as these brave upstarts go about haranguing their trueness and deriding anything at odds with their miserable interpretation of the music and the world around them.
Down South is a renaissance of slow bluesy rock well past its sell-by date but being expertly marketed in the guise of old-school metal and, funnily enough, even doom . To these eyes, such nomenclature is obsolete and, worse yet, cynical to the hilt, targeted as it is to lure impressionable minds. But there is a small yet proven market for such chicanery, the Bangalore scene being an effective demonstration of supply-and-demand dynamics on a microcosmic scale.
In comparison, the West, primarily Bombay, is a macabre carnival of cluelessness, an alternate dimension inhabited by bastard gets of three-ways between metalcore, bad symphonic black metal and varied shades of emo, gormless abominations all that insist on calling themselves metal. As harmless and ridiculous as a three-legged dog, it takes a cold heart to put them down but the service has to be rendered.
“India’s most well known underground movement spearheading Extreme and Heavy Metal culture!” proclaims a notable upcoming concert, sadly failing to appreciate the all-too-true irony inherent in the wording. Lifestyle captured in a bottle, a sense of belonging engendered in the perennially insecure while the music takes a convenient back seat. Are you an opinion-less lickspittle devoid of the remotest powers of discernment? Have no fear, pull on that denim vest and stick a few patches on, we’ll have you battle-ready in no time!
Pithy, misplaced platitudes abound; “what is underground and overground in a small scene“, “it’s all metal at the end of the day, let’s just come together and join hands‘”. It isn’t all metal; the underground is a mentality and an outlook towards life but the term has unfortunately been hijacked by altogether more superficial considerations. Being underground is being apart from the flock, being comfortable in your skin, using your powers of critical thinking and insight to distinguish between right and wrong, having the fortitude to be non-conformist and upstanding about the things that truly matter to you. It isn’t a fancy slogan on a sticker nor is it about only listening to music considered pariah by the vacillating mainstream. In a technology-savvy world, unearthing dingy 4-track recordings is no great feat of prowess and can never serve as substitute for understanding the “whys” and the “hows” that initially went into composing said music. Napalm Death had something very real to say when they wrote Scum and F.E.T.O. in Thatcherite-England while Morbid Angel were away exploring substance-fueled fantastical excesses on an almost cosmic scale. The anger apparent in much of Metallica‘s early catalog was as much a product of James Hetfield’s troubled childhood as anything else. Whatever may be said about them as people, then or now, it is indisputable that their muses were authentic, tapping as they did into a vision and a mindset completely consonant with the art they were about to create.
But art is always an extension of personality and accordingly profound or vacuous. As metal has repeatedly proved over time, a mind attuned to the music-as-ideal can create startlingly vivid, tangible realizations of the emotions locked within, in spite of being hamstrung by technical limitations. As such it occupies a peculiar position in genre-hierarchies; few music adherents are as tolerant of sonic mishaps as metal fans. We aren’t a cruel sort but we do value honesty over mostly everything else, a commodity notoriously hard to fake and easily detected by the hardboiled listener.
Of course, much of this carries universal significance but it feels the more pronounced in a late-blooming – from a post-colonization perspective – country like India. Heavy metal is mainly an upper middle class novelty here, accessible only to the privileged. The true angst stays back on the streets, sniffing at fumes and foraging for one meal a day. Metal listeners rarely go through a developmental phase that exposes them to the harsh realities of life on an intimate level. Is it surprising then that they fail so spectacularly at grasping the intricacies of a music that strives to peel back the skin and reveal the horrors that lie in wait?
Upbringing and cultural conditioning, after all, certainly play a role in shaping attitudes. If one is raised in an environment geared towards turning in a profit then it follows that money figures greatly in one’s approach towards life and the interpersonal transactions that occur in it. Similarly, the die is set when one grows up seeing their elders displaying a lack of moral impulse and a submissive, compromising bent of mind; the child grown fleshes out the contours to his ends but in essence remaining a homunculi of the same template. The colloquialism “Chutiye baap ka beta chutiya” resonates in this context.
Exceptions are few and far between and nearly never in the places you’ll expect them to be found. Heavy metal, even death metal and black metal, has been sterilized for a long time, reduced to little more than a second hand aural replica showing only the faintest vestiges of its ancestral vitality, but the core principles underneath haven’t changed; the stuff worth listening to has always boasted of stringent self-corrective, purging mechanisms, built in by its very nature to appeal, on a granular level, to a certain mould of personality. Listeners would be well served to examine the music for the emotions it fosters and whether those emotions find a residual home within. It’s no crime if the two fail to tally but by the same token shouldn’t you be doing something else with your time?