It is no easy task to discuss Indian heavy metal. There aren’t enough good bands, and the decent ones don’t stick to an “Indian” niche (except perhaps in the state of West Bengal where copying old death metal and thrash is currently in vogue, bullet belts, and black and white photos included). Heavy metal consciousness on a wider scale is a recent phenomenon in India, primarily coming of age in the internet era. With the internet becoming more viable only in the last fifteen years and with the ensuing information overload, most metal fans in India have grown up with a wide range of pre-baked influences that sometimes share no relation to each other. While this has aided in the diversity of metal that is now coming out of the country, it has also contributed to a general ignorance of the genre’s history and ideology. Distractions abound in the new century, and like insects flitting from one flower to another, most bands fail to implement any kind of coherence in their music, taking a bit from here and a bit from there, and feeling smug in the open-mindedness that has caused what amounts to a musical stillbirth. No true identity, no identifying with an ideal, just a liberal copy-pasting of a mishmash of distorted sounds that ends up achieving credibility in the eyes of an equally myopic and undiscriminating audience.
The following six currently active bands don’t do much of the above and can serve as a non-cringeworthy introduction to Indian metal. Which is to say they don’t completely blow ass.
Dying Embrace deserve a mention in any compilation of Indian metal just by virtue of being the oldest Indian band with a sizeable body of work, and with any inclination towards a darker, more extreme sound. It is a unique sound for all that too, like oxygen bubbling up ominously from some underwater grave. Dying Embrace‘s music however is more a collection of interesting ideas that are rarely wound together into an epic, song-long vision. This music has an instantly identifiable blues-based, pop format but for what it’s worth, it is best heard on record instead in the live environment where it loses much of its scabrous, effects-laden energy.
Endearingly referred to as Craptoss by many till not so long ago, Kryptos remain the most consistent and durable of all Indian metal bands. In spite of their childish leather-and-denim affectations and rather limited songwriting palette, this band’s music is honest, if a little repetitive, in all its Iron Maiden-inspired glory, throwing a wide range of heavy metal tropes into the mix without at any point sounding jaded. Coils Of Apollyon may yet be the turning point for the band in its fifteenth year of existence, and one looks at what the future may hold with guarded curiosity.
One of the more ambitious and clued-in bands in current Indian metal, such as it is, Fragarak from Delhi play an aggressively melodic and technical style that wouldn’t be out of place on some of Fates Warning or Edge Of Sanity‘s more accessible mid 90s offerings. While the death metal parts are good in their own right, Fragarak truly excel at weaving a dream-like, album-wide atmosphere. Not without identity, and played by skilled musicians who never resort to excessive showboating, Crypts Of Dissimulation was a breath of fresh air in a stale scene upon release and retains its appeal after many listens.
Djinn And Miskatonic
One among less than a handful from Bangalore City’s so-called doom metal movement, Djinn and Miskatonic‘s debut isn’t really doom metal at all for the most part (other than the opening song which hearkens back to an early 90s vibe), instead being a weird, experimental mix of bass-and-drum, minimal guitar, and down and out sludgy blues with the immediacy of a jam room. This is not everyday listening, enervating like it is, but it is still better than a majority of Indian bands pretending to be metal. And they just may be fans of Steven Erikson which is no bad thing either.
Dhwesha are nothing spectacular (yet), relying on a steady charge of by-the-numbers, Bolt Thrower-like death metal, but you would have to be in India to realize why this is a positive development. By hitching their star to a severely limited style, Dhwesha have only their passion and creativity to see them through, but their debut Sthoopa will still count among the first from an Indian death metal band to break away from the Cannibal Corpse–Sepultura mould.