Black Metal in Mumbai
The popular (and somewhat misleading) narrative of heavy metal in India goes something like this: before 2007 there was nothing going on but then Iron Maiden rolled into Bangalore to play to 38,000 people at Eddfest and suddenly an entire movement was born. While this was undoubtedly a significant event, it’s perhaps patronising to popular Indian bands like the NWOBHM-influenced Millennium who formed in 1988 and more recently Kryptos who flew the flag for Indian thrash metal in the 90s. Go deeper below the surface into the murky world of extreme metal however and you won’t find anyone disagreeing with the idea that the subgenre black metal is a relative newcomer to the country.
This harsh and often misunderstood form of outsider music began in earnest in India in 1999, in Mumbai with the formation of the trio Fate, who released their (sole and impossible to find) EP, Lead Us To Darkness in 2001. The prolific Demonic Resurrection formed in Mumbai in 2000 but while they have a blackened sound, they are essentially a death metal group with symphonic and (whisper it) classic rock stylings. So perhaps the first notable Indian BM band was 1833AD who first got together in 2004, meaning the scene granddaddies are only 13 years old. (In the west, Venom’s foundational album Black Metal was released in 1982 and Bathory’s self-titled debut - the blueprint for everything that followed - came out in 1984.) But despite its lack of years, the scene has mutated quickly until it is now capable of delivering the kind of cold shock that an international horde of extreme metallers now demand.
Young pups Tetragrammacide from Kolkata for example only formed in 2012 but have made up for lost time by quickly becoming one of the most sonically punishing acts on the face of the planet by mixing black metal with harsh wall noise and avant garde production techniques. Their Typhonian Wormholes: Indecipherable Anti-Structural Formulæ EP on Iron Bonehead from 2015 remains a stunning high (or should that be low) water mark in all extreme music.
But despite getting up to speed quickly enough, the scene remains, sparsely populated and barely mentioned in the mainstream media. Bombay born Kunal Choksi, who has been a metalhead for two decades and set up his own label and PR company, Transcending Obscurity, to promote Indian metal, says the country creates its own unique stresses: “The scene is highly transient because of a highly competitive work environment and societal pressures.” The lack of numbers has its own advantages though. In some socially and politically conservative countries, black metal is frowned upon but not in India. As Kunal notes sadly, “It’s too insignificant for authority figures to bother with.”
Hex from the symphonic BM group Entity Of Hate says that black metallers even tend to be outcasts even within their own scene: “In India playing black metal music can be a bit frustrating as even the heavy metal crowd doesn’t get it most of the time. It’s not as much part of the mainstream as it is in the West.”
Ironically, Kunal says that unlike the Norwegian black metal bands of 25 years ago, the current Indian bands don’t really court controversy, bar the odd outlier group such as Heathen Beast. Aditya Mehta of Solar Deity - a group formed in Mumbai in 2011 - agrees that appearances can be deceptive. He mentions his group’s seemingly satanic image but adds: “It's been fun singing about the devil as a dark force of nature while knowing perfectly well that he doesn't exist.” He adds that people seem to be more disturbed by the fact he is vegan.
Aditya claims that there is nothing unique about black metal in India but if you dig deep enough you will find bands who seem to contradict this stance. For example, Purvaja, a one man project from Hyderabad which has been operational since 2011, plays what he describes as “Vedic black metal”, incorporating tabla playing, devotional chants and Indian scales into a more traditional sound.
Perhaps all the scene needs to blow up is its own version of Eddfest... and it’s not out of the question. Kunal Gonsalves, of blackened war metal group Stark Denial, created the Black Metal Krieg festival which has had four installments so far. He says: “Black metal in India to be frank is very niche and there are just a few of us flying the flag. Black Metal Krieg featured bands from India, Sri Lanka and even France.” Perhaps they need to do another installment and invite Mayhem, Darkthrone and Behemoth. Anyone got Necrobutcher’s phone number?