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Psycho Martyrdom: Further Evidence Sri Lanka is Becoming the Newest Hamlet in the Heavy Metal Universe

June 3, 2011

By: Theena Kumaragurunathan

Event poster: Design by Tennyson Napolean

Recent anthropological studies has suggested what some of us already knew: heavy metal’s acceptance is growing the world over. Disproving the often parroted view that the music is the pursuit of young European and American males, heavy metal has evolved and now possesses an ability to embrace indigenous musical cultures around the world to create often startlingly original musical movements. Sri Lanka is no exception to this offshoot of globalization.

I say this because on the 6th of May I was among countless others who witnessed Psycho Martyrdom, a heavy metal show that featured UAE’s Nervecell, the UK’s Cyanide Serenity and Stigmata, the pioneers of Sri Lanka’s own heavy metal sub-culture. I’d wager that Psycho Martyrdom was one of the more globally-themed metal events this year – and that alone is worth celebrating.

But more of that later.

Held at the Auditorium of the British School in Colombo – in my view the best indoor venue in the country for live performances such as this – the show promised a coming together of not just heavy metal bands from different countries but also different interpretations of heavy metal’s wide stylistic spectrum. Before Cyanide Serenity began the show, newcomers in the local scene R.A.G.E took the stage to get the crowd in the mood for the main course. Their three song setlist was excellent consisting covers of metal luminaries Pantera, Dream Theater and Lamb of God that suggested the future direction their own compositions would evolve towards.

Cyanide Serenity play Metalcore, Heavy Metal’s latest stylistic incarnation, but distinguish themselves by veering away from the formulaic potholes of this much maligned sub-genre by adding technical dexterity to their musicianship. Newcomer vocalist, Travis Neal, took little time to prove how well he slots in with the band. Frontmen have the dual task of singing and building a rapport with the audience in between songs. In both counts, Travis was uniformly excellent. Even to someone who was unfamiliar with their work, Cyanide Serenity doesn’t fail to make an impression. As a live act they are very entertaining.

Stigmata then came with their combination of Prog/Thrash Metal. I’ve seen Stigmata on stage and heard their records since 2003 and their evolution continues unabated. They had ‘made their bones’ a couple of years before that playing covers at nightclubs for hours on end. This training has proven now to be invaluable as they are now quite masterly on stage. Guitarists Andrew and Tenny are something to behold on most nights, but on this particular occasion they raised it a few notches. Andrew’s wizardry has been waxed lyrical about by anyone who has an ear for music. Tenny is no longer a rhythm guitarist as people deem him to be. His riffs I can only describe as mathematical in its precision. On this night, when the sounds were fantastic, several times I isolated his guitar playing in the PA’s mix and took refuge in its scientific madness. Please do try this at home, dear reader, when you listen to Stigmata’s third record ‘Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom’.

And then it was Nervecell’s turn. The band is touring Asia and Europe to promote their new record, ‘Psycho Genocide’. This is the second time Nervecell is playing in Colombo so their fanbase is quite established here already. In their first performance here two years ago they dropped jaws with their Slayer-esque brand of Death Metal. On this particular day it took a couple of notes off their first song of the night to convince the crowd that they had evolved to a higher plane. Their new compositions show a dash of Arabic musical influence.

Speaking of Arabian, a renowned American publication featured Nervecell as part of a series on Heavy Metal in West Asia. A friend opined that the growing scene in the West Asia shouldn’t be surprising: ‘Metal’, he said, ‘is to my mind the ultimate form of protest music and, especially given recent events, the Middle East is the most logical place for it.’

I detected a hint of the political in Nervecell’s music, but truly in a live environment such as this lyrical analysis is a last resort. As in the case of the three bands that preceded them, Nervecell seemed intent on giving a damn good time for the audience. I speak for all of us when I say they succeeded quite handsomely.

To conclude, I am confident this event signals the beginning of a new phase in Sri Lanka’s Heavy Metal journey. Last year there were signs that the industry’s period of infancy and innocence was done, gradually being replaced by a sense of professionalism.

Psycho Martyrdom proved it beyond doubt.

And that's how it's done ©Natalie Soysa, 2011

One Comment leave one →
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