Interview | Sunil Dev Pant

This is something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Sunil Dev Pant undoubtedly is one of the influential figures in the Nepalese metal underground. One of the founding members of UgraKarma, the first major death metal band from the country, he later moved to the United States in 2002, where he got involved in bands including Blood Havoc, Lost Lady Saloon, Anthrovore (solo project), and later Shroud of the Heretic. In 2012, he returned to Nepal, which resulted in the reunion of UgraKarma after a decade. Death Metal Nepal is privileged to bring to you an in-depth interview with him.

Greetings! Let me begin with the question everyone is excited to know the answer of. When is the much-anticipated UgraKarma EP going to come out? At which stage of the process are you in?

Hails! At this point we are done with recording the drums and are going to head to another studio to record the guitar and bass tracks. We are hoping to have the album released before the end of the year.

Why did you go just for an EP but not a full-fledged album?

Full-length album is on the drawing board as well. But we wanted to do it like we did back when we first started. One short release and then a full-length! This is going to come out on a 7-inch vinyl which has a time limit of 8 minutes to each side.

The EP will be released through Legion of Death Records, France. How did the collaboration with the label come up?

Legion of Death Record's owner Shaxul and we have known each other since the early days of UgraKarma. He had expressed interest in releasing UgraKarma’s stuff some years ago. Now that the band is finally back together, it has been possible to work with them.

LoD has a solid reputation as an uncompromising underground label and we expect nothing but the very best from them. LoD is releasing the new material on vinyl worldwide, but we will have a CD version released for Nepal only.

I remember that in one of our email conversations couple of years ago when you were still in America, you had shared something about "Blood Metal Initiation" being re-mastered and re-released through a US record label, marking a ten year anniversary of its release?

Yes, a couple of different labels approached us over the years regarding the release of a re-mastered “Blood Metal Initiation”. Unfortunately, the studio where we recorded our material does not exist anymore. We have been unable to find the original recordings, so a re-master seems quite impossible at this point. We might re-record a couple of the older songs and release them later.
How did UgraKarma's involvement in Ghalazat MMXIII split/compilation happen, a bit surprising as it also included hardcore bands?

Jugaa's Vishal Rai asked us if we were interested in recording a song for 'a compilation featuring hardcore/grindcore/death metal bands from Nepal and abroad'. “Dang Dung” seemed like the perfect fit for this. So we went on to record it for the compilation. The reason for choosing “Dang Dung” for the compilation was a no brainer. It was our only grindcore song and would fit-in well with the rest of the compilation.

"Dang Dung (Disorder Lust)" is more on the deathgrind edge than the primitive death metal approach the band used to have. Was it a conscious/deliberate shift? Do other new songs in the EP embrace this stylistic shift too?

It was a conscious but a temporary shift, I'd have to say, because the other songs that we are doing are straightforward death metal and much less grindcorish than that.

Have the lyrical subjects altered in newer songs as well, when compared to those of early-day UgraKarma that involved topics like blasphemy and nihilism? What are the themes behind newer songs?

“108 Decapitations” is about the Nepali culture of animal sacrifice. Nepal is one of the few places in the world where animal sacrifice is still practiced on a regular basis. “Annapurna – The Serial Killer” is about the incredible rate at which she kills the mountaineers who try to climb her and claim to have ‘conquered’ her. 64 out of every 100 men that try to climb Annapurna end up dead. It's also a glorification of Annapurna's wrathful vengeance. "Dang Dung (Disorder Lust)" was about chaos, disorder and unrest that is inherent in everything and has been so since the beginning of time. It has both Nepali and English words in it. “Galactic Cannibalization” is about the death of stars, deformation of galaxies, supernovae explosions and other cosmic chaos. There are a couple of songs that deal with our nihilistic non-beliefs/atheism/blasphemy.

The reunion of UgraKarma was one of the best news of last year. It was equally delightful to know that the brothers Bikram and Bijay Shrestha, formerly of Taamishra, are in the new line-up. How did this inclusion come up?

I had already played with Bikram and Bijay when we did a gig together with their band Taamishra in 2009 (with me as guest vocalist when I came to visit Nepal). I had seen that these guys had the drive, the skills and the desire to play death metal. When I came back to Nepal last year, it was natural to pick them to complete UgraKarma's lineup along with Prateek on guitar/vocals. We have a strong lineup now with all the members having been playing death metal for a number of years.
w/ Taamishra in Ides of March 2008
Interestingly, UgraKarma's music employs two bass guitars. How did this concept come initially? Were you tending to experiment with UgraKarma’s music?

The use of the second bass was deliberate in that we wanted to make our sound heavier without detuning the guitars/basses too much. Bijay plays a 5-stringer clean bass while I play a fretless with distortion. The distorted bass acts like a bridge between Prateek's guitar-works and Bijay's bass fingerings. It is experimentation to a certain extent because we are breaking with the tradition of two guitars and a bass. But we like the new sound and hopefully it will get better as we keep playing over the years.

Do you believe in the saying that death metal has grown stagnant over these days, with overdone sounds, and bands failing to come up with newer and larger ideas to incorporate?

It has to a certain extent. Origin and Nile are the last bands that I am fans of that had truly original and different ideas and ways of delivering death metal music. Nothing newer has really been able to tickle my fancy. Not saying that death metal has to evolve every few months. I am happy with all the newer bands that are coming out with older influences – mostly primitive black/death/thrash.

In old-school version of death metal like what you guys play, how difficult is to make the music sound innovative and original, yet sticking to the primitive roots?

There is always room for creativity no matter what kind of niche music we play. And it's not like there are rules that say we can do this and can't do that. We are an old-school sounding band but there is really no definition to this. Demilich is old-school and so is Morbid Angel, but they are vastly different from each other. There are more than enough notes and beats for all of us to play around and sound distinctive.

What is the songwriting process of UgraKarma like? What comes first – the concept, the structure or the riffs?

In most of the songs, it's been individual riffs first – followed by the song structure with minor addition/deletion. Once we have all the music done, we sit down and write the lyrics. Most songs are composed with the lyrical concept in mind so that the music matches the things we are singing about. So, concept and riffs combine to form the structure which leads to lyrics.

Many UgraKarma fans are aware about your involvement in the Portland-based death metal band Shroud of the Heretic as a guitarist, who released their first EP "Boiled to Death" last year and are about to release the full-length “Revelations in Alchemy”. The band seems to have established a cult following among OSDM fans around the world. Tell us about your involvement and participation with that band.

I joined Shroud of the Heretic after I came across an ad for a guitarist and listened to some rough recordings they had already done with a different guitarist. Once I joined the band, we became a three-piece completely focused on primitive death metal.  Thom Gann (vocals/bass), Craig McIntyre (drums) and I (guitar/vocals) started writing songs that incorporated all of our influences. It was great to work with guys that had a similar taste in metal as I did. We did super-heavy, doom-laden death metal with influences from the 80s only. We wrote, played, recorded and released a CD “Boiled to Death” after which I left the US and came to Nepal to do UgraKarma. New album “Revelations in Alchemy” is in the process of being released. All the recordings and post-production is already done for the release.
w/ Shroud of the Heretic
You also had a solo death metal project Anthrovore through which you had released a demo in 2007 titled "Necrocannibalism and Voraphilia", which was raw brutal death metal/goregrind. In one of our conversations few years ago, you were talking about shifting the band's sound to more atmospheric brand of death metal. What's the status of that project anyway?

Anthrovore is my solo project and I do it anytime I don't have a real band to play with. I have been writing songs for Anthrovore over these years but haven't had the chance to release them yet. I have been working on experimentation with psychedelic soundscapes for Anthrovore. But for now I am totally focused on UgraKarma, so Anthrovore is gonna have to stay backstage for a while.

You also own and manage an independent extreme metal record label in the US, Gore-kha Records. What's the status of the label at present?

Gore-kha Records is no longer available on the internet so you can say it has gone underground. But it is still active and I will be releasing some new stuff soon.

Talking about the Nepalese metal scene, do you think that the popularity of death metal has just been a trend that will die away with time?

I think it's a temporary fad that's gonna go the way of Iron Maiden tribute bands, melodic black metal, pop/nu/core metal, Lamb of God cover bands, and other popular items in our city's metal history. Only the most resilient and dedicated bands will survive after the storm dies down.

How different do you find the current Nepalese underground scene from the scene back then when UgraKarma was first formed?

It's certainly gotten bigger. It has its pluses and minuses. Better sound at gigs and studios is a plus. A shit ton of so called metal bands that are playing “whatever is popular” is the minus. However, it is fun to see the clash between trendy asshole faggots and metalheads. We will always win.
UgraKarma, circa 2001
Traveling back time, how did you first get into death metal/extreme metal? I believe it wasn't comparatively difficult to get heavy metal cassettes at that time, but the extreme metal tapes were obscure to almost non-existent in Nepal.

It was all tapes in the beginning, CDs came in later but most of my early finds were all on tapes. Some bought locally in the form of “Peacock” and other tapes that came into Nepal from Thailand's booming piracy industry. These were mostly thrash metal tapes. But most of death/black/grind tapes were brought from Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore when I went to visit these places as an adolescent. We were also involved in tape trading with some of our American and European mates, which exposed us to a lot of the more obscure bands.

I read it somewhere that some of the UgraKarma songs had already been written couple of years prior to the formation of the band (i.e. since around 1995).

Yes, Prateek and I played together in our college band during the period of 1995-1999. We did covers of death/thrash metal songs onstage. During the same period we had independently written some full songs and some partial riffs that were eventually incorporated into our album.

So what was the main objective of forming UgraKarma back then? Has that objective changed now after thirteen years?

Same objective: Playing original death metal the old school way.

Looking back to the past, how do you feel about "Himalayan Metal of Death" and then "Blood Metal Initiation" now?

I feel proud and happy that we recorded those CDs when we did. It was a lot of hard work but we were successful in releasing them against impossible odds. We were too busy playing and recording and doing all the other thousand things that needed to be done in order to release an album. Most of the work was DIY so there was a lot to do. Many of the things we take for granted in 2013 did not exist in 1999, especially technological tools. We were able to do it only because of the help from a lot of people, mostly our friends and family who backed us up to the hilt.
"Himalayan Metal of Death", the first ever death metal release from Nepal
Personally and honestly speaking, "Chandal Saitan" is not one of my favorite UgraKarma songs. I may also have felt so due to its relatively bleak sound production in "Blood Metal Initiation" that's quite different from its other tracks. However, it seems to be one of the fan-favorites, and you have commented that you guys have gotten exhausted of playing this song in every gig.
“Chandal Saitan” was recorded for a compilation called “Music Isles” that came out in 2000 or so. It was recorded at a different studio from the rest of the album, which explains why it sounds so shitty. Oddly enough, “Chandal Saitan” seems to be the song that people associate the most with us. I personally like that song a lot. And it's fun to play live too. But when I hear the same shit at every show from the fans, it starts getting annoying and that's why I called it out in our last gig saying 'we are tired of playing that shit'. We really aren't, hahaha!

As an underground band, do you care about your audience?

I don’t know about others but I certainly wouldn't give a rat's ass if there was not a single soul into our music. If I ever cared about “the audience” I wouldn't be playing a very non-popular form of death metal. When we first started out, all we had were our own friends who supported us. Not many people in Kathmandu were all that into death metal back then. Our gigs attracted very few people. It didn't matter then and still doesn't. If people like our stuff, that's great. It's awesome to see a bunch of headbangers moshing and thrashing to our songs. But that's not a requirement for us as a band.

"I tread your holy stones
And piss on your deity's worshipped idol
I am the enemy of god
And all that you say what he stands for"
A Grand Declaration of Atheism & Blasphemy (2000)

You are known for your nihilistic ideologies. How do you define nihilism and what's your overall outlook towards life, the world, existence and the moral values of society and religion? I also read that you follow Siddharthic nihilism.

I follow nothing and no one. I do not believe in the existence of god or of universal morality or any other kinds of rules except the Laws of Nature. I do not believe that life has a purpose. It is just a chemical process that ends with death. But we are endowed with this very powerful brain that's capable of great many things, including spiritual thoughts. I am spiritual and I find the findings/teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, later Buddha, intriguing. Siddharthic Nihilism is just a phrase that kind summaries my ideology and outlook to life.
Okay lets talk about your personal musical taste! While it would be easier to point out the positive aspects of death metal, what do you think are the uninteresting things about death metal?

Deathcore. It fucking pisses me off that these motherfucking faggoty maggots exist to torment us with their makeup and eyeliners and fancy clothing. It's like glam metal was in the 80s, full of fucking cunts.

Slam death. I'd rather listen to Suffocation whose riffs sparked this whole sub-genre. It's hard to believe that so many hundreds of bands can play that one fucking riff out of “Liege of Inveracity”.

Super-technical death metal. I find it hard to get impressed by non-stop technical wankery. This is death metal, not some classical concerto.

Melodic shit. Never liked melodic metal and never will. Metal is about power, hatred and aggression. It's not about sweet notes and dreamy songs.
w/ Ross Dolan (Immolation)
What type of music do you listen to most besides black, death, thrash metal and grindcore?

Psychedelic trance (Goa, Dark, Forest, Fullon).

I guess it’s time to wrap up. Thanks for taking your time for this tiring long interview! Any last words you'd want to end this interview with?

Support your local bands. Attend gigs and buy merch! Stay true to yourself, be yourself and be fucking proud!