From Chandal Saitan to Master Shiva*: The rise of death metal in Nepal

(Posted on July 12, 2015. Updated couple of times.)
"This is just another stupid trend that is going to go away, and death metal will slowly fade into the backbench. But it has so firmly established itself in the underground that it will always have fans and bands and gigs for a long, long time." – Sunil Dev Pant (UgraKarma)
The nascent heavy metal underground in Nepal is ever flourishing, and contrary to what Encyclopaedia Metallum has made the world to believe, the scene here is much more than the mere 17 bands (as of July 2015) enlisted in the site. Many bands are active for years but have not recorded anything, and those who have recorded their stuff have given things for free through the internet. An average lifespan of a heavy metal band in Nepal is between two to five years. However, there are many exceptions. A splitting up of a good band is followed by the formation of another good band, and thus the cycle continues. But it is conspicuous that the scene has moved light-years ahead compared to what it was about ten years ago. But what exactly favored the development of specifically the death metal scene here? The easy access of the internet could not alone be accredited to why all of a sudden death metal became the new darling of the metal mass.

A series of unrelated events could be attributed for the sudden and unexpected advent of death metal in Nepal that put the ghastly genre on the limelight. Firstly, it was the formation of the death metal supergroup Binaash in 2010 that did not bring something new to the table, but which definitely quenched the thirst of the Nepali scene for a good death metal band, the thirst that lasted for several years after the dissolution of bands like Bitter Euphemism, Breeding Pestilence, and the female-fronted Taamishra. Binaash brought that energy and intensity in the scene with their brutal music. But they had another secret weapon: the Macabre-styled humor that was artfully wrapped around their music, but also their whimsical, dehumanizing live sets. Death metal then did not just become mere ghastly music, but a fun factor. Listen to “Bancharo” and “Binaash Momo Pasal” as examples (if you know Nepali and bother to take a look into the lyrics).

This was just around the time when earlier bands from other extreme metal genres were experimenting with their take on death metal. For example, black metal veterans Antim Grahan recorded a brutal death metal album “Putrefaction Eternity” in 2010; metalcore band Black Sins Immortal turned into a death metal outfit before their (un)timely demise; thrash metal band Melancholia morphed into a death metal band called Unholy Sickdom before they got consumed by Kalodin and Antim Grahan; the melodic black/death metal band Prakanda Bimba, few years after their split-up reformed to play death metal, specifically covering bands like Deicide and Behemoth, before they called it quits again; among others.

Just a year later, in 2011, Nepal witnessed a powerhouse international metal band headline a metal festival for the first time: the mighty Vader! Although the organizers of Silence Festival were not the biggest death metal fanatics, this concert defined the grandeur of death metal to the scene loiterers. Soon, Napalm Death followed, and then came Severe Dementia, Decapitated, Nervecell, Behemoth, Defiled and Funerus, and now Fleshcrawl is playing in January 2016 (it may just be a coincidence that three of the first four big metal bands that played in Nepal were Polish, but this could be due to the weaker Polish Zloty compared to Euro, GBP or USD). An erroneous but understandable assertion among fans that death metal could possibly be the pinnacle of metal music went pervasive. However, there was another force playing for the rise of the genre in the deep underground scene of Kathmandu and Lalitpur: Extreme Underground Metal Society Nepal (EUMSN).

EUMSN was established in 2012 by the frontman of the deathgrind band Wakk Thuu, Vishal VOF, who had just returned to Nepal after spending a decade elsewhere. This circle had a passionate following of brutal death metal and goregrind fanatics, who were mostly the then-newcomers in the scene rather than the older ‘elite’ members. Bands like Wakk Thuu, Broken Hymen, Aakrosh, Antyesti, Dying Out Flame, etc. caught up with the rest of the scene and made it big playing at EUMSN shows initially. While the earlier concert organizers had grown stagnant and eventually inactive, these guys were actively hosting shows, and playing enthusiastically among themselves. Wakk Thuu released their demos and splits through foreign record labels, Dying Out Flame went international becoming the first Nepali metal band to sign a bigger Western record label (Xtreem Music, Spain), and other bands too started recording and releasing songs and demos in a pace totally unprecedented in the scene’s history. Meanwhile, their good friends at Brutal Pokhara, although started by a member of a now-defunct raw black metal band, Rot, started by supporting local Pokhara death metal bands like Narsamhaar and Kaal, among others. Brutal Pokhara and EUMSN also collectively initiated Nepal's first festival exclusively dedicated to death metal, Nepal Deathfest, bringing bands like Defiled (and now, Fleshcrawl, Nervo Chaos, Sete Star Sept, etc. in 2016), and other bands from the Indian subcontinent to play in the Nepali soil.

Concurrent to these developments, one other event of significance was the reunion of the band UgraKarma, considered as the scene legends as they were, the first metal band from the country to record and release a full-length album in 2001 (read our in-depth interview with their frontman). Their resurrection meant that the void of old-school death metal in the death metal scene swarmed by brutal-tech bands was finally filled, influencing newer bands to consider the primitive versions of the genre as well. Moreover, apart from the band's age and uncompromising wicked music, their badass kill 'em all stage persona added to their image. In 2014, they also became the first Nepali band to take the Himalayan metal of death beyond the national borders when they opened for Impiety (Singapore). All these happened in a span of five years. During this interval, a lot of experimentation and newer stuff were also brought in: slam death metalVedic death metalfun death metalalien death metalvery technical death metalatmospheric eclectic death metaltesticle death metalHetauda death metalFewa Tal death metal, and more.

Provided the resources (including the frustration bred by Nepali politics and society), it was inevitable that heavy metal would be the new sound of the underground, as it provides everything to portray the realities of this shithole. But who would have guessed that death metal would be that guise of metal!
Nergal w/ Behemoth, 2013, Kathmandu. Photo credit: Umes Shrestha, Bleak Impressions

[*NOTE: Few of my friends not very well-acquainted with the heavy metal scene in Nepal asked me what the significance of the terms "Chandal Saitan" and "Master Shiva" in the title of this article is. For the record, "Chandal Saitan" is one of the tracks in the first metal album (and so, the first death metal album as well) from Nepal, Ugrakarma's "Blood Metal Initiation," the song which many fans connect Ugrakarma with. Likewise, Master Shiva is a reference to the Hindu/Vedic lyrical theme of Dying Out Flame, a recent powerhouse death metal band from the country, and the first to get a record deal with a major international label (Xtreem Music, Spain). Therefore, the title tries to encapsulate the range of time and death metal culture in Nepal since its beginning to the time the article was written.]