Heavy metal is burgeoning in India, and though still a somewhat underground genre, the music has quite an avid and devoted fan base.
Many bands in India are coming up and adding to this heavy brand of music, which has had at most a niche following in the country.
While there is an active scene in Maharashtra, North-Eastern states like Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, and Assam, and to some extent in Delhi and West Bengal, perhaps the best bands from India have been coming up — at least in the past decade or so — from the southern states, where the whole heavy/extreme-metal scene is exploding.
Heavy metal found its roots in the country in Bengaluru through the band Millennium in the 1980s. It was pretty much the first heavy metal band in India.
Today, there is no shortage of heavy metal music in the South, be it Kryptos (Bengaluru), Against Evil (Visakhapatnam), Inner Sanctum (Bengaluru), Chaos (Thiruvananthapuram), The Down Troddence (Kannur), Blood Covenant (Chennai), Amorphia (Cherthala), Bevar Sea (Bengaluru), Diablous Arcanum (Chennai), and Djinn and Miskantonic (Bengaluru).
Ask and you shall receive! Whether it is retro Iron Maiden or Judas Priest-style 1980s heavy metal, old-school Overkill-flavoured thrash metal, brutal Obituary-style death metal, European-style black metal with a death metal flavour, or progressive metal with complex and technical arrangements as well as slow and extra heavy doom metal, the Indian scene has it all.
And the South of the country is where it’s at — in almost every city of every state.
What’s adding to the scene are standalone festivals and performances that are part of music fests, even as sub-genres like black metal start rearing their heads.
The emerging scenario
While copying trends of the Western metal scene or simply doing the whole djent sound or even going the brutal extreme metal way is a problem that plagues many bands across India, including the ones in the South, there are several that have established their own unique sound.
It is not just that South India has bands aplenty with a lot of killer material that is worthy of appreciation. Some of the best bands in the country that represent the metal scene of India globally in major metal festivals are from the South.
These include Kryptos and Against Evil, alongside bands from other parts of the country, such as Demonic Resurrection (Mumbai) and Bloodywood (New Delhi).
Kryptos said during a gig at Ragnarok Open Air in Germany: “Compared to Germany, a younger audience is listening to what is hot right now in India; but the music we play comes from an age bygone. And it is catching up slowly, and you know eventually it will catch up one day. But, for now, Europe gets us.”
The band added: “We play a mix of ‘80s metal and thrash metal. That’s what we grew up on. [Black] Sabbath, [Iron] Maiden, [Judas] Priest, Rainbow, Dio — bands like that. Plus, some of the thrash bands — especially German thrash bands like Sodom amd Kreator and also a lot of early Metallica and Testament. That is pretty much what forms our sound.”
The evolving diversity
While Kryptos has gone down the more retro road with a retro production reminiscent of an 1980s heavy/speed metal band, it is true that compared to the North, genres like metalcore and deathcore have not made as much of an inroad in the South as a large chunk of the bands in the scene is still playing either heavy/speed/thrash metal, groove metal, death metal or black metal.
This is not as much an over-generalisation as an observation, because the core style has not made too much influx into the Indian metal scene in the South — whether it is Bengaluru, Kannur, Hyderabad, or Chennai.
On the newer forms of metal music — like metalcore — that are penetrating India, Kryptos made its stand clear: “..But you know that sort of stuff doesn’t really bother us because we just do what we gotta do. But, you know, if people like that stuff, then it is their thing. We come from a completely different headspace; it’s not our trip but they like that stuff. So, you know, good for them.”
Then there are the rebel-with-a-cause bands. Willuwandi is an all-Dalit band from Kerala, and has been using its performance to highlight the “othering” of their communities,
And providing a platform for such bands are live events that are starting to come up across the southern states.
Platforms like Bangalore Open Air have been doing that for years, and the Covid-19 pandemic is being now seen as only a temporary setback for the performers, some of whom had taken to performing online for their fans and patrons.
Over the years
Heavy metal has always been rebellion music at its core — rebellion against established norms, traditions and structures.
That was perhaps the reason why a couple from South India co-opted heavy metal into their wedding in 2016.
Akshaya and Shriram had met in the US, and when they got married, they formed what they christened the “Dulhan Brass Band”, and performed at the wedding.
In India, while metal was introduced back in the late 1980s, the music gained very little traction until the advent of the internet, and even then until the late 2000s or 2010s did Indian metal barely begin penetrating the international market.
Among the handful of bands that has gained some level of global traction, a big chunk comes from South India.
They are stylistically different from the bands in North or Central India, mainly because metalcore, deathcore, and djent do not influence the scene as much there. Instead, they have a more classic metal influence.
With the advancement of technology and people having access to more and more content, heavy metal could well be expected to reach more into the houses of people and the South Indian metal scene which is already expanding will expand and develop a great deal more.