An Interview With Funeral In Heaven Frontman Chathuranga Fonseka
Sri Lankan "hela black metal" band Funeral In Heaven is currently hard at work on their debut full length album based on the ancient history of their country. The band has posted a sample of the first song as well as a fan created video accompanying the music at their MySpace page. Front man Chathuranga Fonseka gave Metalunderground an in-depth look at the Sri Lankan metal scene, some history of the nation, and what the band is currently up to.
xFiruath: When did you first get into music and what made you want to be a musician?
Chathuranga: I've been listening to music since I was a kid, not just Metal but other genres as well. We weren't properly exposed to Heavy Metal till a later age because for one thing, Sri Lankan television never played anything related to the genre, we only saw hip hop and rap videos and Hindi movies. Radio never played Maiden or Priest, why? It was either loud music or it's too long. Then after a couple of years came a chain of stores which carried all kinds of pirated CDs and amongst them we found classics like Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and so on, so we kept visiting those stores on a daily basis to check for new shipments to arrive! Because back then Internet was only available to people at a few Internet cafe's and almost no one had Internet at their homes, And we didn't know that we could or how for that matter, order CDs online or check for the latest album releases or news and so on. Every now and then one of our guys gets a CD-R full of downloaded videos and MP3s from bands like Six Feet Under, Dimmu Borgir, Iron Maiden and so on and we would just burn them and pass them around.
Sri Lanka is a small country with a very small community who are devoted to this type of music. So it was hard getting exposed to the particular type of music because it's still being stereotyped in our society. And it wasn't an ambition of being musicians that got us here, we were just a regular bunch of guys who basically wanted to start a band because there was only one band at time who were playing extreme music in Sri Lanka, a band called Siblings of Hatred. But as things progressed we started to actually gain something from this. It was our output, our vehicle of expression, our life and we basically just kept doing what we were doing and playing the music we've always wanted to play.
xFiruath: How would you describe the sound of Funeral in Heaven to someone who hadn't heard your music before?
Chathuranga: It's not something I could describe to you my friend. We have different outputs and all our band members are influenced by different types of bands, musicians, philosophers, etc. And all our ideas meet at one juncture where we decide on what sounds good to us because personal satisfaction is priority in this unit. We don't make music to anyone other than ourselves. If we're not 101% satisfied with a riff or a structure we don't play it.
xFiruath: Tell me about the phrase "Hela Black Metal." What does it mean and how is it different from any other form of black metal?
Chathuranga: We invented the term Hela Black Metal for a couple of reasons. Firstly we didn't want to be labeled a traditional black metal band or “trve” black metal band or whatever people call it nowadays. Because we simply didn't fit into the description. Pre-history states that Sri Lanka was known as Heladiva before the arrival of the Aryan prince Vijaya. Heladiva simply translates to “the land of the Sinhalese.” Sinhala is known as the mother tongue of Sri Lanka. Sinhala is derived from four tribes which existed before the invasion of Vijaya. Naga (Serpent worshipers), Raaksha (Demon worshipers), Deva (Tribes who worshiped godly deities) and Yaksha (Demon Worshipers). Very little is known about Sri Lankan pre-history as Vijaya carried out a tyrannical reign when he invaded Sri Lanka, where he burnt most of the scriptures which contained a lot of information about these four tribes mentioned above. I will not be going into specific details about this information as my aim is to keep this short as possible.
These four tribes were called the Siv Helas which meant the four hela's, which later became Sinhela. Funeral In Heaven is a project which is dedicated to the what the country was, the beginnings of this once magnificent nation. Civil wars and political and religious corruption has raped this country left and right, which is one of the main reasons this project was conceived. Our genre of music is heavily influenced mostly by bands such as Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost, Mayhem, Immortal, Wolves In The Throne Room, Rudra, Absu, A Forest of Stars, Etc. But like I said before we do not qualify as a “traditional black metal band.” One of the reasons being that Satanism is not our main theme. We view and project our images through the darker, bloodier side of Sri Lankan history. Satanism is a personal view point which we use to view our themes in hand. We dedicate our material to various historical war heroes. And some of our songs dwell into Sri Lankan demonology. Our lyrics are written in English, Sinhalese and Sanskrit which differ according to different historical themes we have chosen. Our music involves Sri Lankan oriental instruments such as the Yak Bera, Gata Bera, and Thabla. We embrace Sinhalese clothing such as the sarong as theatrical elements at our stage performances. The term Hela Black Metal is a term which defines us as a different sort of band who incorporate Sri Lankan cultural elements into our music while acknowledging our roots in the genre black metal.
xFiruath: Tell me about how you put together your songs. Does each member work together or do you all make your separate parts and then put them together later?
Chathuranga: Every riff of ours relates to the concept or the theme behind the song, we do not just put a couple of riffs together. It all depends on the atmosphere of the concept in hand, where we all get together and work on riff structures and so on.
xFiruath: Most of the readers at Metalunderground probably aren't familiar with the historical Sri Lankan warriors that inspired "Janaani Janmabhumisca Svargadapi Gariyasi." Can you give us a run down of who they were, what they did, and how they inspired you?
Chathuranga: The track is based on one of the greatest ancient wars which happened between King Dutugemunu and the Chola king, Elara. King Kavantissa, father of soon to be heir to the throne, King Dutugemunu, built an army to wade off all Chola invaders from the country, and for this war he recruited ten giant warriors from all over the country who accompanied King Dutugemunu and the four divisions of the army with elephants, infantry, chariots, and cavalry into war. We do not focus on the causes of the war as it is currently a delicate situation where some people accuse the tale of promoting racism. We only focus on the mindsets of these people who gave their lives for their motherland and rode into war. It's more complicated than that actually. We focus on the darker times of Sri Lankan history, subjects which most artists avoid making contact with because history is merely just not a couple of wars won.
And one of the other main things which inspired us to write pieces on history as such is the situation the country is in right now. With the current civil war going on, suicide bombings, power cuts and air threats, nightclubs, rap music, political and religious corruption are things which fill up the daily life of an average Sri Lankan. Most of these people are too caught up with their daily lives that they just don’t find a reason or the time to look back and see where we come from. Our beginnings. Some of them are all too busy with their own happy bubble of a life filled with fake, pastiche and cheap entertainment to take notice of what's going on around them. People are just too fucking busy with adapting to trends and blaming the government for all the shit they've to go through when it's actually themselves who should be taking that blame.
xFiruath: I've read that your music also deals with Chaos Magick in addition to Sri Lankan history. Are the band members practicing magicians, and if so how does that aspect of your lives spill into your music?
Chathuranga: It's not one of Funeral In Heaven’s lyrical themes although I was experimenting with the subject which was going to make its way to a lyrical theme of one of the tracks which never came about.
xFiruath: What is the metal scene like in Sri Lanka? How is fan reaction and do you get any negative reactions?
Chathuranga: The metal scene is actually growing down here in Sri Lanka. More bands with amazing talent and uniqueness are coming up. We've got a set of amazing bands down here such as our brother band Fallen Grace, Merlock, Hollow, Cannabis, Stigmata, Plecto Aliquem Capite, Spleen Saint, Raaksha, Spectra Red, In Lieu of Fault, L.O.A., Siblings of Hatred, etc. As I said before it's a small scene down here in Sri Lanka but undoubtedly one of the strongest of scenes. We all know each other and we support each other by playing at each other’s shows, sharing rehearsal studio and so on. And yes of course we had our fair share of shit flung at us when we started out as a Black Metal band when people started labeling us as just another bunch of Satan worshipers. Sadly they didn't achieve what they were hoping to.
One of the things about Funeral In Heaven is that we do not play for the crowd. We choose a set list according what each of us are comfortable with. We don't depend on the crowd we play for to decide what will be on our set list and what won't. Personal satisfaction is priority within this unit. But, when we see our fans enjoying the same shit we do, it's a big fucking deal to us. It's amazing to see the crowd support at shows. These are the people who connect with us on a personal level. One of them, Amila Galappaththi, called me up one day and he tells me he's done a basic video for us with some added visuals and so on to emphasis the message he interpreted through the lyrics and music from one of our songs called “The Winds Of Uva.” He did a fucking amazing job with it and he made us really proud to have fans as such as himself. The video is available for download and your viewing pleasure at our MySpace page and at Youtube.
xFiruath: Do you have plans to put out a full length album anytime soon?
Chathuranga: Yes. Since it's a concept album based on Sri Lankan history and demonology it demands more concentration and time. We have written four more fresh tracks which we are currently going through at the moment. Recordings will proceed at Empyre Studios owned by our guitarist Rogger Schales who will also be handling all production duties.
xFiruath: What has been your favorite show or venue that you've played at so far?
Chathuranga: Two of the best shows we've played at were “Peace Sells...But Who's Buying” and “SN/CN” last year. The atmosphere and the crowd were fucking amazing. We had a good fucking time playing on stage.
xFiruath: On the flip side, have you had any bad shows or uncooperative venues that didn't work out the way you wanted?
Chathuranga: Mostly it's the sound equipment which contributes to a fucked up show here. There are very few sound technicians who are familiar with balancing a set for bands at sound check and when the band's on stage. It's a really fucked up situation when at times we don't even get proper monitors and don't hear what the fuck we are playing.
xFiruath: Is there anything about the music industry or the state of the metal scene today that you'd like to see changed?
Chathuranga: The metal scene here, yes. Internationally it's been the same for fucking years now. Other than the increasing number of bands and promoters, record and distribution labels and so on, the process which went into all that and which still does are the same. The main issue we have here in Sri Lanka is a proper venue to have our shows at. It's a really fucked up situation when it comes down to venue hunting for shows because for one thing almost no sponsor is willing to sponsor our shows, which is when we dip into our own personal stash to put up a gig together for bands. Companies and Sri Lankan media are unaware of the unexposed market segment of the Metal community. It's hip hop, rap, pop, Hindi music 24/7 on SL radio and television. But a couple of newspaper journalists and television channels have started taking notice about the undiscovered community of fans and musicians that they've started featuring bands or articles on their programs and news articles. We never organize shows expecting a profit anyways so we really don't give a fuck as long as the bands and the fans have a good fucking time.
xFiruath: When you aren't playing music what bands and albums do you listen to most often?
Chathuranga: I'm a big fan of bands like Immortal, Venom, Motorhead, Mayhem, Absu, Judas Iscariot, Black Widow, Hirilorn, Black Sabbath and so on. The albums I've currently fallen in love and re-discovering are Hirilorn “A Hymn To The Ancient Souls,” A Forest of Stars “The Corpse Of Rebirth,” Gunadasa Kapuge “Unmaada Sithuwam,” Richard Wagner “Aberturas e Cenas de Operas,” Mgla “Groza,” Blutklinge “Call Of The Blackened Woods,” Sunn O))) “Dømkirke,” Absu “Tara,” Black Widow “Sacrifice,” Xasthur “The Funeral Of Being,” Immortal “At the Heart of Winter, Pure Holocaust,” Johnny Cash “The Essential Johnny Cash,” and Motorhead “Ace of Spades, Overnight Sensation, March or Die.”
xFiruath: That's all my questions, so would you like to cover anything that I didn't ask about or do you have any parting words?
Chathuranga: You covered it all!
xFiruath: Thanks for your time!
Chathuranga: Thank you Ty! Eswah!
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