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Unearthing The Metal Underground: The Kathmandu Scene

Photo of Dying Out Flame

Band Photo: Dying Out Flame (?)

Known mainly in the West as home to the arresting Himalayan heights and neighbor to every misguided hippie’s favorite destination of Tibet, Nepal is a unique little country that, like many Asian enclaves, bears a richly extensive history that belies its pin-on-the-map size.

Viewed in a metal context, Nepal’s growing foothold in the headbanging underground proves an even greater curiosity – though thanks to the Sam Dunns of the world and our great global network of online journalism, that curiosity is transforming from a novelty to the norm before our eyes. Cultural and language barriers can only hold back the equalizing brotherhood of metal for so long.

The twenty-first century has thus far seen a rapid expansion in the local metal scene of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital and largest city. It’s primarily an extreme affair. Inspired by trailblazing death metal acts such as UgraKarma and championed on regional web communities KTMRocks and Nepal Underground, the bands here tend to embrace aggression and brutality with a fresh enthusiasm that conjures a strange, sweet, almost innocent nostalgia.

According to Davin Shakya, audio engineer and founder of symphonic black/death metal act Kalodin, the reasons are as much technological as cultural. “The production here is not up to par compared to the international bands we listen to,” he explains. “Mainly because there aren’t many musical production courses. Engineers here have to study everything on their own and find their way out by trial and error. It’s improving, though.”

Such a grassroots-by-necessity approach calls to mind the trials by which Western engineers learned to produce thrash and death metal throughout the ‘80s. Innovative leaps in musicianship were forced to wait for the technology to catch up. This period of exploration was the perfect breeding ground for exciting, energetic, envelope-pushing music, and more than two decades later, Kathmandu is experiencing its own evolution and refinement of extreme metal.

It’s also placing its own unique stamp on the genre. Playing the heaviest and darkest of metal offers a special opportunity to entwine it with regional culture, whether through sound or attitude, and enrich the ever-expanding genre web. Take a look at some of Kathmandu’s highlights and rising stars since the dawn of the millennium.

Antim Grahan

The name translates from Nepali as “the last day before Armageddon” or “the ultimate eclipse,” so you can easily guess you’re in for some merciless intensity. What’s less predictable is the flavor variety of said intensity.

Formed in 2003, Antim Grahan is noted for being the first Nepali extreme metal band to gain an international release and general worldwide recognition, but this sextet’s musical evolution is even more interesting.

Debut album “Forever Winter” [2004] laid down a blueprint of somber folk-influenced beauty, but by the time “The Ruin Of Immortals” came along in 2009, the band had incorporated traditional death metal elements for a brutal push into blast beat heaven.

Typically, this occurs the other way around. Bands as diverse as Kreator, Celtic Frost, and Amorphis have begun in the throes of youthful rage and gradually spread their sonic palettes to include the subtle, while Antim Grahan has done just the opposite. Inverting a cross may be standard practice in metal by now, but inverting the expected order of things is a true act of defiance.

Dying Out Flame

On the younger end of the age spectrum stands Dying Out Flame, formed in 2011. Taking cues from Singapore’s Rudra, pioneers of self-proclaimed “Vedic metal,” the band relies on inspiration from the spiritual literature of ancient Indian culture.

Kalodin’s Davin Shakya, who has divided his time between Nepal and Singapore, weighs in: “They incorporate classical Eastern and Indian scales in most of the riffs. This subject in particular is so fitting for metal, with so many characters enhancing the ancient stories of Hindu mythology, like Shiva, for instance.”

Don’t expect the soundtrack to a New Age meditation session, however. Dying Out Flame’s members are all current and former students of Nepal Music Center, and put their education to gleefully spastic use with an outlandish, boundless brand of technical death metal. Massage parlor music, this is most certainly not.

Dying Out Flame is currently at work on a debut studio album, with a tentative March 2014 release alongside an official music video.

Kalodin

Kalodin resides among Nepal’s most accessible extreme metal bands, thanks not only to expert songwriting craft, but also to the engineering background of the aforementioned Davin Shakya, founding guitarist and band mastermind. His dedication to a pristine mix does justice to the band’s bombastic take on symphonic black/death metal in the Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth traditions.

Formed in 2006, Kalodin is not as prolific as Antim Grahan, and has undergone an in-and-out lineup cycle of no fewer than twenty members. However, the band’s lone full-length studio album, 2010’s “The Bestial Ritualism Of Harlotry,” is a grand statement all its own, having garnered praise from levels as high as the UK’s Terrorizer Magazine. Quite the feat for a self-produced album with programmed drums, recorded and mixed entirely at home.

Kalodin followed “Harlotry” in 2012 with an EP entitled “Sarv,” and in January 2014 made the following announcement:

“We are in the midst of writing for the upcoming full-length album. The title hasn’t been decided yet, but the concept of it all is going to be pretty fucking exciting, with incorporation of traditional instruments – that we’re still learning – into the album. There will always be obstacles (once again, we gotta find a tight ass drummer to nail these songs), but I guarantee the deliverance in quality and creativity.”

The Current State Of Things

Metal in Kathmandu is still in the midst of a vigorous growth spurt, and it’s not hard to imagine why: “jaded” is a nonexistent word here. “When I was back in Singapore, it was different,” Shakya notes. “There was no scene and we had to go through shit and sell at least fifty tickets to get a gig… I realized that no one I’d met intended to pursue metal with the band.

“After witnessing the musicians here in Nepal, my perception changed for the better. People are serious about what they do over here. And they try to do it properly. I see metalheads carrying guitars or other instruments almost every day when I’m out, which proves their sheer passion for metal.”

In addition to KTMRocks and Nepal Underground, national entertainment business firm Silence Entertainment and popular annual band competition NepFest provide a platform not just to showcase homegrown bands, but also to host foreign acts including Vader, Behemoth, and Decapitated.

All this, despite the regional power grid’s notorious “rotational load shedding,” a systematic distribution response to limited power supply, resulting in rolling blackouts. “The electricity goes off for hours according to your area’s schedule,” Shakya explains. “So most musicians, deprived of electricity, have to patiently adjust their schedules, and tend to appreciate the value of electricity tenfold compared to metalheads outside Nepal.” A risky venture, considering many underground gigs are privately funded, but one that highlights an unwavering loyalty to the scene.

Otherwise, Kathmandu’s metalheads face the more universal challenge posed by downloading. Shakya: “Internet has been a blessing for most fans and listeners. We can download thousands of songs from behind a screen. But that’s when piracy fucks up the musicians. The way I see it, it’s mandatory for an artist to have a stable job on the side to fund his or her passion project. But if the artists’ merchandise sells, they could focus more on their project instead of worrying about their financial status.

“If there were anything I could improve, aside from load-shedding, it would be merchandise sales, so that the bands can persevere.”

Kathmandu has officially arrived among the ranks of global metal communities – trials, tribulations, glories, and all.

OverkillExposure's avatar

Mike Smith is a Southern-born, New England-based writer and a diehard metal and hard rock fan. As a music journalist, he is a staffer with Metalunderground.com and Outburn Magazine. As a screenwriter/producer, he is currently working on his first film with director Jason Matzner ("Dreamland").

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