By now, the good folks of Bangalore Open Air must be experts at pulling off spectacular tricks at the last minute. Just when things seem at their bleakest (i.e., Sodom pulling out of BOA 2013 and the failure of BOA 2014’s massive crowdfunding campaign), Salman U. Syed and team use an ace in the hole (i.e., bringing down Iced Earth for BOA 2013, and Destruction and Rotting Christ for the year after) to keep the show going.
For this year’s edition of the festival however, the BOA crew plotted their trail of destruction well in advance by booking British grindcore legends Napalm Death, Austrian black metal ghouls Belphegor and Colombian death/thrash stalwarts Inquisition. The aforementioned “last-minute trick” came in the form of an announcement just a few months before the main day that a host of bands from around India would be brought into Bangalore city to make BOA 2015 a week-long affair. I was fortunate enough to catch as many pre-gigs as I could in the week, as well as the main day itself, and witness a smorgasbord of local talent deliver tight, varied, and fuck-off-loud metal!
I regrettably missed the pre-gig at 1522 The Pub featuring Albatross, Hellwind and other heavy-hitters since I was thousands of feet in the air in an airplane from Mumbai (excuses, excuses). Fortunately, Albatross’ Dr. Hex was pulling double-duty as mild-mannered bassist Riju Dasgupta of pre-gig headliners Primitiv the night after at The Big Pitcher. Before that though, we were treated to a mega-serving of sludgy doom metal by Witchdoctor, The Grim Mage and Dirge! The contrast between Witchdoctor’s slow, meandering riffage and The Grim Mage’s scream-fueled sound right after worked very well, while the more experienced Dirge gave us the best of both worlds with their apocalyptic set.
As for Primitiv, they provided a welcome adrenaline shot to the festivities with their death metal sound. Not only did they invite Bharad Ravi of black/thrash supergroup Witchgoat on-stage for a song, but they actually managed to give the tune “No Quarter” by the almighty Led Zeppelin a death metal makeover. And holy smokes, was it good.
Fast forward three days, a time-span in which I missed two more BOA pre-gigs (due to family commitments) that included hardened metal bands like Antakrit as well as grindcore acts like Necrophilia and Grossty. Sigh… this post is starting to have more holes than the AVN Awards.
ANYWAY, the Indigo Live Music Bar on the night of June 4th was the scene of not only a gig by progressive metallers Eccentric Pendulum, but also of the Wacken Metal Battle prelims. Two particularly brutal contestants were Amorphia and Counterplot Theory; the former went for all-out, speedy thrash metal reminiscent of 80s Slayer, while the latter added a more progressive and “teutonic” touch to their thrash metal template. However, the winners that night were The Down Troddence, who didn’t let their limited performance as a four-piece that night get in the way of delivering moshpit-inducing riffs and tribal grooves.
As for Eccentric Pendulum, their music isn’t particularly known to start off a good circle pit, but you can damn well be sure that they blasted some proggy madness through their amps! Their set almost reached Opeth levels of duration and variety as they debuted two brand-spanking-new songs near the end, giving a teaser for their new material to come.
The very last BOA pre-gig at Vapour on June 5th was by far the most special for me. For one, it was the site of the Wacken Metal Battle finals, featuring some of the best homegrown talent I’d ever seen till that point. Indore death metallers Zero Gravity and Mumbai alt-metal band Anthracite surprised me the most in the vocalist department; ZG’s Kratika Bagora could give Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz a run for her money with her death metal vocals, while Anthracite’s Abhishek Nair proved to be the man of a dozen weird-but-cool voices coupled with his Fred Durst-like vocals. Also, I’ve gotta give props to Kolkata’s Scarface for the interesting guitars and soundscapes in their “modern metal” style.
But the real competition that night was between Sycorax from Darjeeling and the blessedly full line-up of The Down Troddence. With enough dreadlocks to whip an entire slave galley, Sycorax commanded the most intense moshpits of that night with their extreme death metal setlist. You could be mistaken for thinking that a live pig was being skinned onstage if you didn’t see the squeals coming from their vocalist Trivinesh Subba.
That’s not to say that The Down Troddence didn’t put up a fair fight as well. Finally complimented by the mezmerizing keyboard lines and soundscapes their music is known for, they burned through their popular hits and got the crowd headbanging like a collective, metal-as-fuck metronome. Of course, frontman Munz sported very little of his iconic black face-paint, but I’ll take what I can get. In the end though, Sycorax ended up being the winners of the WMB, but it was a damn well-deserved victory.
It was then time for the three headliners of the night to take the stage: Slohawk, Dying Embrace and Kryptos.
I really didn’t know what to expect when Slohawk came up on stage. Consisting of big names like Rahul Chacko of Bevar Sea and Ganesh Krishnaswamy of Kryptos, I remember nipping inside the smoking room with a buddy of mine while they were fiddling with their instruments, only to come back 10 minutes later and realize that they had been playing an improvised stoner-doom number all along! From then onwards, the whole venue was awash with trippy stoner-rock grooves and solos that could relax a cheetah on a sugar-high. The band cheekily continued playing well after their time-slot, but no one was complaining… except the poor organizers, of course.
The doom-y atmosphere in Vapour then took a darker turn as Dying Embrace came on stage. Vikram Bhat and co. had both the young metal loyalists and the members of the old guard hooked with their classic tunes, as well as a well-placed Bolt Thrower cover. Whatever they supposedly lacked in stage presence and movement, they more than made up for with spot-on playing and just a good, old-school vibe unseen in most bands today.
But now, it was time for the mighty Kryptos to end the night in style. With guitarists Nolan Lewis and Rohit Chaturvedi having enough patches on their jackets to mend ratty bedsheets in a slum, the band positively oozed 80s rockstar style as they thrashed through their crowd favourite songs. I guess they were probably too busy snarling at the audience to notice Barney Greenway and Shane Embury of Napalm Death looking down at their set from the upper level, and they just may have been impressed by Bangalore’s finest. It kinda makes you wonder about exactly who Rohit was showing off his bod for during his performance.
Finally, the afternoon of June 6th had arrived. FYI, I stay 10 minutes away from the Royal Orchid Hotel in Yelahanka, so I was clad in my finest metal attire and camera, ready to witness India’s finest metal bands as well as the three mega-headliners. And I did… NOT. Once again, I was sidelined by family duties till about 6:30pm, with the result that I arrived at the grounds just as Belphegor was about to start their set.
*cries a little inside*
*still crying inside, give it a minute*
*ok, I’m good*
All things considered, I think Belphegor had the best stage presence that night. Occupying the main stage in a fog of deep red lighting and… well, fog, the band even had their backs faced to the rabid audience before dramatically launching into blackened death metal brutality. Belphegor’s whole set in front of the epic backdrop was a sight to behold, not least due to the fact that Helmuth’s mic-stand seemed to be made up of grisly goat bones. What’s the expression I’m looking for right now… “KVLT”? “KVRWA”? “NVTTERBVTTERS”? Anyway, the band burned through their set staples like “Walpurgis Rites”, satisfying the crowd’s appetites for all things black metal.
Inquisition followed up with their performance on the Jeff Hanneman Stage opposite, and they were the break-out stars of the show that night. Many of the old-school thrashers in the venue were already milling around the stage before showtime, curious about their sound. Well, suffice it to say that they were blown away by the tidal wave of black/thrash metal that came from the two musicians of the band. Yeah, that’s right, TWO. Proving themselves as the epitome of “doing more with less”, vocalist/guitarist Dagon and drummer Incubus played to an amazed and whooping audience that night. This only left a few stragglers hanging around the main-stage barricades, saving their places to witness the fury of Napalm Death next.
AND THEN… my Grindcore dreams came true. As the whole crowd that night concentrated themselves in front of the main stage, Napalm Death opened explosively with “When All is Said and Done”. One of my favourite songs of theirs, no less! Their whole set then blazed by in a wave of angry, louder-than-hell riffs, drums and roars. At that point of time, the answer as to how the hell vocalist Barney Greenway and bassist Shane Embury could still do this so well night after night for so many years was WAY beyond me. Honestly however, the audience in front kind of pulled a dick move by incessantly screaming for ND’s older hits as the band played their newer stuff. This was almost to the point where Barney had to repeatedly say “patience, patience!” in a joking voice, but I got the feeling that this was all in good spirit. Perhaps to respond to this, the band ended their headlining set with their seconds-long masterpiece, “You Suffer”. And no, I didn’t just phrase that sarcastically.
All in all, this year’s Bangalore Open Air extravaganza was one I’ll never forget, and I’m sure that’ll be the case for many other friends of mine who were there. Kudos, thumbs up, and cheers with beers to Salman and his team for pulling this massive shindig off!
But you know what? The next BOA will be an even more memorable experience for me, even though it hasn’t even happened yet! Wanna know why? Because it will include my favourite melodic death metal band of all time and space: SOIL-MOTHERFUCKING-WORK! My original band t-shirt of theirs will now be stained in my tears of happiness!
Oh, and Vader‘s gonna be there as well. S’all good.