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Great Indian Rock

My rock education continues. For the past couple of months the only songs I’ve listened on the iPod—whether I tune out the daily commute to and from work or wind down at night—have been from Metallica. From Death Magnetic to Kill ‘Em All, every single day has been an ear-busting cacophony of musical mayhem. One heck of a ride. Although I may not know the lyrics of their songs by heart, nor identify most of the tracks from their first riff, but I still count myself a Metallica fan.

It was only natural, what with my newfound affinity towards rock music (heavy metal, in particular), that I had to attend the Bangalore leg of Great Indian Rock 2009—the largest platform for the country’s leading rock bands to showcase their talent. But the event clashed with one of my passions: weekend football, and Manchester United’s irresistible Premiership encounter with Liverpool at Anfield. Choosing to attend the rock show over watching the football game wasn’t easy, but it turns out I made the right choice.

Palace Grounds was the venerable venue. I went with fellow metalheads, first to congregate outside the gates, arriving well over two hours before they opened. Apart from baking under the uncharacteristically hot Bangalore sun, and contemplating unlikely conditions invoking “force majeure” (as printed on the back of our entry tickets), we saw a bunch of security guards being taught how to frisk people (no kidding!). Slowly, as the minutes trickled past excruciatingly, the crowd started swelling. Black t-shirts proclaiming several band allegiances were everywhere.

We entered the ground at 5 o’clock and saw a mini-hangar of a stage in front of us. I am told it wasn’t even one-fifth the size of the stage Iron Maiden had for their gig in February. I had no idea what to expect, but from the lukewarm reception to Parachute XVI’s curtain raising performance, I had mixed feelings over the rest of the evening. I’m no authority on music but this three man band just didn’t cut it for me: their music was so-so, vocals were imperceptible, and the bespectacled lead singer-cum-lead guitarist looked out of place and lacked any semblance of stage presence.

Next in line were Inner Sanctum. In sharp contrast to the near-lethargic Parachute XVI, these guys just exploded on stage and resuscitated GIR 2009 back to life through their death metal. Inner Sanctum’s frenetic, no-nonsense music finally brought the crowd to their feet, inspired no doubt by their lead singer, a figure bursting with energy (one Red Bull too many, perhaps) and nothing short of a rampaging bull. He acted and sang like a man possessed. Although I didn’t comprehend much but I liked the guttural vocals, and how their 40-odd minute performance never dipped in mind-numbing, bone-crushing intensity. Inner Sanctum snapped me out of my daydream, took me by the scruff of the neck and compelled me to initiate the evening’s headbanging. I’ll never forget that performance.

I was slightly sad when they left the stage, unsure how the next band would fare. Up next were Kryptos, the flagbearers of Indian heavy metal, and I soon knew why. Smoke engulfed the stage, silhouetting the band members in a dim red glow. It resembled a ghost light amidst evil incarnates. And their music unleashed hell upon the captivated crowd, mosh pits erupted without warning, and everyone loved every moment of it. Any niggling doubt I had over the Indian heavy metal scene was laid to rest by Kryptos. Where Inner Sanctum bubbled over with raw energy, Kryptos had an accomplished veteran’s musical style and grace. I liked their structured song-play—every song had a beginning, middle and end. Their guitar play, solos, and drumming was best amongst the three Indian bands. And these guys knew they were good. One of their songs, Mask of Anubis, was strikingly similar to Metallica’s Master of Puppets. Memorable performance from a celebrated band.

Easily the best band of the night, Solstate (based in New Zealand) had a potent mixture of powerful vocals, engaging lyrics, and the ability to deliver a professional performance. Their genre was more of alternative rock, definitely more mainstream than the other bands. Lead singer and songwriter Troy McKrube did a nice job of belting the lyrics, while the puny bassist’s darting around on stage was also good to see.

The final act came from Benea Reach, a Norwegian heavy metal band. Their music was of the thrash-throb kind but distinctively different. The lead singer’s onstage appearance reminded me of Adam Gontier, and his lung-busting vocals were impressive. They were the only band at GIR 2009 who had some props on stage by erecting three towering mannequins—white masks, black cloaks, they reminded me of that monster from Hellraiser. Benea Reach gave a powerful performance to say the least, and also interacted quite a bit with the crowd.

By the time curtains fell on GIR 2009, and as we exited the premises, I was aware of the acute pain in my neck (one headbang too many), my calves and feet (over four hours of standing). But it didn’t take away anything from a great night out having witnessed my very first rock show.

Originally published: October 29, 2009

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Entertainment Music

My Rock Education 1

At no point of time have I had my own music collection. Listening to bits on TV and radio, random songs stored on my computer—mostly recommended, never borrowed out of choice—tuning into classics from my parents’ collective stash, that sort of thing. Never had a shoebox full of discs or cassettes that I called mine. Still don’t. I had no preferences, no prejudices, no musical taste. Everything they showed on the telly and radio was generally accepted as good, and I was okay with that: hip hop, soul, and pop. I guess I got used to listening to all the garbage thrown at me.

I should’ve known it was meant to be when I watched Metallica’s video of Unforgiven Two on VH1, last evening. That set the ball rolling, and my roommate suggested me to watch Some Kind of Monster, a documentary that chronicles the individual and collective lives of the people who make Metallica while they were busy at work on an album, St Anger. Not that I didn’t know anything about Metallica, but admittedly, I knew very little. I didn’t know who the players were, their history, their candid personalities, not even their names; just that their music was good—Nothing Else Matters—and loud. I kinda like loud now. That wasn’t the case growing up, loudness and noise was pretty much what I associated rock music (especially heavy metal) with: harsh and uncouth on the ear, and it wasn’t my cup of tea. Who in their right minds would want to bleed their ears to death?

Much has been written about the documentary in question, more so of the band, so no point repeating. What I liked most was its amazing insight into the birth pangs of Metallica’s music. The jamming sessions of Ulrich, Hetfield, and Hammett (yeah, I know their names now) in a leased studio, digesting the day’s work, searching for the bits in there that are worthy of a song, and finally etching out the lyrics. There’s method to their madness, controlled chaos, and it was enlightening to see.

But that isn’t all the documentary covers. The album is a mere sub-plot to what the cameras ultimately capture: Metallica’s inner discord, and its struggle to survive. Broadly, it puts people and their relationships in perspective, and their attempts at exorcising their personal demons to flourish again as a group. It’s real-life events, therefore unscripted, honest and truthful and recommended to everyone who wants to know more about Metallica—arguably at their most weakest and greatest juncture. However, be warned that at the end of it, you will feel an uncontrollable urge to hear Metallica’s St Anger album. Guaranteed. Otherwise you aren’t what we describe ourselves as “normal people”.

I should’ve known I was getting sucked into a rabbit hole when I asked my roommate for his Metallica collection. It was past midnight, very unlike me to tune into any kind of music at that hour, let alone rock. But there in my room, at an ungodly hour, I heard St Anger and Death Magnetic for the very first time… and I felt at home. Over two hours of frenetic music, it never felt crude or unsophisticated, but gentle and soothing. It was peaceful in an alien way, and I liked it.

For me, I don’t think there ever was a better time or place to listen to better music other than Metallica.

Nikhil what have you done, mate?

Originally published: August 26, 2009