By on February 9, 2016 - Written for MetalObsession.net
The Greek overlords of metal have finally returned in 2016 with their latest offering – one that is nothing short of a beautiful, eerie masterpiece. Famous for inculcating the most mystical aspects of the occult and combining it with their unorthodox style of extreme music, Rotting Christ continue to prove they’re undeniable supremacy when it comes to creating music that defies any sort of label, and obliterating the masses with sheer passion for what they do. Metal Obsession had the honour of an in-depth chat with the charming Sakis Tolis, guitarist, vocalist, one of the founding members of the band and just all-round nice guy.We discussed the new album ‘Rituals’, the inspiration behind it’s beginnings, the band’s amazing versatility in music and so much more.
SAKIS TOLIS – ROTTING CHRIST
Greeting me as an old friend ( yes, I died) , Sakis was a little out of the weather but still powered through his cold, ” It’s now or never my friend. It is certainly a stressful time because I am doing all the promo for our new album and waiting for it to be released. However, the first feedback we have received has been very positive and we are excited for our album to reach all the people out there – it makes me relieved.” Toning down the fangirl-ing was not on the agenda as I declared that I had listened to the album atleast 50 times, ” Thank you very much, I am very happy to hear that! We’ve been getting some good feedback. But you cannot satisfy everyone in this life”, he continued as we spoke about responses that the new album has been receiving, ” but the majority of people who have listened to album have appreciated it. It’s quite a different album in a few ways and it’s a really good step forward for Rotting Christ as a band, so we’re happy.”
Thematically, Rotting Christ are the masters at creating albums filled with music that stimulates your brain while leaving it to mosh around in your skull simultaneously, and my curiosity evoked the question of ‘why rituals?’. ” Before I start writing new stuff, I first talk with myself and I try to find some undiscovered place, deep inside me. This is where the concept of ‘Rituals’ arose. For me, rituals represent sublime devotion. It’s a very important part of life – when I saw ‘rituals’, I am not referring to the sacrificing of animals or people, but more as a kind of meditation for me. Thus, in my opinion, we have created a very dark album that is more mature, and is true to the spirit of rituals from different parts of the world. You cannot hear many guitar solos and fast,heavy riffs but you will hear many strange languages, weird concepts and music that is truly Rotting Christ. ”
To me this album represents something that reveals how rituals are viewed from the eyes of different cultures which Sakis agreed to, “This is exactly right and what we wanted. Our main concept as a band to create music a concept that can help you escape from everyday life. There’s no specific colour in our lives we don’t like colours so we just write music to escape. It’s a precious thing to us.” “It is a nightmare sometimes and it is quite difficult ” he admits when talking about the writing and recording process, ” but everything is forgotten when you come up with an idea. I’m the only composer and it has taken me one and a half years for this. I like to be isolated and I like very much to escape from this world, and music is the way I express the dark side of my soul.” True as this is, musically, Rituals feels like an ode to the history of Rotting Christ , a band that has crossed genre-defining boundaries, survived incessant criticism and has against all odds, undeniably carved a niche in the metal world that they can call their own. ” Rotting Christ still exists today because of our passion for music. We’ve had a few line up changes but this does not phase us. We do continue to maintain some of our signature sounds, but now I feel we have evolved further from when we started as a black metal band – this is seen on Rituals which is one of our darkest albums. ”
The placement of the tracks is almost too perfect on the album as it begins on a heavy and prolific note but progressively tones down with an overall soundscape that will draw you in and send chills down your spine – it’s addictive. ” This is exactly right. We start with the fast songs and then slow down as the music gets more doomy and atmospheric. This is a logical process as I am now 44 and cannot play as fast as I used to. Of course there are ways to do it but that’s what the new kids do. true to our spirit, we create music that fits better with our age. With over 200 songs in my career, creating new music is always a challenge I enjoy. It’s not that easy to follow this very extreme way but like I said, we are still here and will continue to follow our own way of music and creation.” So how does Sakis perceive their new album? “Occult, Esoteric, Rituals. This is what it is.”
Having listened to the new album abundantly as well as all of Rotting Christ’s discography, there’s always a sense of mysticism and a hypnotic feel that draws me into the music – as well as spark an undying curiosity to unveil one of their cryptic messages. But what’s even more special about ‘Rituals’ is the fact that there are not one or two but six different languages used. “After 13 albums and over 200 songs in my career, doing something new is always important. I love to read so I take my guitar and just start writing new music. This is how I work. For instance, I wanted to write a song on the last seven sentences of Jesus Christ on the cross and I could have easily done this in English. On the other hand, I set myself a challenge and said ‘let’s try and do this in Aramaic, the official language of Christ’. Translated, ‘Ze Nigmar‘ means ‘It is done’ and this holds so much significance to the concept of rituals.” On this note, I confessed to Sakis that the Sanskrit track ‘Devadevam’ was one in particular that touched me deeply, given that I come from two separate worlds of orthodox Hindu heritage and an ardent love for metal. For me, this track brought my two worlds together. ” This track is indeed special, I had to learn a lot about Indian culture as well as learn some Sanskrit which is an ancient Indian language. Kathir (Rudra) is an excellent musician and the track perfectly expresses a traditional ritual. It fits well with the ritualistic concept of the album.India has a big history, a big philosophy and culture which we experienced when we played there last year and in inspired us.”
Still mesmerized, I prodded further to find out what inspired Sakis to inculcate the beauty of various ancient languages in the new record. ” Metal is not, just an ‘English’ thing. Sometimes, it is understood that if you play or listen to metal, it should be or it is only supposed to be in English. We are not English. It is not my mother tongue so it is difficult for me to express myself. However, having experienced so many travels around the world, I’ve seen for myself that all metal heads are more or less the same – metal is a worldwide phenomenon. Our music is meant for people worldwide and not for a specific set of people. We are multicultural and we are very happy that we have crossed this path. ” But was this difficult for the band? Clearly not. ” I take my writing and music very seriously – I take my role if I want to write something which is becoming what I want to express in my music. I do research, I read a lot and then go on to writing a song and for me, it is sometimes to read and express myself in other languages. Even if it is not my mother tongue, we put our own ideas but create something that will relate to people all over the world. ” Which they have successfully achieved, well-done lads.
On being asked how the album cover ties together the concept of ‘Rituals’, Sakis replies, ” That is my brother Themis, the drummer. It’s simple, everything in Rotting Christ now is simple. It’s the face of a ritual from ancient Greece which is exactly what we wanted – simplicity. ” Creating a record of such magnificence is bound to come with a certain level of difficulty but Sakis has an answer to this. ” I have my own strategy on how to record – the last four albums were recorded by me so because of this, I have my own rules, and when you deal with yourself, it’s not that difficult. You do not have the outside influence of other people which helps us remain true to our own spirit and true to our soul. ”
30 years of creating some of the most glorious music in the world yet Rotting Christ remain a humble group of musicians who still have a lot to say. ” When I look back Prarthana, it’s a story. We were part of the second generation black metal blast and were one of the first bands that started this. We have done more than 1200 shows – this is the story of our lives. I consider Rotting Christ to be a mission; my mission – which is to play my music and share a message with the world. There were lessons taken from Non Serviam, for instance which made people happy. We are going to keep doing this for as long as we live because my goal is to die on stage. we’re still here, we’re strong and as true Greek warriors, we will always front-line the battlefield.” If that doesn’t get you up off your arse and a little inspired, then I don’t know what will
The world of heavy metal is as vast and diverse as the culturally rich Indian sub-continent. But more often than not, the two, in my eyes, are not as connected as they seem. The Indian metal scene is certainly alive and kicking but doesn’t always get the tender-loving-care (or mosh pits) it truly deserves. That being said, it is exciting when an international band makes its way towards our part of the world, especially when they come from the isolated realms of the Southern Hemisphere. Courtesy of Orka Networks, and in collaboration with heavy metal enthusiasts and promoters around the country, August 2017 had the pleasure of witnessing the Tassie Devils (and an American) themselves, Psycroptic for a full national tour. In what was a milestone for both the company and the country, this was the first national tour to be completed by an international metal band, seeing them perform in various parts of India: cities which included Shillong, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai, and Pune. Having had the honour of being Psycroptic’s tour manager for this run of shows, I knew some unforgettable stories, memories and moments would come out of it, and make for an amazing feature. With gratitude to HEAVY Mag, I present to you the official ‘Echoes to Come’ Tour Diary – Psycroptic’s journey through India
A fourteen-hour journey and maneuvering through Indian traffic called for a well-deserved meal of all the curry that could possibly be consumed. That, and being welcomed by a few strays here-and-there, was the most Indian greeting that anyone could’ve received. It wasn’t until the following day, however, that our guests Dave and Joe Haley, Ean Redman and Lochlan Watt got to race around Delhi in a rickshaw, eat Thaalis and Kulfis while basking in the serene ambience of orchestral traffic honks and horns, observing the ineffable madness that sums up an Indian suburb. One of the highlights on our first day off apart from the fact that it was Lochlan’s 30th birthday, was visiting the famous Humayun’s Tomb; a monument I’ve only read about in my sixth-grade textbooks. It was surreal to say the least, standing in front of this gigantic Mughal construction, proof of the Empire’s love for opulence and intricate architecture, as well as the dedication one of Humayun’s sixteen wives, had for her husband after his passing. We spent a couple of hours wandering, taking in the majesty of sandstone and marble used to build the grave of a mighty ruler from the past. The gardens and ruins contained within them were quite a sight to behold, and it was a pleasant afternoon spent. Braving the Delhi traffic once again, we headed back for a quick breather, while Todd Stern, Psycroptic’s session bassist, joined us as we made our way to Monkey’s Bar, on the recommendation from our Delhi host, Kunal Batra for an evening of beer and banter; the best way to start any tour. There was, of course, some Hummus as well; a lot of hilarious occurrences, puppies and a band that sound checked for about three hours before we decided to call it a day, and set off for the start of our metal adventure.
Lobby calls at ungodly hours are either the best or worst aspects of touring.You feel good being up that early and getting to the airport on time, or feeling like you’re just about ready to unleash your inner Viking on someone. Our first destination was located in the stunning, mountainous regions of the Northeast in a place called Guwahati in the state of Assam. Mesmerisingly green, the drive from there to Shillong in Meghalaya was captivating. We got to take a well-deserved pit stop at this little spot for the most satisfying breakfast ever of fresh, fried fish, spicy lentil curries, wheat bread and something called ‘red tea’, which in the words of Lochie, tasted like “gingery sea water.” The tour had officially begun as we sat in our little hut, talking about the days that lay ahead and laughing at Dave’s face as he ate Anise and fennel seeds.
There’s no better way to put it than to say how we were instantly enthralled by the rural majesty of this part of the country and how primal it seemed, once we reached our destination. Taking it all in, about mid-day is when we reached Shillong. Essentially, here we were, in the middle of the mountains, gearing up for a mini death metal festival (on a stage made of bamboo) surrounded by the glory of Gaia, in all her finery. Aptly dubbed the ‘Scotland of the East’, immediate views consisted of rolling hills from our hotel, a plethora of trees, and the undeniably primitive culture of the Khasi-speaking people.
We were welcomed in the warmest of ways immediately sensing the passion that the people we met in Shillong have for heavy music, as well as their kindness. For being on an extreme end of the country, you wonder in awe at their ability to keep up as well as stay relevant. Callous Mass presented by Orka Networks along with the R&T group was off to a promising start which saw the likes of Eternal Scorn, Dymbur and Plague Throat, local bands playing with pride in front of their home crowd, and each one exhibiting their own unique style of heavy music. I couldn’t catch Eternal Scorn due to running around like a headless chook (or I was scoffing down momos the size of my face in the green room along with the guys). However, the next band, Dymbur, or as I like to call them the “Indian death/ experimental metal Vildhjarta“, blew me away with their tight sound and stage presence. Their music emanates an unusual hypnotic groove that quite rapidly becomes very addictive, each member in perfect sync with the other. The punchy bass lines sounded massive, guiding the rhythmic and heavy leads, sending listeners into a state of pure joy (giddiness for me because I couldn’t stop moving my neck). The vocalist had some of the most savage yet sophisticated vocals I’ve heard if that even makes an ounce of sense – think a jaguar in a suit? Dymbur was a brilliant choice for the line-up as they proved to be that one band that was a bit different from the rest.
Still processing what I had just heard, up next were a band I had been dying to see for a while. Plague Throat has been around for the past ten years and recently released their latest album, The Human Paradox. They’ve played festivals such as Wacken Open Air, and for a band that doesn’t move much on stage, they are relentless with their performance. Nangsan‘s menacing vocal chords cut through the cold winds, as did Jerry‘s thick bass lines, pummeling all ears in his presence. And lest we forget drummer, Malice‘s furious drumming. Three people on stage with the sound of about six, Plague Throat sound raw and monstrous on stage. Todd and Ean seemed to enjoy this band as well, and what’s not to love about some straight-up death metal with a side of thrash and a little black.
Fragarak from Delhi took to the stage next, and not quite sure what to expect as I had never heard of this band before but was pleasantly surprised at the weird Sunn O))) meets Portal vibe that they had going on, not just musically, but more in terms of stage presence. Godless, a death metal band from Hyderabad, has come a long way in the past year, and it was a pleasure to see them again on a bigger stage. The two bands delivered heavy-as-hell sets, with Godless taking up a blistering new song out from their Centuries of Decadence EP. Finally, after a quick changeover and a lot of cheering, the boys entered the stage to the sound of seven hundred metalheads, beyond thrilled with the prospect of seeing Psycroptic live. As the opening sounds of “Cold” (such an apt song to start with) began, fans were shouting themselves hoarse as Psycroptic powered straight into what is one of my favourite tracks off the new record. Lochlan Watt forged through track-after-track like an unstoppable force, really doing justice to the role of being Psycroptic’s vocalist. You couldn’t tell that this was his first performance with the band. As for Joe Haley? Well, let’s just say, attempting to watch him play will probably make you go cross-eyed, especially if you were standing as close as I was. Right from the start of their set, it was clear why this lot forms one of the greatest and most respected bands in the world.
Shillong gathered in large numbers to witness the mighty Psycroptic playing their first ever show in the country. There were fans going apeshit, falling over the barrier, and screaming themselves hoarse in sheer excitement as the band came on stage and Lochlan greeted the crowd in fierce elation. This was the biggest stage the band performed on, during the whole tour; and the fact that it was made of bamboo made things all the more thrilling for some weird reason. In celebration of one of metal’s finest acts, fans fervently moshed, windmilled and cheered the band on as they propelled through each track with the tightest precision and intense energy that they are known for. Their music truly comes alive on stage; songs taken from every release they have made as an ode to their career and this historical moment of being the first touring metal band in India. Todd Stern and Joe Haley were battling it out on their respective guitars while Dave being the percussion hurricane that he is, was drumming at a blistering pace, reminding me why I fell in love with the band so much all those years ago.
There were many firsts that this trip began with: it was Lochlan’s first show as the fill-in vocalist for Psycroptic, the band’s first time in India, and also the beginning of the longest national tour ever done by a metal band in the country. Callous Mass was just a taste of the insane string of live music experiences that were to come in the following week. Seven hundred fans and metalheads gathered that evening, a mass of flailing arms and legs cheering on every band, and proving that metal was alive and well in India. Hearts full of love and admiration, stomach full of momos, Psycroptic, and I left the venue truly grateful for what each of us had just experienced. It was an incredible night, and one of the best live shows I’ve been to this year.
It’s 5 am on the 6th of August, and we were eating Indian sweets and chocolate cake for breakfast, lying down on makeshift beds from airport chairs and copping a whole lot of stares (tattoos are seemingly a new concept here) during our eternal wait to board the flight to Delhi. Once we got there, that’s when the real adventure began. Maneuvering one’s way through the traffic in Delhi, which is bound to up your blood pressure in an attempt to find a hotel hidden in some corner of a street was, indeed, memorable. Our classy chauffeurs refused to move any further which meant the six of us lugging cymbals, guitars and everything else about 500 meters from where we got dropped but with some help along the way. Haus Kaus village was interesting being the entertainment district of the city as Ean described it: clubs, pubs and street food galore; we even spotted a few dodgy tattoo parlours scattered around. But everyone was out to have a good time, and so were the sea of black t-shirts who gathered at Anti-Social, the venue for show number two. What was intriguing was where the venue was located: on the third floor, on top of a dance club and a fancy restaurant, accessible from our hotel by walking through this weird tunnel and the view being a battered, ancient monument (we knew what our plans were for the next morning). Fragarak and Godless kick-started the night, and my goodness, both bands just get better and better with every show and listen, especially Godless. One song that has been stuck in my head since the tour is “Oneiros”, a song inspired by the works Neil Gaiman’s landmark comic book series, TheSandman. This particular song translates into an absolute beast live, with hard-hitting riffs and sending chills down the listener’s spine with its eerie, atmospheric outro.
Delhi’s own Primitiv were on next, and by this point, things were getting pretty intense in this compact but cool venue. Unleashing hell on stage, vocalist Nitin had a commanding presence on stage, reeling in people from the back and getting the first moshes started for the evening. Playing a skull-cracking set of songs from their debut full-length album called Immortal and Vile, with a passionate ferocity. Also, that bass! This was my first time attending a gig in Delhi, and it was bloody good. People love their heavy music here, know how to have a good time, and buy a lot of merch. But I abandoned (rather palmed off temporarily) my duties at the merch desk and placed myself in the company of several guitar cases on the side of the stage for the band that was next. Loud chants of ‘Psycroptic’ took over as the band powered through track after track, making it look like child’s play. Todd Stern has got to be one of the most ridiculous bass players I have ever seen, stopping at nothing with his windmills and infectious, on-stage energy. Both fill-in members were the perfect fit for the band, merging seamlessly with the Haley brothers, and making every Psycroptic song their own. I’d probably need ten articles this size to write in detail how this band can do no wrong, so I’ll just settle on the fact that they are a class apart, individually and as a unit
Late night pizza and pillows were in order after what was a hectic but amazing stint in Delhi. The carbs were necessary for our next bewitching hour travels – so far, so good – but there were a few challenges along the way, and they weren’t cows blocking the road. “The equipment!” says Dave Haley. “Let’s just say, it wasn’t exactly what we are used to playing on back home. But, fuck it, we were in India – just shut the fuck up and play! Watching all the support bands crushing it each night on the same equipment we were using put us in our place; if they can do it, then we can too. We are pretty spoilt in Australia, so it got us out of our comfort zone.” That, I’m dead sure it did, but I’m so proud of how well the boys fit in wherever they went. India can be a very overwhelming place, especially if you’re visiting for the first time, but all five settled in from day one; albeit, the setting was mostly on flights, cars and on stage. Onward to Hyderabad!
Yes, that would be a billboard promoting the Hyderabad show. Orka and Infinity Pro Audio went all out with the promotions for this one, ensuring that every mortal in this ancient city knew where shit was going down on the 10th of August. There was time for that, however. The next three days were a blessing in disguise (as any vacation is) and gave Psycroptic the time to revel in the sights, smells and sounds around them. On reaching Hyderabad and dropping our bags off in our rooms, we headed to the seediest pub in existence – ‘Club 8’, I believe is the name – but possibly the only place in the city which plays metal, or so we thought. A few rounds of beers, spicy food that was literally red (although it didn’t make any of us sweat and lose our tear ducts) and great conversation, it was just the downtime we all needed. Until the DJ there decided that it was time for us to listen to some ‘real’ music and blew out all our eardrums playing some of the loudest electronic noise I’ve ever heard. Ean and I, quite literally ran out of there, longing for the sound of nothing but silence at this point.
We took our days off quite seriously (just as Ean does with hiding from photos, the sly fox) and indulged in some exotic cuisine, beer pong, some weird hacky sack game, beer, tour taddys, more beer and sightseeing too. Joe and I played Beer Pong as well, except we didn’t do any of the drinking. It was still quite an intense game! But what was a massive highlight for me, especially, was walking around the beautiful Shilpa Ramam, an artisan’s village of sorts where various artists were selling their wares and work. From gorgeous, palm-leaf engraved wall hangings to vegetable paint art done on paper that was centuries old, there was no shortage of stunning, shiny objects, each one boasting the melting pot of cultures that India is. The boys had a good time walking around, occasionally being hounded by persuasive merchants to buy Pashmina shawls and camel bone ornaments. The craft beers were a necessity after that; and so was my dark chocolate salted caramel tart. Thank you for such darkness, Satan. Many things were said and done that evening, but you know how it goes: what happens on tour, stays on tour.
Something that was as intense as Nergal holding puppies, but even more so, was watching Ean and Joe battle it out in possibly the longest game of Jenga I have ever seen. While downing pots of Frozen Yogurt and Eclairs, the rest of us watched in sheer awe of how long these two legends kept placing block after block on top of each other, not flinching even once. My hands were shaking, for crying out loud. I needed my beauty sleep after that.
An early start the next day in order to beat the traffic, (though not a very successful attempt) as we made our way to the beautiful Charminar, a 16th-century monument and mosque that emanates the magnificence of Islamic architecture, the climb up to the top of the tower was a claustrophobic’s nightmare. However, once at the top, the views and sights are incredible. While taking it all in, it was rather entertaining watching the boys being hounded for selfies and group photos, pose after pose being struck. They got a taste of a typical day in an Indian marketplace and even enjoyed some fresh, tender coconut water! This right here, was what India is all about. The obnoxious yet musical honking on the streets, vendors selling people $2 Ray-Ban glasses (which some of the guys bought and loved!) markets and merchants, street food everywhere, and how could I forget, the classic Indian Head Bob.
With that came an end to our tourist time, as we headed down to the Other Side for a night of death metal. A cool rooftop venue with vines climbing the backdrop of the stage. The stage was set, and as the lights dimmed down, Delhi metallers Fragarak took to the stage, making their strangely eerie presence known to the crowd that was now starting to fill up the room. Beers and whiskeys being passed around, and a general air of delight, the band began the evening on a strong note, amping up the crowd with tracks from their upcoming release A Spectral Oblivion, while members of Psycroptic were also kicking back to enjoy their set.
Fragarak really amped up the crowd with their music and on-stage persona: the hooded capes, slow movements and bassist’s Kartikeya’s occasional Gene Simmons tongue tribute. Musically, the band appealed to me primarily with the dispersed arrangement of each track; long, ominous melodic interludes, black-metal driven growls and rhythmic riffage all coming together in a dark, atmospheric and heavy soundscape. It’s sublime and hectic all at the same time. While Fragarak takes their time and plots their moves slowly, Godless just go straight for your throat. Kaushal‘s blood-curdling gutturals hitting you instantly while Aniket‘s double bass comes surging through with precision on every track. The riffs are edgy, dark and fast boasting the best of both old school death and more contemporary influences. Chuck in a few catchy grooves to balance out the piercing brutality of their music and that’s Godless for you. They erupt on stage with a powerful aggression that is rather satisfying to watch, but off stage, are like a bunch of After Eights (dark and sweet but only just). Sorry boys, couldn’t help it. It truly was a pleasure watching these lads play every night as well as working with bassist Abbas Razvi who helped put together the Hyderabad show and ensured that everything ran smoothly (including the beer).
It was here where the word ‘wild’ was given new meaning, and in typical ‘underground (except we were on a roof) death metal AA gig’ fashion, Lochlan jumped off stage and began moshing along with all the metal-hungry mortals up front. Glasses flew, shirts were torn, and limbs were moving in full force threatening injuries, but none of that mattered because Psycroptic were owning every single minute that they were on stage and the crowd was clearly delighted. Earlier in the day, Dave Haley basically taught me the basics of drumming in about 10 minutes (even less I think), something I’ve been spending four years on. I’ve seen almost all of his bands live and have taken a lot of inspiration from the man, but to see him play live, with Psycroptic as close as I did for six nights in a row, left me speechless every time. It truly was an honour for me to work with such a legend as well as learn a number of things. “The World Discarded”, “The Sleepers have Awoken”, and one of my absolute favourite tracks “(ob)Servant”, were just a part of the absolute treasure trove that was the setlist. Thanking the crowd, you could see the gratitude in the eyes of every member of Psycroptic and how much this tour meant to them. It was an amazing night; with special love to Ruby and Pandu for being great people to work with and making everything so much easier.
After a relaxing and entertaining four days in the city of Hyderabad, it was onward to the city I call home – Chennai. Lochie and Todd managed to spot an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on the way to our gate – needless to say, we took a detour, and that was essentially it. We sold our souls to the muffins, baked beans and fried potatoes, unable to get up after. But as we started to get in line for boarding, (like we weren’t getting stared at enough – Pandu, me and then the five visibly-taller-than-me Australian/American men ) Lochlan belted out one of his meme voices saying, ‘Show me your bob, baby’ (it was enough to make you want to take a shower) that sent me into an absolute fit, rendering me speechless, literally. Long airport waits, and insomnia can do that to a person. Things were starting to sink in for me at this point as we landed; the fact that an Australian metal band, an amazing one at that; would be playing on home soil and that I had a small part to play in it. After a grand garland welcome and with a little bit of time to spare once we reached, I took the boys straight to one of the most beautiful temples in India, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple. A herculean, 7th-century construction with classic Dravidian style architecture, it’s devotees come to seek the blessings of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati (Karpagambal). We managed to get there on an auspicious day as well when it was in all its glory. Psycroptic also got to meet cows and cats, popular residents of the temple.
Getting a bit of the local culture in and a quick nap, it was then straight to the venue, The Unwind Centre. While the band was setting up, Lochlan and I set out in search of some strong caffeine, catching up along the way. For someone who really wants to make a living out of working in this industry, I asked him for advice. “I’ve had so many setbacks and failures, and to put it simply, I’ve been fucked over a lot, and I’ve fucked myself over a lot. There have been so many times where I felt I should have quit and just decided to do something in the ‘real world’. While I have at times had to have brief forays into corporate life or physical labour in order to pay my bills, for whatever reason, I never gave up on the dream, and am now in a pretty good position where I can survive 100% off of my work in the music industry through The Racket and EVP Recordings. The bonus is sometimes getting paid to tour as well. It’s all so surreal; the radio thing was not something I ever even really aspired to do. The job just came up, and I went for it.” This was something I was very grateful for; to be able to interact with such lovely people, who I’ve only ever really had the chance to talk to regarding work, so it was humbling and rewarding, to say the least, to meet, chat and hang out with people such as Dave, Joe, Ean, Todd and Lochlan, and then hosting them in the city (well, one of) I call home.
What was probably the most unconventional venue this band has ever performed at, this proved to be a memorable show right from the start. Chennai’s metal community comprises of a humble few, but even those few, you know, are genuinely crazy about their metal. So it came as no surprise when even in that small room at the Unwind Centre, things started to get pretty wild. Local lads Moral Putrefaction opened the night with their incredible, old school death metal tunes, playing both their own compositions such as “Divided by Diversity” while doing covers of bands such as Immolation. The double vocal delivery, brutal riffs, choppy fat bass lines and really old school death metal vibe is something that this band pulls off exceptionally well live, with Shiva, one of the vocalist and guitarist’s occasional humour coming forth in between tracks. Despite technical difficulties, the band put up a fantastic show for the now 50 odd people who had now turned up, braving the monsoons and traffic. Definitely, a band to keep an eye and two ears out for!
Psycroptic took their places and unleashed “Cold” on the Chennai fans like a Kraken starved for days. The backline was certainly not what they were used to, but unsurprisingly, this didn’t compromise their sound or their performance; and with a champion soundman like Ean Redman by your side, there is nothing to be feared! Lochlan emerged on stage, proudly wearing his flower garland; “Flowers are so metal, Chennai!”, which seemed to please everyone greatly. It was the perfect underground metal show setting again, although much smaller than Hyderabad, making it all the more intense, sweaty and brilliant. It was time to shed a couple more tears from the old duct, watching this band rip it up on stage and watching people who don’t get to see live metal shows that often, enjoy themselves to no end. Mad props to Eddie, Arjun and Exodus for being such a great bunch of guys, and putting together something Psycroptic will never forget.
“It’s hard to pick a favourite city, especially when most of what we got to see was just airports, roads, hotel rooms and venues, with just a few tourist spots where time allowed. Pune was probably my favourite show of the tour, in terms of how we played, the audience and the venue, and Shillong was cool as fuck because we played in that wild outdoor setting on a festival-style stage made from bamboo. Chennai seemed nice, although I would have liked to have been able to spend a bit more time there relaxing.”
At this point, my legs had a mind of their own as did the rest of me as we made our way on flight number 7 of this tour to Bangalore for the next show. “The main thing that stands out from this is having to fly between each show. Other hugely populated and dense countries like Japan and Indonesia I have toured extensively in a van with no worries. But because the roads were so notoriously packed and poorly maintained, the fact that it was so much more cost and time effective to fly between every single show, was for whatever reason surprising to me and made the touring experience a little different. I’ve done everything from getting paid to do professional bus tours in the USA and Europe, to paying money to do bare-bones DIY expeditions in South East Asia, and honestly, if you put aside the comforts of having your own backline and the same bunk bed to sleep in every night, the actual touring experience is fairly similar no matter where you go, and that 30-60 minutes of sharing music with people every night, and drinking beer in foreign cities, and meeting new people at shows, don’t change a huge amount no matter where in the world you are. It’s just more exciting and unpredictable in places that are a little more detached from the rest of the professional touring circuit.”
The drive from the airport to the venue was quite stunning and relaxing as well, and you really learn to appreciate them considering the number of hours you spend in a car. Lucky for us, the venue wasn’t too far away so we got there in time for breakfast (of course) and 10 am beers. Early sound checks are highly recommended so that time can be made for early pre-show naps and hair spas. Yes, I said hair spa, which is what was on our agenda next; at least for the host of The Racket and me. For fear of things breeding in my hair and his looking untamed, we headed on up for a quick wash and conditioning.
“Out of all the bands we saw, Godless impressed me the most – not only were they stylistically the most appealing to me, but they seemed to have it all sorted out – a great stage presence, killer songs, relentless playing, a solid image, and no bullshit. I’ve honestly had some of their songs stuck in my head ever since the tour.” – Lochlan Watt
“We were all blown away by the quality and musical dedication of all the Indian bands we saw and played with. Godless was my favourite band.” – Dave Haley
Need I say more? Godless has grown over the past year and a half, into one of the most prominent, dedicated and talented bands in the country, their relentless and brutal brand of metal exhibiting their pro musicianship. Fragarak has also done well for themselves, and it was good to see how these bands work tirelessly to make their place known on the metal map in India.
Hosts of Hardwire which became a mini-festival in itself, Inner Sanctum never fail to impress their fans, the audience and metal enthusiasts in general. Whether it’s vocalist Gaurav Basu‘s antics and shenanigans (he serenaded some of the crowd from on top of the bar at this show), growling as if he was Death himself, or the aural assault that comes forging through from guitarists Chintan and Suraj, bassist Narayan or the absolute beast of a drummer that Abhinav is. Playing songs from both their Provenance EP and their debut album, Legions Awake.
Having opened for the likes of Slayer, Metallica, Iron Maiden – I’m not done yet – Behemoth, Cradle of Filth, and now Psycroptic, this band has steadily carved a niche for themselves in the Indian metal scene; they truly have it all. An explosive stage presence that will have the whole room shaking, the boys in Sanctum stop at nothing when it comes to entertainment and heavy music. Also, how many drummers get bitten by a snake 12 hours before they play a show? Again, that’s just Abhinav Yogesh for you. And indeed, that venomous aggression was brought forth in their set (I’ll show myself out). Straight Up was a huge, well laid out venue the bands sounded great from wherever you stood.
I was being spoilt silly every night; watching a favourite band up front and centre, every night; a group of world-class musicians who are truly dedicated to the cause of metal. It really doesn’t get any better than that. Psycroptic had the mosh pits going right from the moment they took to the stage, fans literally hanging off the barrier and engrossing themselves in the sheer power of tracks like “Carriers of the Plague” and “Echoes to Come”. The latter has got to be one of the best songs live by this band. Lochlan’s vocal delivery on every track as well clearly did justice to the vocal style of the band’s primary vocalist, Jason Peppiat, but simultaneously asserting his own vocal style. Needless to say (again), the setlist was an absolute treat for both old fans and new.
Every night, Psycroptic played an insane 60-minute set, mostly covering songs from all their releases, but a few from their latest release. From the get-go, there is so much energy they exuberate, engaging the crowds with their relentless, punchy tech-death music and giving every track 100%. Their music really comes alive on stage, and their presence is impeccable. Bangalore never disappoints. The people of this city love their heavy music, and it was an absolute pleasure to be a part of. After smashing out another massive meal of naans, curries and kebabs galore, we essentially waddled our way around. Even by the next morning for our flight to the last stop of the tour, Pune.
The weather in my eyes was perfect: gloomy, cold and windy, making the drive from Pune to Bombay absolutely beautiful, albeit slightly long. Road trips across India are one way to travel, given how much you actually see along the way. Women carrying pots of water on their heads, cows crossing roads along as if in a proclamation that they too are people and just the general chaotic charm that the country is known and loved for. Todd Stern and I basically passed out in the backseat while the Haley brothers seemed to be enjoying the cruise, but all ears pricked up when we were told we’re stopping for food, and food in that region is fit for the Gods. Smashing out plates of Vada Pav (mini Indian spicy burgers) and Chaat (street food), we waddled our way back to our cars reluctantly, only to reach our final destination 3 hours later. “The next challenging thing was coming to an understanding ‘time’ seems to be ‘optional’ in India. We learnt very quickly if someone says it will take 1 hour to do something – just double it. 1 becomes 2, 2 becomes 4, 3 becomes 6.” Dave has the right idea! What was supposed to be a 2-hour drive took 5, but still no complaints because we had a pretty good ride.
The Blue Frog. A popular venue for live music, and for obvious reasons. The whole layout of the venue felt comfortable and similar to my favourite one back in Australia, the Manning Bar. No matter where you stand, you could always see the stage, and this is coming from someone who is 5’4. Pune’s Dark Helm began the night’s proceedings but with difficulty. I’ve seen this band live once before and they faced similar problems with their backing tracks and samples both times. Nonetheless, they pulled through their 30 minutes with brave faces and their versatile music. Fragarak played a great set as well, although taking a little more time than they should’ve (every minute was now precious to Psycroptic given that we had to be at the airport by 3 AM). It was good to see Godless one more time before the band disappears into creative hibernation as they gear up to get their second EP done. They also had a special little pressie for the crowd as well as an end-of-tour celebratory surprise which was Lochie joining the band on stage for an insane rendition of Slayer’s “Disciple”. It was the perfect way to end the set, both Kaushal and Lochie providing a proper aural assault.
Pune at this point was a roaring crowd of adrenalin-driven, air-guitaring, metal enthusiasts that welcomed the lads with deafening cheers all around; it was electric to be in that place at that moment. There were fans going gaga over the shred lord that is Joe Haley as he smashed out riff after riff. Psycroptic is flawless. I think one of the things that has left a big mark on me personally, is seeing this band play with different lineups but still nailing every blast beat, every crazy rhythm, and every song on their set and doing so effortlessly. By this time, and I’m being really honest here, it felt like this whole tour was just getting started; the shows so far were warm-ups. The night and tour were coming to an end rather quickly, and none of us really thought about it; until we realised it was 1 AM and we had to be at the airport at 3. Pune definitely had one of the best crowds, sending off the Aussie-American clan on a strong, memorable note. Receiving a special shout-out from them on stage had me rooted to the spot and teary-eyed (yes, I have tear ducts), finally letting the two weeks that had passed sink in.
“It was a huge reminder of the quality of life we have in Australia, and the Indian experience reawakened my empathy towards those who have to leap over mountains just for the chance at a shot at life in our country. However, it is impossible to comprehend the true depth of humanity, and at the same time, the experience of the poverty I witnessed (even though most of it was from behind car windows) was on such a huge level that it also hardened my soul. Overall, it left me incredibly thankful for what I have here in Australia. To be in the position I am in – to be able to tour the world through playing extreme metal – is just such an incredibly unrealistic dream for so many people, and the fact that I have been somehow lucky enough to achieve it is truly staggering. To be a little less deep about it, it’s nice to experience heavy metal is a truly global culture, and know that I am part of something bigger: something that transcends borders, ethnicities, religions, currencies, and language.”
Psycroptic in India, what a ride. To Orka Networks, Renu McGarry, the absolute legend that put this tour together, all the promoters, Pandu and Ruby for being huge supports, Robbie and Pep in Shillong, Mayank, Karan and Dhairya in Pune, and everyone else we met along the way that proved to be a helping hand, thank you from the bottom of all our hearts. You know who you are. Being able to write this little memoir as well as record it in the form of photos has allowed me to relive every moment on tour; some that I’ve shared and some that I will take to my grave. To Lochlan, Ean, Todd, Dave and Joe, it was an honour and beyond. Cheers and much gratitude.
– My new knowledge, our new power We are now in control. New senses awake, a species reborn Nothing can stand in our path –