Heavy Metal in Pakistan
by Usman Zahid
Heavily distorted guitars, high speed blast beats, a boiling bass line and demonic vocals are just some of the things you hear as you step into a underground gig in Lahore. An extremely energetic bunch of teenagers with long hair, bold black T-shirts, professionally can be seen handling their instruments with another equally rabid group near the stage head banging and throwing the conventional “horn” slogan to the sound of heavy metal music. But heavy metal in Pakistan is not just played by angsty teens with a chip on their shoulders, a lot of metal here is actually made by people in their mid-to-late 20’s as well – working people climbing the corporate ladder and seeing older ‘veteran’ headbangers is not too uncommon either. Heavy Metal is a genre wider than many realize, has a staggering number of sub-genres and ways of thinking that go along with it. It is not one entity – rather, it is one massive super-entity. And yes, heavy metal exists here in Pakistan too.
Heavy Metal has been around in Pakistan since the early 90s with bands such as Dusk, Black Warrant, and others who never managed to garner much critical acclaim due to the type of music they play. Essentially, people were afraid of heavy metal back then and branded it to be ‘lifeless noise’ and whatnot. Despite that, there was always a strong following of heavy metal music based around like-minded people with something to say and a chip on their shoulder. Black Warrant guitarist Ali Raza Farooqi said in an interview with The Iron Markhor, a Pakistani metal blog written by Hassan Umer, last year that “It was really nice. Bands actually played HEAVY METAL and the term METAL was not misused at all. They knew how to play and they were supportive and energetic.” The metal scene continues to persist to this day, and has gone through several different ‘waves’ and is generally divided into the 3 main cities – Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. Each city has its own legends, its own standards as well as their own distinct musical preferences. For example, people in Karachi are as diverse as it comes, Lahoris on the other hand prefer straight up heavy metal – mostly famous artists – and in between, the Islamabadians tend to be extreme death metal fans.
But despite the differences in taste in all the 3 major scenes, the situation remains the same. Heavy metal concerts are still mostly non-existent, with just a handful of metal bands getting to play at the occasional concert usually headlined by a famous pop artist with a group of openers – mostly playing alternative rock. You practically see the same metalheads at every show, a motley group of mostly young kids who shun the greedy corporate rock scene and pay usually 350-500 rupees to see 2 metal bands out of 10 pop and rock acts. And on top of it, metal bands barely get the recognition they deserve. It is shunned by mainstream listeners, deemed as satanic noise and whatnot, with the casual Pakistani music listener not appreciating even the time these musicians take to perfect their skills – it takes dedication, a concept of unity and an iron will if you want to be a heavy metal musician, an attitude that many people in Pakistan lack but which thrives in the metal scene. However, the tides seem to be turning lately. People involved in the heavy metal scene are taking the initiative to organize their own gigs as a response. “The metal fans here are basically tired of paying 500 rupees to see a random concert with 2 heavy metal acts” says Hassan Umer, organizer of ‘The Mosh Pit’, a heavy metal concert organized in July. “And we’re charging people only 150 rupees to come see 10 heavy metal bands. We’ve got Eleventh Commandment, Foreskin, Odyessy, Wreckage, Serpent and others, from around the country for 4 hours of non-stop metal mania. There are no rules, do whatever you want – mosh, slam dance, cirlce pit and of course no one will stop you from headbanging!” Though a lot of work will need to be done to bring our metal scene on equal footing with our neighboring India, such initiative taken by young kids will serve us well into the future.
Another problem in the heavy metal scene in Pakistan is the overabandunce of cover bands as opposed to bands making original music. There are a lot of problems that limit any possible recordings, such as equipment, time and most importantly money, being in a band, I know how hard it is to finance our passion since there is no support by record labels or the industry. But the tides seem to be turning in heavy metal’s favor once again in this regard – over the last 3 years bands such as I See Insanity, Soul Vomit, Venom Vault, Communal Grave, Cauldron Born, Semideus, Abyssed and many other bands have put out original songs with others such as Orion, Odyssey, Reckoning Storm and Aus Rine going so far as to release albums. Labels such as Gasmask Holocaust have also popped up, putting out releases in a timely manner and with affordable prices. Taureg Tariq, the man behind several of Islamabad’s premier death metal bands as well as Death Revolution Records had this to say “It’s been really great seeing that bands are putting out orignals. They actually work on them as a whole band and put them out which is really a revolution if u ask me.. because like 5 years back nobody did this.. and no body even THOUGHT of doing this.” Spurred on by efforts made by older bands, younger bands are also starting to give original compositions much more thought.
As mentioned, the tides turning towards the favor of heavy metal music in Pakistan, I would also like to add here the presence of two radio shows which are dedicated to heavy metal music only, “The Awakening” on Fm94 and “Black Sunday” on fm89.
The efforts being put in by youngsters into the underground music industry are also being recognized by international media as a report was seen on CNN headlines covering a heavy metal gig and band in Karachi.
However, despite all this, the mainstream media and majority of the educated population of Pakistan will continue to look down on music – especially heavy metal music. Personally, I’ve been a part of the underground heavy metal scene in Pakistan for the last 3 to 4 years and what I feel is that we are brought up in such an environment where no matter how liberal some parents are, they are never ready to let go off their conventional mind set of being a musician as a “unmanly” thing. Heavy Metal music is a seperate thing, but parents are never ready to support their children in music related endeavors no matter what logical arguments are given to them. If a person is gifted with a talent, he or she should be supported and such an attitude actually helps a country progress rather than degenerate. The amount of talent that we have in our country and the level of maturity of music in young musicians actually makes one feel proud of being a Pakistani. But then again, there is no platform or support to these young musicians and thus, the more passionated ones, with parents who have the financial power and are willing to support their kids, go abroad, to pursue their passion, a place where talent is valued. The unlucky ones’ talent, eventually, goes down the drain.
Being a part of a religion that values sincerity, honesty, integrity and hard work I do not see how heavy metal can be ignored or looked down upon in such a fashion. The effort it requires to put together a metal band, to increase your skills, hours of practice, to promote the music (in terms of gigs, articles, videos, etc) far exceeds the effort many Pakistanis (especially our politicians) seem to have put in their entire lives. On top of it, there is no motive of profit or money behind it – it is merely self satisfaction, an antidote to all the struggle and strife revolving around an individual or even the country as a whole. It is not a profession, it is a hobby for most. As Zia Iftikhar (Venom Vault) said in an interview with The Iron Markhor; “Music is not comparable to selling liquor or drugs and cannot be termed as an addiction which drives you astray. Music is like making or selling any art or craft… Music is only a part time thing in the lives of most Muslims.”
But there will always be detractors of heavy metal, and to be perfectly honest these detractors actually do more good for the scene than harm. They are the perfect fuel for the fire. Heavy metal is here in Pakistan and the people involved in the scene mean business.
At the end of the day, heavy metal will exist as long as there are kids with a need to vent our their anger, or who just need a genre that is the complete antithesis of popular culture to test their skills. Heavy Metal is a wide genre, a universe in itself – a lifestyle on its own.
A special thanks to Hassan Umer.