Popular music rarely escapes judgement. Even Elvis Presley’s take on rock ‘n’ roll was considered too blasphemous and suggestive in the 1960s. But it is metal music that is most frequently plagued by accusations of hostility and violence. In the documentary Metal Mayhem, three filmmakers from Shillong look at the moral inspection of metal music through the eyes and hopes of India’s metal musicians.
When popular death metal band Dying Fetus toured Shillong for the first time in 2014, several local media outlets deemed the band satanic and metal fans as misguided. Metal Mayhem considers the aftermath of the outrage by speaking with participants of Shillong’s rising metal scene, from soft-spoken musicians to the fans and antagonising critics.
Not much is visible in one of the many gigs shown in the documentary, save for several hands extended in the air bearing the sign of the horn. The rather conspicuous symbol of metal music is accompanied by many heads furiously thrust forward to the periodic beats of generously loud percussion. The wild hair, worn long and loose, bears an asinine sense of aggression as it whirls around the air to the guitar riffs. The chosen room for the metal gig is an insignificant stage, but the energy levels channel strength of immense potency.
What is most striking, then, is how mild many of these metalheads seem when talking to the camera.
Directors Abhijit Dutta Purkayastha, Benjamin Basumatari and Baniaidshaphrang L Nongbri made the film in 2014 as a part of their final year project at St Anthony’s College in Shillong. “We were supposed to make a film for our final year project and not having enough ideas, we decided to make a film on metal music and that’s how it began,” Dutta Purkayastha said. “Initially, our idea got rejected and criticised, but we were stubborn enough to see it through. So, we made a rough script, sought out the logistics and began shooting.”
The filmmakers seek to understand what the genre means to the musicians. Shillong has produced many competent rock bands over the past several years. Metal bands touring India often make it a point to drop into the Meghalayan capital in addition to metropolitan cities, as did Megadeth when it played here as part of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender last year. “The metal music scene in Shillong is growing by leaps and bounds,” Dutta Purkayastha said. “There are a number of local bands such as Plague Throat, Aberrant and Dymbur who are headlining the local shows and encouraging new talent. International bands like Sepultura, Scorpions, White Lion, Dying Fetus and Megadeth have played successful shows here.”
But Christianity is also the dominant religion in Meghalaya. With Shillong’s reputation as the country’s unofficial “rock capital” comes heavy criticism from orthodox quarters, which the documentary aims to dispute. In Metal Mayhem, we are introduced not only to some of Shillong’s most active metal musicians, but also to passionate listeners who vouch for the release the music gives them. In a sequence that establishes the tone of the documentary, one fan claims to listen to metal music when he feels angry or agitated, as it helps him control his intensity.
“As a fan, all you can do is go to the show, have fun and come back,” Puryakastha said. “Let others say what they need to. Metal has been always criticised, and there’s nothing new about it. You better not be bothered.”
The documentary can be viewed on Raiot.in, a bilingual web magazine that is available in English and Khasi and is an important source of local commentary on Shillong. In addition to Metal Mayhem, you can also catch an on-going series about the city’s music called Shillong Rock N Metal Scene on the website. Made by Cornelius Kharsyntiew, Mayson Dkhar and Gerald Duia, the series introduces viewers to Shillong’s contemporary rock talent by bringing them up, close and personal with the audience.