Images: Vishal Dey
Bangalore Open Air celebrated its 7th year of existence earlier this month on what seemed like a perfectly pleasant day in the city of Bangalore. India’s biggest metal festival has been going strong for a while now despite many hurdles and came back stronger than ever this year with what was undoubtedly one of their best line-ups. Taking place at Aadhya Farms in Yelahanka, the choice of venue differed from the previous year and from what I’ve gathered, was definitely better according to a number of punters, for various reasons. A metal festival in itself isn’t an easy feat in a country like India where the scene is still growing so organising an Open Air festival in a venue that suited the name was definitely an achievement. I entered to the sounds of Eccentric Pendulum, a band that is much loved by the Bangalore metal scene and definitely the perfect band to kick off the day’s proceedings. I say this because no sooner had I walked into the venue, my eyes had already caught a couple of flailing limbs and swinging heads; an effect the band will undeniably have on anyone that comes across their music. Crushing, groove-laden tunes and a really unique take on tech death would be one way to describe this four-piece from Bangalore. The bass guitarist was definitely someone that kept the momentum going as was vocalist Kaushal who never ceases to amaze me with his vocal abilities and range. Although the crowd was a bit scattered and people were still coming in, it was a great set to begin the show!
Commendable punctuality to the stage and sound crew for every set began and ended on time with the next act gracing the stage to a resounding cheer from the crowd. Nervecell is one band that we’ve had the pleasure of seeing a couple of times before and with every performance they just get better. The Dubai metallers erupted into the first track of their set ‘Flesh & Memories‘ followed by some classic tracks like ‘ Vicious Circle of Bloodshed‘ and ‘Human Chaos‘ to more recent tracks such as ‘ D.N.A’. I’m just going to say it straight; there’s no denying how incredibly tight and brilliant this band is, especially live. What really captivates you about their music are the significant Middle Eastern influences that are hidden amongst the barrage of punishing riffs, and it truly makes them stand out. There is also a certain element of unpredictability in their music; for every minute of pure sonic aggression comes with a sudden dose of ‘holy shit’ moments when the Emirati death metallers play.
The energy was high right from the beginning of the festival and people were just getting started. In between sets, it was nice to see people just walking around and enjoying the general atmosphere of the venue. The stalls as compared to last years venue were in a completely different area altogether and not near the stage so there was much more space to bum around. Speaking to the boss and brains behind this whole festival Salman Syed, about organising an event of this size he says, ” There is nothing easy about it! It’s a tough job, a lot of people don’t understand what all goes into building a festival as big as this. It takes us around 6 months of planning for a 6-hour event. From meeting brands for sponsorship to getting permissions for the event. There is so much red tape here that it makes easy things so difficult. ” It certainly doesn’t seem like an easy job!
The crowd had now gathered in large numbers gearing up for one of Bangalore and India’s favourite metal bands. Kryptos, veterans of the scene, has been around for more than 20 years and have smashed milestone after milestone. So there was not a doubt in my mind that they would definitely be one of the favourites of the day and they were. From the moment the old school thrash metallers hit the stage, the energy was nothing short of thunderous. Despite facing some technical glitches especially the bassist, the band powered through their set and no one could really notice that something was up. Such is the professionalism of this band. My only tiny gripe with the music is that more often than not, it’s a bit lacking in variety and can be rather same-ish but then that’s just me; at some points, it’s hard to tell whether they’re on the same song or a new one. Nonetheless, their bolstering and energetic style is addictive once you start listening to them, combining the best of an old school thrash with some massive-sounding modern death metal elements. It was nothing short of a razor-sharp riff fest that proved once again why they’re one of the best in the country.
While bands were ripping it up on the stage, it was awesome to see a meet & greet tent at the back of the venue set up where I pretty much died along with another fan-friend whilst meeting Immolation. It was little aspects like these where you could see how hard the organisers have worked to bring in that European feel of a metal festival to our country and it certainly brought a lot of smiles on the day. Following what was easily a stressful time for two of the crew members at the M&G tent (judging by the looks on their faces), I made my way back to my spot near the stage and away from the mosh zone, awaiting a band I’ve been dying to see for years. Somehow, I’ve missed Alcest several times so this was indeed a set I was looking forward to. Just as their music, there is a very special, otherworldly aura about the band, one that you feel quite strongly if you have listened to them enough times. With the perfect dramatic touch of a whispering breeze, the band began their set and I already had hearts in my eyes.
Hailing from France, the four-piece post-metal/blackgaze band were a definite favourite on the day; sending fans and music lovers alike into a trance. They have an extremely distinct and unique sound, one that grips you instantly not to mention the absolutely stunning harmonies that lead you through each track. And what a treat of a set it was! Beginning with the ethereal sounds of their latest album Kodama, and a definite highlight from me being the absolutely stunning track ‘Eclosion‘ they effortlessly drifted through one masterpiece after the next. At every moment whilst Alcest was on stage, you could see just how engrossed the crowd was in their music, completely captivated by the French band’s distinctive style of metal. The amazing balance between clean and black metal vocals interwoven amongst a plethora of stunning atmospheric sounds, serene riffs and hypnotic mood swings as they moved from one track to the next – it all highlighted just how unorthodox, original and truly magnificent this band is. It was pure magic, to say the least.
But now was when the festival got really exciting and intense for me for there are just some bands that when you finally have the chance to see live, they leave you completely speechless; Immolation at Bangalore Open Air was one of those moments for me. Undeniably one of the greatest death metal bands of all time, hands down, I stuck myself against the barrier along with another die-hard fan and friend as we obsessively watched the band’s every move during the changeover (occasionally yelling out to them and getting winks and nods in return). While they were setting up, and this is probably one of the things I find a tad bit weird about this festival, but there’s an emcee, but I guess it makes sense while people are waiting and they have someone who keeps them engaged? Nonetheless, he decided to have a ‘growling’ contest on stage while Immolation was setting up and three very enthusiastic metalheads got on the stage of which only one guy actually sounded like he knew what he was doing and got a thumbs up from Ross Dolan in the process for his filthy guttaral tone.
I’m just going to say it straight again: no one does death metal the way Immolation does. They are a force to be reckoned with; relentless, commanding and just downright powerful. From the opening intro of ” The Distorting Light “, I was already hanging off the barrier and going apeshit with some other crazy fans; the energy that this band emanates is amazing. And from that moment right to the end, every moment that they were on stage was perfect. Music aside for a split second, just watching these veteran musicians do their thing is magic. The bloody genius that is Robert Vigna was a sight to behold as he swung his guitar around, strummed and picked with oomph and a whole lot of class like he was ready for battle (I swear he was like the death metal version of Francesco Ferrini, Fleshgod Apocalypse’s keyboardist) , while the mighty Ross Dolan stood tall at the centre, like the human version of Nathan Explosion, his glorious hair making me supremely jealous. What can I say? Old school death metal at it’s finest, I mean Immolation is practically royalty. Every single track on of that set was beyond memorable for me and every other fan that was rooted to the barrier losing all sensation in our necks and ribs. Highlights from their set included the outstanding new tracks “When the Jackals Come” and “Destructive Currents” from their latest album ‘Atonement’ as well as some of the best songs of their career, especially “Father, you’re not a Father” and the massive sounding title track from my favourite album ‘Close to a World Below’. I could go on about every song to be honest but I won’t because I’ll be here for a while then. But all I will say is that I’m really glad that I got to see one of my favourite death metal bands on home ground, was a musical experience I’ll never forget. Neither will my neck.
At this point, the ground was packed, the anticipation high, the beers were flowing and the cheers were deafening. For the very first time in India, thrash metal veterans Overkill took to the stage with a maddening energy and dynamism that they are renowned for. I have to say, I’m not a fan or familiar with their music, but the intensity with which they performed right from the start was astounding, to say the least. Vocalist Bobby was the epitome of an adrenalin rush as he spared no one with the power of his high pitched, shrieked vocals. His energy was infectious and just as insane as his hilarious onstage banter; the crowd was lapping up every second. It was truly an experience to see them live; for someone that doesn’t listen to them at all, I did enjoy the energy that the band had for one that’s been around for over three decades now. They do thrash like no one else, going all out on every minute of their set which was filled with tracks from their 18th and most recent studio album ‘The Grinding Wheel’, and went as far back as their very first album ‘Feel the Fire’ with absolute banger “Rotten to the Core“. The energy was beyond electric and you couldn’t help but move in pure thrash metal sync to every solo, beat and rhythm.
The night came to an end at 10 pm on the dot as scheduled, people clearly in a state of euphoria after a day and night of mind-blowing music. I do have to say at this point, massive props to promoter Salman and his crew for pulling off yet another successful edition of the festival, for an event of this kind and size in India, is no small feat. “It’s hard to put those feelings into words, its always a stress to build something like this especially in a country like India where it’s so hard to raise sponsorship and to keep things going. The amount of stress which goes in one week before the festival is just insane, I keep telling my self I can’t do this anymore but after the festival is done I feel like fizz coming out of a champagne bottle after it’s been shaken up!” Bottom line; it was beyond amazing to see such a distinct shift in terms of the music on one line-up at a festival because there was something for everyone. A really eclectic and good mix of bands that proved how diverse metal really is and there was definitely pride on some faces as we exited, as well as gratitude, having witnessed bands that maybe at some point we only could dream of seeing, in India. Until next year….