From it’s birth in the coldest extremes of Scandinavia, black metal slowly spread across Europe like a harsh plague, invading territories with a barrage of riffs, twig shaped logos, minimalist artwork and sounds often characterised by especially harsh, thin vocals. Over the years, the style has become more refined, mixing the purer elements with death metal depths and complexities. In allowing itself to be more inclusive of a few other extreme metal styles, it seemed to become even more influential – a huge surprise for a metal subgenre born within such extremities. In short, it’s all come a very long way from it’s roots; it’s no longer about painting your face white and considering burning a church during your spare time.
From one of the more unlikely territories to be inspired by black metal, India’s Heathen Beast mean business on their third release ‘The Carnage of Godra’ – a short but accomplished offering that acts as a great showcase for their style. From the opening bars of the title cut, they make it very clear that their work isn’t going to pander to the purists, starting with samples of Indian chants and a very world music outlook. The introduction of loud rhythms – like an amplified tabla – just reinforces the band’s distinctive sound, before a wall of guitars swamps almost everything. The rhythm guitar work comes closer to the styles you might expect from a death/black hybrid, particularly during the fastest sections where things pummel relentlessly, but most of the number is more thoughtful than that, slow enough to make room for an atmospheric guitar lead that borrows heavily from traditional eastern arrangements, before topping everything with a deep thrash chug. The vocals are hard, distorted and uncompromising, as their frontman seethes and hisses opinions on the world crumbling under the weight of false religious beliefs of how it matters not whether they are Hindu or Muslim, when there are bodies burning, they’re just “humans in the fire” and of how war is not and should not be “in the name of a god, your imaginary friend”. It’s all very thought provoking stuff.
Feeling the need to follow this with something even more intense, ‘Ab Ki Baar Atyachar’ throws the listener further into the eye of the political warzone, with the retelling of a scenario where innocent people were massacred, where riot police did further human damage and there were “mountains of bodies, in four trucks disposed”. Among the carnage, people were molested and burnt. It’s all deeply upsetting stuff, but in the eyes of the band, it all needs to be addressed, and with regards to the extremism, we should “think of the hate they create, Hindu or Muslim, it doesn’t matter…Religion should be dead”. Naturally, this is all played out against an even more intense backdrop than before, with the drums often going full tilt on the pneumatics, the muted guitars thrashing relentlessly and a man tearing his throat to be heard. Without a lyric sheet, it’s hard, but rest assured, it’s all there in the cold light of day. By the time ‘Gurav Yatra (The Aftermath)’ presents itself, it becomes clearer that this EP has been somewhat of a concept piece, this third number telling of events after those within the first tracks. After the veritable storm of the previous track, ‘The Aftermath’ winds things down with the most melodic arrangement, as twin guitars power through a melodic line that fuses world music with the slow elements of classic thrash. Underneath a scratchy vocal, the riff lumbers along with a threatening groove, occasionally feeling as if it might break into something more intense, but aside from the inclusion of a few double bass pedals, this is surprisingly traditional. Closing with a full compliment of war drums and multi-tracked guitars, the sounds are more Soulfly than In The Woods, but it’s all excellently played. Lyrically, of course, there’s still no respite from the “widespread carnage” and “the justice that never came”, before asking that all important question “does the butchering of the innocent really quench blood thirst?”
The band makes no apology for such intense messages; in their own words, they “only show you what exists. [Our] only weapon is truth.”
Although Heathen Beast bill themselves as a black metal band, their abilities to fuse black metal vocals with other extreme metal styles is appealing – more so than the cold and more traditional route taken by many. These three tracks pack a lot in to a short playing time, without ever losing sight of the bigger picture that perhaps a full-length release might offer, largely thanks to a thematic lyrical concern which shows conviction in it’s beliefs. It’s often frighteningly confrontational and very harsh, but for what it represents, ‘Saffron Empire’ is a well-crafted work of passion through aggression.