The term “black metal” was coined way back in 1982 as the title of Venom‘s second album. The band proudly took their music into the darkest territory metal had dared to trod, and it was pretty shocking at the time. Back then, any group tarred with the “Satanism” brush were persecuted as if it were the Salem witch trials. In the 1980s, mainstream acts Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were actually put on trial for their music. The ridiculous allegation was that their songs had “caused” their fans to commit suicide. It was recognized that these actions were nothing more than political posturing, at least until the 1990s. The metal-related church burnings and murders in Sweden during 1992-1996 were all too real to be dismissed.
It is against this background that I have followed the black metal movement, although it has been some time since I have listened to the music. And I can honestly say that I have never heard a metal band (black or otherwise) from Sri Lanka. So when I heard about a new split album featuring two Sri Lankan black metal bands, I was more than a little intrigued. The groups in question are Funeral In Heaven, and Plecto Aliquem Capite, and the album is titled Astral Mantras of Dyslexia. As it turns out, there is some wild stuff going on in Southeast Asian metal these days.
Astral Mantras contains seven tracks, three from each band, plus a collaborative final cut. Funeral In Heaven go first, with “Transmigrations Into Eternal Submission (of Altered Consciousness)” (11:30). I was practically certain I had been taken for a ride when I heard this one. “Transmigrations” features traditional Hindu instruments plus keyboards playing what borders on a tribal chant. It is definitely not what I expected to hear on this album, especially as the opening cut.
The darkness descends with the next tune though, “Bandhana (Gatahaththey Kathaa Wasthuwa)” (12:41). The black metal is present here no question, with heavy, down-tuned guitars, and some truly otherworldly vocals. It becomes clear that “Transmigrations” was there to set an atmospheric stage where anything is possible. And with “Bandhana” that promise is fulfilled.
Funeral In Heaven’s final piece is almost superfluous at this point, because we definitely get what they are all about now. So they throw another left-turn by covering “Buddhang Saranang,” (7:12), which was written by fellow Sri Lankans Thapas. The occult feel of this tune remains fully intact, and with their atmospheric (and lengthy) arrangement, Funeral In Heaven definitely live up to their name.
Plecto Aliquem Capite translates to “Suffer Capital Punishment,” which is a philosophy they live up to. Plecto’s side begins with another ethnic instrumental number, titled “Lament” (4:14). Their take is a bit different from FIH’s more tribal feel, as they seem to almost go into an almost folk direction.
Next we are treated to “Stoned Guru Ramblings” (6:31), a wild track which takes black metal to the very edge of sanity thanks to some truly ungodly sounds courtesy of the entire band. PAC’s final entry is “Cemetery of the Deep” (4:38). The doom is heavy in this uncompromising and disturbing slab of metal. The return of some of the older, “traditional” instrumentation just adds to the overall haunting feeling of the song.
“Crestfallen: Immolating Shakthi” (8:33) features both Funeral In Heaven and Plecto Aliquem Capite. This collaboration is as extreme an example of Sri Lankan black metal as can be imagined. The vocals alone are enough to make one’s hair stand on end, but it is only part of the story. All the classic black metal elements are in place, and the inclusion of the more traditional music at the tail end of the track wraps things up perfectly.
I’m not sure what I expected to hear on Astral Mantras of Dyslexia, but I know it wasn’t this. Both of these bands are moving the genre of black metal forward in ways I never thought possible. Although the music is different, I am reminded of the first time I heard the classic Roots from Sepultura. While I would never call this “world music” or “world metal” for that matter, the inclusion of the traditional instruments on Astral Mantras definitely raises the bar for everyone.
This is as powerful and as adventurous an album as one is likely to hear this year. But make no mistake, at heart both of these fully embrace the ethos of black metal. Check out the Dunkelheit Produktionen label (based in Germany) for more information on this incredible album.