Demonic Resurrection: By Demons Driven

India's emerging extreme metal scene owes a debt of gratitude to Demonic Resurrection, a band that braved an attempted stoning and defied deeply etched cultural expectations to bring heavy music to the subcontinent.

Metal is a global movement, disseminated to every far flung corner of the earth via the tools of the Disinformation Age by now, but that still doesn’t lessen the sense of excitement and anticipation that comes with being exposed to a scene that, in the eyes of the international metal community, is still relatively new. This is how many a metal head must feel upon taking their first tentative steps toward discovering extreme metal in the Indian subcontinent — a path that can really only begin with one band, Demonic Resurrection.

Just a decade ago, India, the populous nation over a billion strong, was dominated largely by cover acts and crowds that pitched up to gigs expecting to hear material familiar to their nascent tastes. It was at this time that a group of 17-year-old kids decided to ram a gangly arm up the scene’s ass—India’s first extreme metal enema. At the time, Demonic Resurrection received a welcome that was less a warm reception than an exercise in dexterity and dodging random projectiles, says band founder and last original member standing Sahil “Demonstealer” Makhija.

“We actually had one gig where we had paper cups thrown at us and another where the crowd threw stones because we were playing really extreme music and no covers, so it did not go down well,” he says, downplaying the situation slightly. But it wasn’t all refuse and attempted stoning.

 “When we started it was the initial stages of a real scene so we had huge support. Most bands supported each other and there were many positives as well.”

Thanks in part to the perseverance of Demonic Resurrection, the Indian metal scene began to develop in major urban centers such as Mumbai, Pune, and Delhi, as well as Bangalore, Kolkata, and Hyderabad. However, even the basic notion of going to watch a live show was something completely alien to Indian culture, according to Demonstealer. He goes on to add that there really is no such thing as separate metal, folk, jazz, and rock scenes in India. There is simply the live music scene, with every genre and subgenre under the blazing equatorial sun melted into it. Gradually, however, certain facets of the scene are beginning to branch out on their own, developing a unique audience, spawning genre-specific festivals and events, and cultivating a wider following. Still, metal bands in India have obstacles to face stemming from poverty, lack of places to play, and pressure to conform to stifling cultural norms, something metal heads the world over can surely relate to.

“With metal, the main problem in India is venues and the ability of the audience to spend money and buy CDs, which somewhat hampers sustainability, hence most bands ended after five years or so when they reached the age where careers became their priority.”

As a result, there are only a handful of Indian metal bands that have managed to last past the half decade mark, and only two, including Demonic Resurrection, that have survived for ten years plus. Throughout the band’s 11-year existence, Demonstealer has dealt with numerous lineup shifts on the way to releasing three full length albums and an EP. The process has been something of an ongoing experiment, tinkering with new elements here and there, keeping what works and discarding the rest—learning on the job, so to speak, while at the same time providing an example for other bands in India to follow. Demonic Resurrection’s first album, also called Demonstealer, was recorded by Sahil at home on his computer just nine months after he formed the band. At the time, he was simply overjoyed to get his own music down on CD, but in retrospect he looks back on the album with a mix of pride and modest embarrassment.

“Was I happy? At that point yes because it was one of the first independent home recorded demos by an Indian metal band, and I was 17 so I was fucking over the moon to hear my songs and see a CD of my own. Looking back, I don’t mind if people hear it, but I’m not happy with it and would love to re-record those songs, but I think I’m just going to let sleeping demons lie for now.”

Rather than rush the next batch of songs, Demonstealer took a more measured approach on the next album, taking his time to put together the right lineup of musicians, and actually replacing everyone in the band. They dropped all the songs from the band’s debut and started fresh, letting go of their previous gothic style and leaning more toward a symphonic black metal approach with power metal undertones. Five years after their first album came out, Demonic Resurrection had its breakthrough release, A Darkness Descends, which also became the first release on Sahil’s new label, the appropriately named Demonstealer Records. The label has grown over the years, but Sahil brings an artist’s touch and a workmanlike attitude to what can at times be a dirty business.

“I’ve worked the label like an artist would, which is probably why I’ve not made any money, and I still have a day job to pay for things. My label still survives despite the decline of the industry and I’m working harder now to make it somewhat profitable so that it makes sense to continue to run. I’ve got some great partners like artistaloud.com and I’m currently working with a major label that will assist me with distribution channels and I expect it to actually grow and be more beneficial to myself as well as the artists on my label.”

Next up for Demonic Resurrection were further lineup changes and the release of the Beyond the Darkness EP in 2007, which saw the band adopt some spacey sounds to go along with their evolving symphonic collage. It was around this time that the band started to generate somewhat of a buzz in international circles, proving that you have to be at the right place at the right time to succeed, and also that if you never go stagnant, you’re more likely to be in that right place when the spotlight falls upon it. That spotlight came in the form of Sam Dunn’s Global Metal documentary film, the follow-up to the highly successful Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. With the film highlighting India’s metal scene, it was only fitting that Demonic Resurrection be included in the soundtrack alongside such global heavyweights as Lamb of God, Sepultura, and In Flames. Demonstealer even organized the Indian metal festival featured in the film.

This milestone was followed by a national tour of India, during which Demonic Resurrection had the rare opportunity to travel to and play at places where, although metal was not entirely foreign, literally no metal band had ever played before.

“We travelled to many universities where these kids knew their metal but there is no local metal scene so these guys were absolutely crazy. I mean they can’t have a few beers over the weekend and watch a local show, so this is their moment to unleash all their frustrations and at each city we got a crazy response from the crowds because metal heads are the same everywhere. It was new for us to go to these places and see such enthusiasm because we did not know what to expect.”

In saying this Sahil briefly touches on the fact that even though metal is growing in India, that growth does not mean it is gaining acceptance in a larger segment of society. Parents still fret whenever their little one’s hair starts creeping down past the chin line and they start listening to heavy music, or developing an interest in playing any form of music, for that matter, urging them away from such supposedly idle and fruitless pursuits towards something that might secure a stable income and a comfortable existence.

“Most people are oblivious to the music and the lifestyle but parents do object to their kids growing their hair or playing guitar and not focussing on their studies,” says Demonstealer of the prevailing attitude toward metal in India. “Sometimes they worry that because their kids listen to rock or metal they will get into drugs and things like that. It is the case for other styles of music as well like hip hop, trance etcetera because it is a break away from the Indian culture. Metal has no scope as a career and therefore parents put pressure on their kids when they reach the age of about 21 or 22 to really focus on their career because there isn’t any scope to make music a full time job, and even if you do you will not make as much money as you could.”

2010 proved to be the biggest year yet for Demonic Resurrection, despite any reservations those of the older generation in the band member’s families may have had. The band put out its third full album, The Return to Darkness, which was released internationally by Candlelight Records, received the Global Metal prize at the Metal Hammer Golden God Awards, and journeyed to Europe to make an appearance at a few festivals for the first time. This time around, there would be no stones hurled, only admiration as the crowds embraced India’s first true metal export—the first Indian metal band to slough off the expectations of conformity and claw its way to the international level. All of this was, unsurprisingly, a dream come true for Sahil and his band mates, and the ride isn’t over yet, not by a Kolkata kilometer.

This summer, Demonic Resurrection will become the first Indian band to grace the stage at the U.K.’s Sonispere Festival, which will also feature the famed Big Four. Demonstealer is, to say the least, bursting with excitement at the opportunity, and hopeful that a few of this year’s headliners may soon make the journey to his homeland.

“We are excited as hell and can’t wait to get to the U.K., kick ass on stage, and then have a blast at the festival watching, and hopefully meeting, all the awesome bands playing there like the Big Four, Opeth, Arch Enemy, and Periphery. There are people in India who want to kill us because we get to see Slayer and Metallica and I know Indian metal heads are just waiting for these bands to come to India. God knows they’ve waited long enough and deserve it.”

Even with such heady opportunities on the horizon, Demonstealer and co. aren’t letting visions of joining the elite block out the master plan, and already have a tentative strategy in place to get their next album out by 2012. The band also hopes to do its first full European tour in the summer of next year, hitting all the major metal festivals of the season. Demonstealer also hints toward something special to commemorate the band’s long journey to the top of the Indian metal scene.

“We also want to do a documentary style DVD on the bands 10 year journey, but let’s see how things go, or else we’ll have to leave that for the 15 year anniversary.”