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Gig Review: Deccan Rock Festival 2009

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December 5th 2009. Palace Grounds, Bangalore, India. Deccan Rock. Textures. Amon Amarth. Heaven, Hell, and everything in between.

Fair warning: This is a long, long review.

Right now, 6 hours of sleep after the concert, with the double bass still ringing in my ear, I’m not sure where to begin. I suppose I shall start off from the top. Adarsh and I arrived at the venue at noon, when there were only a handful of people around. We were stopped at the gate, but when we saw Eccentric Pendulum and Escher’s Knot go backstage, we subtly followed them and sneaked past security. We were in. The first white guy I saw, and I thought damn, we don’t have a camera. That white guy happened to be the Textures drummer Stef Broks. It was almost as if he was welcoming us, and not the other way around, because he spent a lot of time talking to us, indulging in humor, and even sharing honey-dipped cookies that he brought from Holland. Meanwhile, five of the biggest men I’ve ever seen crept out of the tent and headed on stage. Holy shit man, that’s Amarth. My first thought when I saw Johan Hegg – he is fucking huge. His beard was probably bigger than my head. After messing around on stage for a while, they went back to rest in their camp, but Adarsh literally summoned them out for a photo session. Soon, all the locals gathered around for a round of snaps. Satya and I took pictures with Textures as well, but what was better was that they were taking pictures of us, and we hope to make it to their website or podcast.

Adarsh got hold of Eric Kalsbeek – the Textures vocalist, and we interviewed him for a good 15 minutes. Mr. Kalsbeek is a very down-to-earth guy, and I guess that should not surprise me. The conversation went something like this. Allow me to paraphrase.

Adarsh: “How did the name Textures come about?”

Erik: “Well, I wasn’t in the band at that time, but I hear that it is inspired by Cynic’s song. Also, the name defines the type of music we play, and the different layers in our songs.”

Adarsh: “It’s great to have you in India. A lot of people are new to the complex music styles that you play.”

Erik: “It’s good to be here, but we know we aren’t as famous as Amon Amarth.”

Me: “Not yet. You’re only 3 albums old.”

Erik: “Yes, and we’re in the process of writing the fourth one. We usually don’t tour while we’re writing records, but when the opportunity to tour India came about, we decided to make the exception.”

Me: “Why did you make that exception?”

Erik: “Because it’s India!”

Me: *gives him a look that says “oh come on”*

Erik: “It’s a different experience for us. We didn’t know that metal was this huge in India. Why don’t you suggest some Indian bands to me?”

Adarsh: “Eccentric Pendulum, the band that’s playing first. They’re inspired by your music, and even cite you as an influence.”

Me: “Kryptos. Old school thrash.”

Erik: “Old school, ah, that’s great music.”

Me: “We’re hoping that a lot more bands get to tour India, and we’re waiting for the international acts coming up over the next couple of months.”

Erik: “Yes, I guess Maiden opened the doors for a lot of bands.”

Adarsh: “I want to see Meshuggah, maybe you can tell them to come here.”

Erik: “Well, I don’t know them personally, but I will email them and say ‘you bastards, get to India’”.

Adarsh: “What can we expect from you today?”

Erik: “We’re going to be heavy, and we’re going to be loud!”

It was around this time that Amon Amarth began their final sound check. There I was, all by myself, about 5 feet from the stage listening to Pursuit of Vikings, which they wouldn’t play later. They sounded fantastic, in fact, much better than they would sound that night. The desi bands were next to sound check, and that took a good two hours. By this time, we (the fake-crew) were cleared off and had to go outside and wait with the other mortals. It didn’t matter, half our job was done. What did matter was the amount of time that Demonic Resurrection and Bhayanak Maut took to make sure their settings were alright. Time was an important issue, what with the 10:30 ban and cop trouble. We were confident that one or two of the local bands, possibly Eccentric Pendulum and Undying Inc., would not get to play. The gates were supposed to open at 1:30, but remained closed even at 4, leaving about 400 people waiting rather patiently outside. The gates did open, and there was no hurry to get to the front because only about 4 rows were occupied. We put some Pepsi into bodies, checked out band merchandise, and only then did we proceed forward, reaching as far as the second row. Perfect.

Finally, Eccentric Pendulum took the stage. No time to sound check, just plug and play. No matter, they sounded great. I was seeing for the third time in five days, and they had saved their best for the big stage. Sepia Drowns, Mathematicians of Ambient Waters, Sculptor of Negative Emotions and Cut Through The Light composed a brilliant setlist. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate band to start things off and get the crowd warmed up.

EP’s follow up were Inner Sanctum, and it got better with them. Gaurav Basu was possessed all the way through Eye of False, Quarantine, Agent of Chaos and Human Disregard. The two guitars, Chintan especially, were so good it seemed almost child’s play to them. We could see the Textures and Amarth blokes looking at the bands performing, and these two bands made sure that they would leave with a great impression about Indian metal.

Undying Inc., the band from Delhi, were the third band to play. We were a little spent from the neck exercises dished out by EP and IS, so half the crowd emptied before this band began. We took a stroll, gulped down some more Pepsi, went to the IS stall and bought ourselves a kvlt and extremely comfortable Sanctum sweatshirt for 400 bucks. Though we were lumped lazily on the grass watching Undying Inc. hammer it, we couldn’t help but nod our heads, though in a slight fatigue. It was the first time we, the guys from the South, were watching this band, and they completely blew us over. They were a complete package with amazing energy, music that was heavy as hell and an on-stage presence that far surpassed all the other bands that had performed that far. In fact, the Textures guys were watching them from the wings, evidently appreciative of what they were seeing. Undying Inc. were, in a word, brilliant.

Acclaimed Mumbai band Bhayanak Maut sauntered onto stage as a 6-piece outfit. They mostly played stuff from their new album including songs like Ungentle, The Becoming, and Blasted Beyond Belief. Dual vocals was a novel experience for me, and I think it worked very well. BM brought out the first of the mosh pits. They have progressed from the music they initially began with to a fuller, more mainstream metal sound. They were also selling their t-shirts with some great artwork, but I had spent on the sweatshirt, and I needed a Kryptos tee more than anything.

Kryptos. My favorite Indian band by quite a margin. When Nolan walked on stage and wrapped the Liverpool scarf around the mic, I knew I was in store for half an hour of insane pleasure. Kryptos took quite a bit of time to hit the first note. The Manchester United fans began chanting Liverpool Sucks. I’m a huge Liverpool fan, so I chanted Manure abuses back. Nolan took it well initially, though his expression did change after relentless chants against our beloved club. At long last, the lights went out, and operatic music emanated from the PA. The music went on for a good 90 seconds, the band standing still the entire time. It seemed like a choreographed move. I’m not sure what the band was trying to achieve, but it wasn’t a move that worked well. They began with Expedition to Abnormalia (which for some reason I mistook for Altered Destinies). It sounded horrible, and it got worse when the band went off-time on one of the riffs. Heretic Supreme was much better, although we had to stretch our sonic receptors to catch Rohit’s lead guitars. Tower of Illusions was sandwiched in between, and it isn’t one of my favorite songs. It’s rather slow, and I understand why the band plays it (heavy headbanging segments towards the middle and end), but it doesn’t work for me on a live stage. It didn’t matter because my Top 2 Kryptos songs came next – The Revenant and Descension. Beautiful. Did I just say beautiful? I screamed so loud, jumped so high, headbanged so hard that for a good while I forgot that Kryptos weren’t the headlining act. I was half-dead when the band finished their set. I had to save the other half for the Vikings.

Demonic Resurrection were the last Indian band to perform. I promised myself that I would stay still for the next couple of hours, recharging my batteries for the big one. There came a point when the mind switched off and the body took over. You can’t help yourself, you have to bang your head when you listen to good metal. They began with Spirits of the Mystic Mountain, sounding great. The Unrelenting Surge Of Vengeance had an intro riff that was the heaviest I had heard so far. It was absolutely loud. They finished up with Apocalyptic Dawn. A short set, because Textures were waiting.

Textures began at 8. There was no fussy setup, and they launched into their first song One Eye For A Thousand right away. I turned a Textures fan only that morning. I was unable to sleep before the concert, so I listened to their album Drawing Circles at 3 am, falling in love with their ambient passages, but not so much with the heavier riffs. In retrospect, I pity my ignorance; I should have listened to all their albums before the show. Their second song was Swandive, and I dived into their music immediately. Storm Warning was next, which Erik told us was his favorite Textures song because it encompasses all the different styles of music they represent. After that was a song from Polars, which I didn’t recognize having not heard the album. Between Stream of Consciousness and The Sun’s Architect was the crowd favorite Awake, to which a large part of the crowd sang along. They gave us an improvised version of Laments of an Icarus and finished up with Regenesis. Nine songs – it was a job well done. Erik was powerful on both growls and clean vocals, yet he projected a humble persona respecting both the crowd and the band that was to follow. Mention must be given to the bassist Remko Tielemans, who was out of this world. He jumped and flew all over stage. I couldn’t see Stef Broks on the drums and keyboardist Richard Rietdijk behind all the smoke. The entire band seemed to enjoy playing in front of us, it was evident from the smiles and slaps they gave each other at the end of each song. I was initially skeptical about the reception to Textures but the band had a sizable fan following and the rest of us didn’t shut up either.  Towards the end of their set, I did feel a tad impatient waiting for the Swedes. It didn’t matter how good Textures were. Amon Amarth soon brought a frenzy that Textures would have killed for.

The headliners did take a lot of time to get on stage. I glanced at the time nervously, the seconds ticking away as the guitar techs made sure everything was setup right. After what seemed like a year, the five of them – Johan Hegg, Johan Söderberg, Olavi Mikkonen, Ted Lundström and Fredrik Andersson made their way towards their respective instruments like a pack of trolls searching for clubs to beat humans to pulp. I had stood for a picture right next to Hegg before the show began, but when he was on stage he seemed all the more inhuman. Namaskara Bangalore, Hegg screamed, and we chanted him name out so loud he stood surprised and undoubtedly flattered. Twilight. Of. The Thunder God! My initial reaction was “can you hear anything?” because we couldn’t hear a thing. Guitars were low, vocals were low, but of course the drums were in our faces. Either the sound got better or we fine-tuned our ears, more likely the latter, but eventually we did manage to make some sense of the sound that reached us. I wondered who would play Roope Latvala’s solo, and sure enough it was Söderberg who did a fine job on it. Their second song was Free Will Sacrifice. Someone in the crowd had mercifully brought an Amarth flag that flew high and proud. The band surprised me by playing Asator next. I had checked out their prior setlists and they usually saved this song for the end, but playing this song third was an indication of a shortened set. There was neither the pyro nor the Viking battles, so when Hegg said Fire, the golden lights flashed instead. By the time Asator had ended, I had become possessed by the spirit of Thor. Nothing would stop me from headbanging and jumping to every riff. The heaviness of Varyags of Miklagaard came our way next, followed by another surprise in the form of Runes To My Memory – a song I hadn’t expected, and then Guardians of Asgaard. Metal is the only way to live life, said Hegg before the start of Live For The Kill. I couldn’t wait to see what the band would do for Apocalyptica’s cello, but I went crazy when I heard the cellos on the PA. Victorious March meant the night was reaching its end. Hegg didn’t want the Greenpeace activity to begin just yet, because he wanted to turn the heat on with Death In Fire. He was quite surprised when we gave him the pre-song buildup as effectively as any international arena. Hegg told us that it would be their last song on stage, but I was sure he was just messing around, waiting for us to bring them back. Surely they wouldn’t leave without playing Valhalla, Pursuit and Black Birds. As it turned out, they did leave for good. The pitiful organization outdid the bad sound with what resulted in a short set. The last notable thing that Hegg did was launch a can of Kingfisher beer in the air, that fell smack on Ston’d guitarist Sudhir (who stared at the can until it hit him), and some of the beer spilled on my sweatshirt – ironically neither of us drink. The band took off and so did we, but my head wouldn’t stop swaying to the music that still reverberated inside me. I enjoyed a motorcycle ride in the cool wind, often riding with only one hand because the other was still fisting the air.

If one were to postmortem the concert, there would be an inclination to curse the organizers for letting the sound check go unchecked for 2 hours. Concerts like these are hard to come by in this country, and when a foreign act comes to our city, we want to get as much out of them as possible. Amarth left after playing 10 songs, 3 less than their average set. However, when you get the abuses out of your system, you let the ecstasy of a memorable gig seep into you. Orka Networks, in association with The Live Gig, was responsible for bringing Textures and Amon Amarth to India. Setting aside the inevitable shortcomings, it was a commendable effort. Kudos to The Live Gig on completing their first year in the business, it must have been a great way to celebrate the anniversary.

I have been writing this review for 6 hours, with intermittent breaks. To tell you the truth, it feels stupid to be sitting at home after what I experienced yesterday. It wasn’t the best gig I had ever been to, it was the best day in 22 years of measly existence. I suddenly remember a Facebook application that asked me to list 5 bands I’d want to see in a dream festival. Amon Amarth made that list three months ago. I’m pretty sure I had Porcupine Tree on that list too. If you’re beginning to think that I’m clairvoyant, maybe you should begin anticipating Dark Tranquillity, Arch Enemy and leave the last one to your fantasies. I doubt if I’d ever get to see something like yesterday again, but if that does happen, boy I can’t wait.

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