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Days 1 and 2 of The Deccan Rock Festival at Mountain Heights, Hyderabad

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It was a warm, dry afternoon. Feasting on the extreme local cuisine was the first priority that day. Hyderabadi Biryani, at Four Seasons was a delight and best served with soda. With yummies in our tummies, we arrived well ahead of the crowd. The location was Mountain Heights which is primarily a tourist attraction with huge naturally occurring boulders covering the landscape. Quite an apt place for “Deccan Rock,” one would think.

Day One of the festival was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. but no one was allowed to enter the venue before 4:30 p.m. and the show went on to start only by 4:45 p.m.  Usually, rock/metal shows do start late but when you are promised performances by 10 bands in a day and the show starts when the evening is setting in, one would wonder how much time each band would finally get. The crowd which had gathered wasn’t big and till about 4 p.m., there was probably only around 30-35 attendees who had gathered to get their passes and many of them were familiar faces spotted regularly at metal gigs in Bangalore.

It was interesting to see so many sponsors for this festival including a TV partner in Maa Music.  Although the ground at the venue wasn’t as large as the one at Palace Grounds, being enveloped on one side by trees and rocky hills gave it a scenic setting (in the words of Barney Ribeiro of Nervecell we’d call it “a tranquility in this place”). The stage wasn’t as big as you would expect it be for an open air concert, but it surely was a visual treat to see big chunks of rocks serving as the backdrop and a hut nearby used as the green room gave it a rather rustic feel.

A quick word about the stalls – besides the regular stalls for eateries and beer, there was a merchandise stall by Moshpit: The Gore Store with death metal and black metal T-shirts, hoodies, badges and keychains. There was another stall with merchandise from Funeral in Heaven, Sybreed, Violent Eve, Escher’s Knot and Motor Militia.

The first band to start Day One’s proceedings was Hyderabad’s Shock Therapy who opened with their first song ‘Sparrows‘. They had played this song nearly a month ago at the Signs of Chaos fest in Bangalore and in no way could one have expected their vocalist to impersonate one of the popular cartoon characters Tweety in this song. The impersonation this time wasn’t as funny as the last time but what didn’t fail to tickle our funny bones was when a cameraman from Maa Music came up on the stage and started moving his camera in front of the guitars to give a zoom-in-zoom-out effect one would usually behold in South Indian music videos! Shock Therapy was on the groovier side of Slam death metal in their set at Signs of Chaos but they seemed more in the brutal riffing vein this time at the Deccan Rock. It was interesting to see them dedicate a song to Abandoned Agony which had some tight and intense riffing in it. A thumbs up to Shock Therapy for giving a good start to the fest.

Shades of Retribution got us confused with their sound – in the beginning, they seemed like a modern thrash metal band but in between their set they seemed to have a metalcore sound. The vocalist has a very raspy voice and they also have one of the band members play ethnic Assamese instruments which may have sounded great in the recordings didn’t blend quite well with the music when played live.

There is never a dull moment when Escher’s Knot takes to the stage, we just stood there mesmerized by the band – the energy is always on a high! They played the their usual set and jammed with Violent Eve’s guitarist to cover some tracks by Meshuggah . It was during their set that the first moshpit started and a wall, although a weak one, was formed.

Evergreen is a very tight, alternative hard rock outfit, but on that day they sounded quite ordinary. They kept dedicating songs to Motor Militia and Violent Eve who kept cheering which was so repetitive that it got quite funny after a while! They ended their stint with Louie Armstrong’s number ‘What a Wonderful World’ (Remember the show was against global warming!)

The first international band for the day was Antim Grahan from Nepal and boy, did they blow our minds away! Though mostly a melodic black metal act, they had brutal groovy riffs infused in some of their songs which just added another dimension to the band’s music and got everyone into a headbanging frenzy. Keyboards were also included in their music and were meant to add to the riffs rather than stand out on their own. Together with the guitars they created some great melodic segments. The sound was perfect; the vocals and all the instruments were perfectly audible. The lights were mellowed down during their set which added to the feel and the atmosphere. All in all, Antim Grahan was definitely the band of the day. It was interesting to know that they have been around since the first half of the previous decade and already have five albums in their discography.

Motor Militia was okay and had nothing extraordinary about them. What they did have though was 3-4 guitarists who made the stage seem a lot smaller during their set.

Violent Eve was the second good band of the day – they sounded great and their music ranged from death to metal core. Of all the bands their set lasted a little longer. A round of moshes followed when they played which mostly consisted of kids between the age of 14-16, beer in hand. Wonder who sold them that!

Sybreed turned out to be a serious let down. Maybe Violent Eve should have been chosen as the headliners. They played some techno stuff from the console which was definitely not suitable for a live show. We left after the first song.

Day 2 had ten of the remaining bands performing including the big names, thrashers from Dubai, Nervecell and the premier Polish Death metal band Decapitated along with Cyanide Serenity (UK), Inner Guilt (Lebanon), Funeral in Heaven (Sri Lanka), Devoid (India), III Sovereign (India) and Abandoned Agony (India). Though ten was the promised number, Sledge and Artillerie were two bands that didn’t play that evening.

After an extended tanning session under the sun waiting for the bands to finish their sound check, we were let in with a handful of other early birds, when our wrist watches were about to tick close to 5 p.m. Three hours past the entry time mentioned on the ticket. No surprises there.

The venue was setup with numerous stalls for tshirts and other merchandise along with food and beverage counters. Though it was not a big enough ground for a concert, it was sufficient to accomodate a few thousands.The stage was set against backdrop of rocks that were abundant in the venue. The setup on stage seemed simple with good lighting and a modest PA. Three drum kits were placed around the backend of the stage. This was a clever move as it helped the bands to successively take stage without wasting much time on drumkit setups. Sprawling the stage were the video camera crew from MAA TV armed with their equipment, whose over-the-top antics to get the best shots kept us amused.

After a few sips of God’s gift a.k.a good old beer and a quick tour of all the stalls, we were all set for the first act of the evening. Abandoned Agony was the first band to rip the air waves. This is a band that’s no stranger to the extreme metal scene. The trio delivered one song after another with precision. In the literal sense of stand and deliver, they went through a set of some serious death metal. The shredding action from Hitesh was the highlight of their performance. Their tracks are framed around complex structures and can get pretty technical at times. And like most bands who the dare to venture that far, sadly they received only a lukewarm response from the crowd.

No proxy for Artillerie.

III Sovereign is a band that any old timer Indian metal follower would instantly recognize. With respectable old death metal influences, they appealed to death metal listeners who would prefer aged music over the newer tones. The effort to bring in energy on stage was commendable. Vocalist Devraj traversed the entire width of the stage. Reuben, the drummer added charm with rhythmic head banging and slick drumming. Although the stage act was great, their music couldn’t reach out to the audience save for a few people who really seemed to be enjoying the music.

Devoid was next. I was rather keen to see them live since I had heard quite a lot about this Mumbai based Thrash metal act and I wasn’t disappointed. The crowd was pleased with track list which included many favorites like ‘Beer Song’, ‘Battle Cry‘ and other tracks from their album. Vocalist and Rhythm Guitarist, Arun makes for a terrific frontman. Bassist Frank brought out his inner animal on stage. The crowd dove into a pit and started head banging and cheering to every track. Fast riffs and mind numbing drums fills are ingredients for the perfect recipe to get your crowd into frenzy and that’s just what happened. I could not help but notice influences of Miland Petrozza in the front man’s vocal style. Good thrash metal was served and we liked it.

No proxy was given for Sledge either.

Sri Lankan melodic Black metal outfit Funeral in Heaven was the surprise of the lot. Their sound is a amalgamation of black metal with traditional percussion instruments which included the versatile Tabla. The percussion as a tasteful layer topped over the underlying rhythmic parts. This is the sound of what they like to call “Sri Lankan Ritualistic Black Metal”. There were instances of very noticeable sound problems during the set. Their set list covered some impressive original compositions. That being said there was also some scope for improvement in levels setup at the concert stage console which could have really helped in enjoying the band better as some instruments were hardly heard.

Inner Guilt from Lebanon is thrash metal band. We couldn’t find the thrash that was expected but it was a more modern thrash that the crowd seemed to actually enjoy. The mosh pit was alive again and so was sound in the PA which was fixed after the sound assistant made a trip to the stage and back. The band managed to connect with the crowd and put up a good show.

“We don’t care about record sales, all we care is connecting with you by our music” said Matt McKay vocalist of Cyanide Serenity said which lead to an uproar in number in the most pit which finally resulted in one fallen barricade and a few stunned steroid bouncers (dudes who looked like the ones you can find in local gyms) . This video will show you how. Before something important was damaged by the crowd near the stage, reinforcements of the steroid bouncers arrived who pushed everyone back behind the barricades and “bounced” the show back like nothing ever happened. Cyanide Serenity is a metal act from UK with modern sound and metal core influences. This was the band in the fest that the crowd really picked up. Great stage presence by the band members and an in-your-face vocalist , keeping his vocal capabilities apart, exemplified the electric atmosphere and energy that goes into making a metal concert what it really is.

Meanwhile, in the vicinity, Official Tshirts of Nervecell, Sybreed, Motor Militia, Violet Eve, Devoid, Decapitated were available at the stall along with CDs. Nervecell offered fantastic artwork on their shirts. Decapitated shirts arrived in haste and were a terrible disappointment. The shirts were still warm from the ink printed on them. With such quality it’s hard for the print to even survive a few washes and wears.

Nervecell has toured India in the recent past and had received some rave reviews as well. The band was invited as co-headliners for Day 2.They took to the stage without wasting any time. Due to time constraints they had to rush through their set list which included two new tracks from their new album Psychogenocide (Terrific artwork!). Vocalist and Bassist Rajeh mentioned that these tracks received their first live play at the show. It was a very tight performance with a set list that lasted around 45 mintues of some kickass no nonsense death metal with no breaks. The band has a good build of fan base in India, which they are very fond of. Post gig Rajeh and Guitarist Barnaby were seen signing and interacting with fans at their T-shirts kiosk.

It was nearing 10:30 when Decapitated finally took to the stage and they seemed to be in no real hurry. It was well into the night, the heat was beaten and the bouncers were vigilant for the next wave of kids ramming into barricades. The new line up now features Rafal on vocals, much anticipated drummer Krimh and Heinrich filling in with the bass duties. Waclaw “Vogg” Kieltyka is the only original band member left in the band. After a brief sound check by the Krimh, they kicked off their set with ‘Visual Delusion’ from their last album. It dropped hard on an eagerly expecting crowd, who reacted instantly by banging their heads to the teeth-grinding guitar tone and the face-slapping drum beats. The set list covered tracks from their last album ‘Day 69’, ‘A Poem About An Old Prison Man’ and the latter half of the set had their heavier classics like their signature ‘Spheres of Madness‘, ‘Three-dimensional Defect’ and ‘The Fury‘. A couple of newer tracks including ‘404‘ were played, however Rafal left the crowd guessing if it were from the newer material they had been working before the tour.

Vogg had a setup of two Marshall Cabinets wired as two channels for stereo. Using foot pedals to switch between Left and Right channels, he played around alternating between the channels for few intros and bridges. His more frequented use of loops using foot pedals and prolonged delays showed signs of exploration and experimentation in the sound of the band. From the looks and sounds of it, the new album can be expected to pack quite a surprise to fans especially older fans.

Before the crowd had soaked in all the metal, they were done with the setlist. However, just after they cleared the stage they got back on stage to play their last track ‘The Fury‘ before finally leaving the stage for good. Vogg did his exit by letting a piece of riff that he played last, loop till it faded away to a hum.

On realizing that the show was really over, we walked back to the stalls. After a round of “meet and greet”  with Nervecell, the next thing we had in our minds at 12:00 a.m. was dinner, which of course  will be covered in our next write up on “Hog food like a Hog: A guide to wannabe gourmets”. Or not.

Abhilash Achar

Abhilash Achar may be remembered as the (in)famous guy behind hits such as 'Extraterrestrial Human Being' and 'The guy who spent way too much time on the internet' or from his earlier works such as 'Serving justice in the mosh-pit'. He is currently working on his next big hit, 'Lounge Bedroom Music for a Metalhead' (You are welcome.) Find his musical misadventures at last.fm/user/humanethb

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