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Raw passion for heavy metal: Interview with Powersurge, the thrash metal militia of Bangladesh

Posted in Bangladesh, Heavy Metal, Interviews, Music, Thrash Metal by Sherpa Hossainy on November 1, 2010

Published in The Daily Independent’s “Dhaka Live” supplement on 23rd October 2010

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A skull rests at the entrance of the practice pad where Powersurge, Bangladesh’s most successful thrash metal band, are rehearsing, it seemed to whisper a warning, “Caution – explosives inside!”  Vocalist Jamshed appeared at the door sweating and panting heavily, followed by the long-haired lead guitarist Nahian and drummer Rafa. The heat is surely on. The heavy metal music scene has a relatively long history in Bangladesh but it is so under-documented that a Google search on the topic brings forth articles about arsenic pollution!

Powersurge performing in “Concert for Sundarbans”

In the early 80s, bands like Rockstrata and Warfaze rocked Dhaka but it was only in the 90s that the scenario burst into life with Cryptic Fate, Holocaust and Psycho Death playing regular gigs at venues such as the PG Auditorium and the Russian Cultural Center (RCC). Since then heavy metal music in Bangladesh has been resurrected by the likes of Artcell and Mechanix.

Powersurge formed in 2006 and despite various line-up changes, Jamshed and Nahian have stuck with it. In 2007 they became the ‘D-Rockstar’ winners, beating out competition from bands playing more popular genres such as alternative, punk and psychedelic rock. They were the first heavy metal band to perform on Bangladeshi television and the response was stupendous. Speaking about the positive reaction Nahian says, “We expressed our emotions with a raw aggressiveness. After the competition, a viewer told me that he had never heard heavy metal music before and started listening to Metallica after he heard us.”

Nahian in action: Concert at North South University Campus

The American Rock music writer Deena Weinstein stated heavy metal outlasted other genres in the West because its intense subculture of alienation holds a lasting appeal for many.  While heavy metal is the music for the lower and middle class in the West, in Bangladesh things are different, where it’s the upper-class youths, with exposure to Western trends who dominate the scene.  Fans and performers are often identified by their uniform of all black, long hair, piercings and tattoos, but that’s a stereotype best avoided, or is it? Clarifying whether heavy metal is more of a fashion rather than a passion, Nahian states, “For us, it’s a passion. But, yes, we see a lot of posers who think that metal is a cool new thing to do, just like hip-hop.”

“There are many posers lurking around the scene.” Jamshed adds for good measure. Nahian thinks that many of the bands lack authenticity, “They don’t even look like the way they should and the attitude is missing. Some bands switch genres whenever they want, create their own weird fusions, so they don’t belong in any category – they sound like parasites.”

The highly explicit lyrics and subversive nature of the music, with its focus on angst is unprecedented in other forms. Powersurge’s lyrics are about politics, war, social troubles and historical conflicts in Bengal.  Though metal lyrics often deploy a fiery use of slang and swearing, Jamshed disagrees, “It’s not true that slang must be used in metal music. Slang is used in every genre, even Britney does it. We use slang to give our music the aggression that is needed. It’s about what brings out the emotions best.”

Heavy metal has been denounced as a threat to traditional values in many Muslim countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon and Malaysia, with musicians and fans arrested and imprisoned. Rafa comments on this, “Islam does not allow music. But I don’t believe there should be a clash between religion and music.” Jamshed echoes the sentiment, “Music is only music, and it’s nothing that you preach.”

The band does not believe that Bengali culture hinders the growth of metal music any more than other cultures. Nahian points out, “Heavy metal is not appreciated in many countries. Even in India, Slayer [one of the most successful metal bands of all time] was not allowed to perform due to religious sentiments.”

After two decades of head banging, unfortunately the Bangladeshi metal scene hasn’t made a mark on the global music scene laments Nahian, “Bangladeshi bands haven’t even impacted the Asian scene. This is partly due to local record labels lacking the ability to produce proper merchandise. CDs in Bangladesh are cheaper and there’s no jewel case, no t-shirts, no leaflets, collectibles or other merchandising. And there are no specific gigs just for metal music. Many shows feature extreme metal bands performing with alternative rock bands so it gets all messed up.”

The explosive headbangers: Nahian (L) and Samir (R)

The band further mourns the absence of music promoters in Bangladesh specifically promoting metal bands. Nahian rued this fact, “Everyone wants to play the guitar or drums but nobody wants to promote metal – there are so few organizers.” They hope that the media will provide more support for heavy metal, Jamshed demands, “All we need is an hour long radio program each week. FM radio stations have segments for all genres except metal.”

Powersurge’s first album, “Auprostut Juddho,” was dubbed a “masterpiece of modern thrash metal.” Commenting on their devotion to heavy metal, Nahian said, “I want to play heavy metal as long as I can physically endure it.” While reflecting on the band’s popularity, he states, “We’ve made some achievements, but achievements have no limitations, right?”

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