Wacken Metal Battle – Global Heavy Metal Competition Hits Colombo
When the G Shock Metal battle was announced in the latter part of 2018, I was quite intrigued as I had never been to one and not one in SL. Heavy metal being an acquired taste and a sort of underground movement in Sri Lanka, events on such a scale are not common. And I have been attending gigs only for the past 5 years coz I was introduced to the genre rather late in life. So when this was announced with the 5 competing bands, I was quite pleased that an event of that nature was taking place in Colombo.
The event took place on the 15th of December 2018 at IdeaHell in Colombo and was organised by the Suriya Brothers and was a part of the Wacken Metal Battle Challenge where the overall winner performs at Bangalore Wacken Battle and then that winner gets to go perform in Wacken Germany (one of the most prominent metal festivals in the world where the likes of Iron Maiden, Arch Enemy, Meshuggah etc. play).
One thing though, I had no idea how they selected the 5 bands – apparently entries but there was no mention of this on the event page or on any other communication with regard to the event. So the 5 bands were Abyss, Paranoid Earthling, Neurocracy, Mass Damnation & Stigmata. These were names we had heard and seen perform so they were no strangers to the metal scene in Colombo.
My first experience with the event was when I tried to buy the ticket online. The link was to a BookMyShow event and somehow the transaction went through but I got a failed message saying that the ‘cinema’ had not responded and thereby my booking had failed though my transaction went through. There were 2 options for a refund but the first tab didn’t work and the second one was for MyWallet and this tab did work. Funnily though there was no option beyond so I wrote to the BookMyShow email and I posted on the Facebook event page coz this transaction seemed rather dodgy. I was promised a refund in 10 working days (by this time the event would have been over) so I was quite worried. The Wacken Metal Battle was locally organised by the Suriya Brothers and they got in touch with me (after deleting my FB post) and proceeded to be very helpful. I wrote to a Salman Syed and he assured me BookMyShow is legit and that I would get my refund soon.
Anyhow I didn’t bother getting the ticket online again – Asanga & Pubudu of Suriya Brothers assured me I can get my ticket and so I paid them the 1500 online and managed to sort my ticket out .
Anyhow leading up to the day of the event I was wondering what time the event would start. Different posts kept saying 6pm, 6.30pm, 7pm. I have been to enough metal shows to know they never start on time (especially in SL) but since this was a competition I assumed some semblance of punctuality would be maintained.
IdeaHell was alive at 6.50pm when I got there and the first band – Abyss was due to go on at 7pm. So we waited and waited and waited outside and somehow we were told 7.30pm – you know how it is blah blah and so we waited. Finally the competition commenced at 8pm. We were told there are local judges as well as Indian judges. Dulip WIjesuriya, Salman Syed, Chathuranga Fonseka and one more Indian judge apparently. Somehow inside there was no demarcated space or seated area for judges. I have participated in two World Choir Games, two Asia Pacific Choir games and there were always areas allocated for the judges, clear of other people and clear of disturbances. Even TNL onstage has that kind of set up. Heck it’s the norm in any competition. Yet here the judges were standing on a side and no one could tell them from the others in attendance. It was like a regular rock show – so I told myself this must be a metal thing.
Since each band was allocated only 20 minutes, I figured it would be a tight set and the judges would be there to assess and decide. So we went in when Abyss started and stood watching the performance. Abyss was heavy with a lot of growling and Lamb of God style music. No guitar work or anything out of the ordinary. Just very heavy and strong as a performance. Again no signs of where the judges were seated or any kind of indication of where they were. At the end, Salman Syed (the main organiser from India and a judge) got onstage and decided to have a head banging competition while the next band set up. It got the crowd going as well and was quite an interactive session.
Afterwards Paranoid Earthling took to the stage and their style of music was very different to Abyss. There were more melodic elements but again not much guitar work and not as much growling either. It was a good contrast. After their performance there was another head banging competition while Neurocracy set up. When Neurocracy started, it was quite a good balance of growling and some melodic guitar work – not really intricate solos as such – but still more work than the other two. The pit was alive throughout and most were enjoying the music and the sheer energy of the bands.
A funny thing we noticed throughout was how the judges kept walking in and out of the hall while the performances were going on. And no these were not loo breaks. They were standing in the corridors, walking outside and since the performance is just 20 minutes, you would think that they would listen to all the songs and figure out the best band based on a pre-determined criteria.
Anyhow after Neurocracy, Mass Damnation took to the stage and again it was the same style of very heavy growling with not much guitar work. I did notice the main vocalist variate his tone from time to time which was refreshing and it was a good, tight, sound and performance.
The final act for the evening (in terms of the competition) was Stigmata. Their style was distinctly different, not as heavy but more melodic with lots of guitar work, a few intricate solos and their flavour of what they term Pure Sri Lankan Metal. They performed two songs and were told their time is up by one of the judges and asked to leave. There was a bit of confusion coz two songs cannot amount to 20 minutes (even though Stigmata is known for their anthems) and since no one was really keeping time (this is a competition and somehow the judges are checking their watches apparently without an assigned time keeper) they had to leave the stage.
The judge who pulled a fuss was stating – this is Wacken, you stick to time – 20 minutes is 20 minutes. I felt like telling him then why didn’t you start on time?? (One thing that irks me is the time wasted hanging around waiting for Sri Lankan metal gigs to start. I have been for a Guns n Roses concert where milling around involves beer stalls, food stalls, merchandise, zip lines and lots of things to occupy your mind. In SL it’s small talk and hopefully some intoxicant to while the time away).
Anyhow later on there was much talk that the judges had already pre-decided the winners which is why they were quite lax about sitting through the bands’ entire performances. I found this rather disturbing – as per the Wacken Metal site – the Battles are supposed to be held even in two phases if required to ensure you get the best talent out. If winners are pre-determined, then that would amount to fixing. Two people I know had heard the same said judge comment after the first 4 bands, that it was clear who the winner for the night would be.
Anyhow once the competitions were done, an Indian band – SpeedTrip (again very heavy and very loud) took to the stage and performed a lengthy set.
After this the winners were announced and Mass Damnation was the band selected as winners of the first Wacken Metal Battle Colombo. There was no winning criteria given or judges comments as such. It was announced and the event concluded thereafter.
There was a lot of talk after and then one of the judges had put up a Facebook statuses commenting on 20 minutes being 20 minutes and running down who he termed ‘the local Shakespeare’ in a rather unprofessional and unbecoming manner. Judges of competitions like Sri Lanka’s Got Talent sign disclaimers that prevent them from ever commenting on the participants or their personal likes and dislikes. Clearly no such standard applied to this judge and he took his post down subsequently.
Anyhow it was a rather strange evening and a pity as it ended on a bit of a sour note. Hopefully such things won’t repeat in Sri Lanka. Metal is misunderstood in general. You would not want incidents like this fuelling the flames that are already burning.