SINGAPORE METAL- A LOOK INTO THE PAST
IMPIETY in DESASTER METAL MEETING 3 June 2000- Koblenz, Germany
The clashes of metal, the glaring sheen, almost became a prelude to apocalypse as the decibel, temperature and richter scale rose threefold in what would look like how the courtiers pay tribute to the Devil but here we have our very own advocates of darkness, striding the stages far in the Mecca of metal, singing about the horned goat and its menagerie of skull-fucked beasts. IMPIETY , bearing the semblance of lost evil demigods from the times past with their iron cladded adornment on sinful black leather and their brand of ancient, bestial black speed metal deliverance became the milestone that the black metalheads, modern day equivalent of dark paladins recognise with due respect. "Torment In Fire!" exclaimed the German crowd and what followed seems like a total ovation to this "exotic" legend as hairs swerved, heads banged and fists clenched in its ultimate salutation to the horned goats. For Singaporean metal, this would have been the most unimaginable more than a decade back...
PART 1: INTRODUCTION PART 2: THE BANDS
Set in the grey panorama is a bustling island city. Busy trails meander through the narrow spacings within the concrete jungle as anxiety soars in the hot humid air to the quick paces of the soujourners. Welcome to the "fine" city of Singapore, the multi-cultural financial centre of South East Asia about the size of a dot on your world map and the very playground where monetary contentment means all the comfort and solace most people would like to find. You'd have read about the strict laws here, the figurehead who sues most opponents for libel, the history of the island city as an important British colony and of course the so called best airport in the world. But before I lose track of my intentions, welcome readers of NECROMANSY to the updated version of "SINGAPORE METAL- A Look Into The Past", an article/scene report on Singaporean extreme metal between '87-'95.
Please note that this article does not even come close to an absolute coverage of the Singaporean metal scene from the past, although NECROMANSY is always striving for improvements. Albeit being a small island to begin with, there was an active metal movement (no matter how skeptics attempted to discredit it) during that period which gave birth to many bands (some local legends and more unsung heroes), in almost every towns and neighbourhoods, hence it is a tedious task to track down each and every one of them. The report is based largely on my personal collection and limited knowledge, and since I'm only human with deteriorating brains, I'd need plenty of help from the trusty NECROMANSY readers for any infos, tapes, scans of early Singaporean metal bands. Please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! Your helps are greatly appreciated!
SWEET CHARITY contemplating a "Smoke on Water"!
Before getting our hands dirty from the grime of sinful creations, let's begin with a bit of history on Singaporean rock music. The Malay district centred around GEYLANG SERAI had long been a well of musical creativity since the '50s and the history of Singaporean rock music could be traced from this area, which radiated to much of the surrounding eastern districts of Singapore. Fondly dubbed the "Liverpool" of Singapore (that Beatles reference nonetheless), it had seen many new talents springing up over different generations in an evolution of music that lagged at the waves set by western standards. The first major breakthrough in the then Singaporean "rock n'roll" scene could be attributed to THE QUESTS, famous local legend in the '60s that had albums sold overseas. Other names like THE STRAYDOGS, THE CRESCENDOES, were also a part of nostalgia that lived in the swinging good ol' '60s on the monochromatic screens. Turning into the '70s, is witnessed a phenomenon of music that makes it "to be a rock and not to roll". Indeed it is so heavy that the inanimate piece was glorified with a cool, dangerous edge going by the sleazy name of metal. BLACK SABBATH and DEEP PURPLE became the heavy metal standards and the youths seemingly embraced this loud, extreme form of music very much.
This wave of movements centred in the Malay scene was aptly termed as "Mat Rock", which simply meant Malay Rock. Throughout the entirety of the '70s and '80s, this had been an important staple for the sanity of many an adolescents, and there was even a radio show called "Pop Rok" featuring news of local rock scene by SBC radio DJ Adnan Maswan. One of the pioneer of this movement is undoubtedly the patriach of Singaporean rock; "Bapa Rock" Ramli Sarip (no relations to P.Ramlee the ultimate Malay icon in case you're wondering) and his band SWEET CHARITY who had been around since late '60s. They broke up in '86 with Ramli Sarip going solo, delving into Nusantara ballads but they had many hits like "Datang Dan Pergi" and "Hilang Gelap Terbitlah Terang" although most of the time they had a penchant with DEEP PURPLE numbers. Then on we had a host of such bands like HELTER SKELTER, FLYING FUNERAL, VICTIM, etc. However one memorable band that held true to metallic faith was the godly RUSTY BLADE fronted by the enigmatic Yantzen, which is the region's answer to LOUDNESS (we even have Singapore's answer to IRON MAIDEN... STUKAS!) with their speedy rhythms and metallic overkill and gave hits like "Tiada Lagi Aku" and "Pertama Dah Terakhir". In the '80s, "Mat Rock" albums (mostly distributed by BMG) even outsold pop albums but the stereotypes remained as it was STILL regarded as the lower rung of rock fandom, with those black leather jackets, tight jeans, unkempt hairs and yes, the drug association. In the '70s, there was even a law here to ban rock music due to its drug association and decadent images. Folks with long hair were often discriminated against, frequently harassed by policemen with their spot checks. "Mat rock" should be given credit to, since it is the very foundation that paved way for something even heavier to come...
OPPOSITION PARTY attempted at "Masturbating With Missiles"!
While the local "Mat Rock" legends certainly did bowled down the fences of conventional constrain of music in Singapore, there was a growing fervour for something more extreme, aggressive and powerful, no more LED ZEPPELINS, DEEP PURPLES and rock ballads. That was when the hardcore-punk-metal movement was awakened in Singapore, creating a frontier of eager young upstarts heralding a "Mat Metal" rebellion to deconstruct the local rock establishment. Ironically, this fire was incited supposedly by the four Chinese hardcore punk thrashers of OPPOSITION PARTY, with their ripping performances in the memorable "NO SURRENDER" concert organised by BigO, at 30 May 1987, ANYWHERE LOUNGE in TANGLIN MALL, which was arguably the first so-called "Alternative concert" of its kind. There were many bands there, playing "left of the dial" alternative music (which meant of THE DREAM SYNDICATE, THE REPLACEMENTS standards), like THE NONAMES, ZIRCON LOUNGE, CORPORATE TOIL. But there was only one band like OPPOSITION PARTY at the performance that donned punk mohawks and leather jackets and playing devastating thrash metal that was virtually unheard of back then in the island city, which left a deep impression amongst the audiences who've also never seen anything like that in Singapore before. They went by the pseudonyms of Francis Frightful, Vernon Vengeful, Willy Wanker and Terrence Terror and they belted out tight, hardcore thrash tracks like "Boring Pigs" and "Masturbating With Missiles" to the surprised crowd and very soon, the whole crowd was on their sides. No doubt, this "new noise" had captivated the hearts of many an aspiring thrashers.
In Malaysia, the extreme metal bug caught them earlier and the states were already flourishing with acts like BLACK FIRE (Perlis), BETRAYER (Johor), PUNISHER (Kuala Lumpur) and the perverted black metal gods RATOR (Selangor) when the Singaporean scene was at its near infancy. On this side of the causeway, NUCTEMERON from EUNOS became the first death thrash metal band to have released a self-financed demo in '88 and gained acclaimation overseas in places as far away as Norway and Japan. Maybe it was the water there, but the eastern district of Singapore centred around EUNOS and BEDOK, gave birth to many forefathers of the extreme metal movement. Some said it was JOO CHIAT (that infamous stretch of HAIG ROAD where NUCTEMERON was procreated) while others placed CHAI CHEE as the spawning ground respectively. The unholy trinity of pioneers could be considered as NUCTEMERON, CRUCIFUCKTOR and DREAD. The other bands that subsequently gained recognition overseas are ABHORER where they clinched the first Singaporean death metal recording on vinyl, AS SAHAR where they were recognised internationally in the underground with their active correspondence, and of course IMPIETY, the godfathers of black metal with a string of established releases and recognition under their belt. But during the scene's infancy, it was rather turbulent. Back then, it was very difficult to acquire metal records due to poor distribution, difficult to rehearse due to limited land resources (we don't have garages) and finances so bands had to fork out that little bit of pocket money for sessions and recordings in studios like LEE KWONG SENG, SAVOIR FAIRE, RAZZI M and T.N.T. Like as if it never changed, there was a general sentiment from the public regarding such fans as being stupid, depraved social parasites who loves the "horrendous noises" and a misconception that most of them did drugs as it certainly formed a hazy part of the '70s image. But there was an even bigger antagonism working against such bands and this time, from the religious groups. In '90 and '92, there was a big issue with "Satanism" finding its way into the cultures of young teenagers, in the form of music, literature and activities. There had been reported desecrations of cemeteries (yeah Bidadari) and satanic rituals taking place in deserted buildings with the sex and drugs association. The bands with their extreme music and satanic images became the convenient targets for such attacks. These gave extreme metal a bad name and it attained an even worse reputation than "Mat Rock" music which sort of softened to commercial tastes. With the condescending attitudes from the public, and other factors like financial limitations, most of the fans opted to help one another out with support and active tradings of tapes, zines and informations 'les they fall apart divided and dead. Of course 'cos of that, there arise metal gangs like BLASPHEME and TORMENTOR (my Marsiling neighbourhood gang), which could be anything from a gathering of fans to really a "pain in the ass". But of course there are always black sheep around who live in their conceited supremacist fantasy and responsible for much bullshits and back stabbings within the scene. Things are much worse these days of course. Anyway, this initiative D.I.Y. movement was not limited within the metal/hardcore circles as it also existed in many other music genres across the entirety of this little island. Local independent non-metal musicians (like the activist Patrick Chng of THE ODDFELLOWS) even understood what death metal is all about as the paths of independent music are crissed-crossed throughout the island. The deathsters themselves would hung out at places like BEDOK MUSIC CENTRE, QUEENSWAY S.C. and FORUM GALLERIA as a congregation of likeminded individuals and during "Swing Singapore" '90 in August, the National Day Celebration was celebrated here in their own motley clusters as the whole death metal community converged to FORUM GALLERIA (this scene was initiated in '89 by PRODRIGAL) with their ghetto blasters playing their own metal music, in defiance to curious stares from the crowds. Quite a spectacle to say the least.
The zines came into existence when dedicated deathsters and hardcoreans decided to put together local literature on the underground scene following the incitement from several overseas zines that came into circuit. The well known fews are "MUTILADOR" from Mexico, "SLAYER" and "MORBID" from Norway and of course the unholy "SATANIC DEATH" from Japan. The latter two featured two local acts namely DREAD and NUCTEMERON, which established the two names as icons amongst the underground. Soon fanatics began to get working on their own versions. The very inception came originally in the form of an A4-sized 4 pages flyer known as "DEATH METAL BASHER" but there were doubts if this publication really qualified as a zine at all. Later came what was known as the first underground metal zine that would become (in)famous within the circles of the island and it went by the name of "LIVING CORPSE", a brainchild of Iskandar also known as "Botak". Another notable publication that came out slightly later was "EVIL ROTTING", a well established zine from Azizi otherwise known as "Bob" a Malaysian national, that premiered in September '90. The zines were usually writing about overseas bands but also had features on the local scenes. Subsequently there were a host of zines springing from the bowels of the infernal island with "BACKACHE", "DARK BOOK", "SWINEZINE", etc.
So what future holds for Singaporean metal? Time Shall Tell...
xxx PROCEED TO PART 2: THE BANDS xxx