To outsiders, the loud, aggressive world of heavy metal might seems like an unlikely place to find progressive politics. But any metalhead worth their leather can attest that the genre has often commented on society’s ills. Black Sabbath railed against the Vietnam War, Nuclear Assault offered apocalyptic visions of Reagan’s ‘80s, Sepultura howled scathing condemnations of the treatment of indigenous tribes in their native Brazil, Napalm Death addressed government failures and corruption, and more recently, Cloud Rat roared about sexism and urban blight atop a grindcore soundtrack. Thrash metal, in particular, has a long-running habit of tackling sociopolitical subjects with its rough barked vocals, wailing solos, and frenetic shredding.
In both a geographical and cultural sense, Mumbai seems about as far as one can get from the California Bay Area where the thrash-metal movement reached its apex. But the Indian band Sceptre offers proof of just how widely this style has spread. Inspired by their American forebears in Exodus and DRI and the music of classic German thrash bands like Kreator and Sodom, Sceptre recently celebrated its 15 anniversary, and is distinguished as one of India’s longest-running metal bands. Their latest recording taps into their genre’s liberal-leaning ideological tradition in a way that’s refreshing and urgent in modern India.
Age of Calamity is a concept album that deals with the plight of women in Indian society, and all proceeds from its sales will go directly to benefit a girls’ orphanage in Mumbai. Its haunting cover artwork was created by Indian artist Saloni Sinha, and depicts a weeping woman cradling her head in her hands, surrounded on all sides by crumbling walls and grasping shadows. It’s a powerful image, and in keeping with the theme, the band chose to work with a female artist.
“You ever been in love with somebody who really wanted to break your heart?” she asks me, over a mid-day’s snack of bloody jams and burnt toasts. Strawberry jam and virgins’ blood. Blueberry and whores’. Toast burnt as black as midnight with no moon.
“Only every goddamn time,” I admit. “Every one of my relationships has left me feeling like I was cooking breakfast on a crashing spaceship, eventually. You know, obsessed with hot grease in zero-gravity even as some strange world’s atmosphere fell up towards us.”
The radio is humming my thoughts, wrapped in an irritatingly optimistic pop song. Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me, do, the voice commands. I wish you’d get just close enough to me so I could let. You. know.
She gets dessert, and she gets revenge. At the same goddamn time. Happiness is, you see, a warm gun, and a slice of apple pie with ice cream melting just to the side. Happiness is your hand in mine. Happiness is a fleeting emotional construction built out of chemicals that lie.
“Swallow those lies,” she tells me, but she’s mistaken. I’m actually eating truths tonight.