Dhwesha: Ear to the Underground
Witchcraft, mythology and in-your-face riffs in Bengaluru-based old school death metallers Dhwesha’s debut album Sthoopa, out next month
For old school death metal act Dhwesha, it all started out, in a sense, with a family vacation. In 2008, guitarist Somesha Sridhara spent some time traveling across historic sites in Karnataka that were once the seat of power for the 14th century kingdoms of South India—places like Vijayanagar, Hampi, Halebidu and Aihole. Sridhara had been jamming with guitarist/vocalist Ajay Nagaraj since school and the two were beginning to lay down riffage that would anchor the material they would write for Dhwesha’s debut album Sthoopa.
Shortly after Sridhara returned from his travels, he met Nagaraj and together they floated the idea of developing lyrical themes around the mythology and history Sridhara was exposed to during his trips across Karnataka. By the end of 2008, they were writing lyrics in Kannada about the Vijayanagara Empire and macabre tales of decapitation from ancient Sanskrit texts, set to a cannonade of heavy riffing that drew from old school death metal acts like Australian band Destroyer 666 and Brit band Bolt Thrower. As far as vocals in a regional language are concerned, the band draws attention to underground Czech black metal band Cult of Fire, whose lyrics are in Sanskrit and Hindu, with accompanied artwork in the Devanagiri script. Says 23-year-old Nagaraj, “People abroad think Indian languages are cult languages and want to write lyrics in them. We’re interested in ancient Indian mythology and it’s hard to translate a few words to English. If you do, you end up using the same vocabulary as everyone else who writes metal lyrics. I guess it has more impact on the music when lyrics are expressed in the language that the stories were written in.”
A lot of the ideas for the album also came from stories heard from his grandmother that “really boggled my mind,” says vocalist Nagaraj. For instance, Sthoopa will feature tracks like “Ugra Narasimha”, which narrates the story of the half-man, half-lion avatar of Narasimha, who intervenes to save Vaishnavite devotee Prahlad from his father Hirayankashipu, by slicing the patriarch’s head clean off his shoulders. There’s also the eponymous “Dhwesha,” which looks back at the reign of the Vijayanagar dynasty and their influence during the golden years of their reign in the 14th century. Another track off the album is “Hoy! Sala,” which isn’t, as many have supposed, about the local police vans in Bengaluru with the same name, but looks back the Hoysala Empire, which ruled from the ancient temple city of Halebidu.
Lately, they’ve also been writing songs based on occult and witchcraft, like “Sabhe,” which is about a coven of witches congregating in a forest around a ritual fire. According to Nagaraj, the idea of writing about occult and heathen practices shouldn’t necessarily be solely associated with Scandanavian metal culture, as it sometimes is among the uninitiated. He points out that Indians have plenty of examples, in parts of Karnataka and Kerala, where the practice of witchcraft has been widely reported and documented.
Dhwesha uploaded their first single “Kapala Haara” five months ago on SoundCloud and were encouraged to release more material. Says Sridhara, “It’s in-your-face riffing with none of that technical stuff. We wanted to do something simple and straightforward. And that just fit into old school death metal.” On the lineup front, their bassist Adarsh Rajagopal left the band in 2013, but they decided to continue as a three-piece act with Tushar Bajaj on drums, with two guitars and drums. If anything, the band found that they were far more at ease playing with this combination, and if anything, got told that “they sounded much tighter” with no perceivable drop in the intensity of their sound.
Eventually, their debut album Sthoopa took shape and is now ready to be released in June. The album, which was tracked and mixed at The Doom Cave, the studio run by Bengaluru stoner/doom band Bevar Sea’s guitarist, Srikanth Panaman, will be put out by German label Dunkelheit Produktionen. The label has shown a keen interest in promoting global death/black metal acts from the underground, from Indonesia’s Exhumation or Brazillian occult metal band Mystifier.
Sridhara agrees that this development points to globalization of the underground metal culture, with more bands and promoters reaching out to each other across continents. He says, “It’s great when you can have underground bands like [Japanese black/thrash outfit] Abigail and [Canadian doom band] Cauchemar or [Singaporean death metallers] Impiety come play at the Trend Slaughter Fest here in Bangalore.”
Listen to “Kapala Haara” from Sthoopa