Shob cheye metal. For those of you who are neophytes to the Bengali language (i.e., anybody who is reading this outside of Bangladesh), the headline translates roughly to “more metal than all.” Why is this, you ask? At the end of the long and winding trail that brought my family and I back to Bangladesh, I am pleased to report that heavy metal music is alive and well in the soul of Bengal.
Contrary to what English speakers of planet Earth or dogmatic adherents of monotheistic religions may believe, music is often referred to as the universal language that binds us and brings us together in unfettered harmony and happiness. Nowhere does this sentiment ring truer than among heavy metal aficionados throughout the world, where mere 64th notes, guitar squeals, and blast beats coalesce into a community of initiates who proudly raise the banner of metal music with vigor in every land.
It’s been approximately one month since arriving to Bangladesh and I have found myself becoming quite settled in already. Having been here before from 2002-2006, the process has admittedly been easier than the first time, to say the very least. The first plunge into Bangladesh was as a Peace Corps Volunteer, where I packed two very large duffel bag suitcases and planned to live in a mud hut somewhere beyond the reach of humanity.
Turns out that was not the case, but the transition from living in the self-proclaimed “greatest best country in the world” to a flat, sweltering swath of land smack-dab in the middle of South Asia was not always easy. I had to learn to eat again, ingesting copious amounts of rice with my right hand. Potty training was also on the docket, where I had to master the art of assuming the squat position — much like a catcher in baseball — for the purpose of delivering waste into a porcelain hole situated in the bathroom floor, safe and sound. And I had to learn to speak again, butchering the Bengali language to the minimal extent possible to allow for semi-successful transactions in local markets and on rickshaw rides.
Obviously, this time has been much different. However, becoming adjusted to a new locale, climate, and surroundings always involves a simple four-step process for just about any place one wishes — or is forced — to travel.
Step 1: Recover from acute jet lag and regain normal sleeping pattern. Check.
Step 2: Furnish living space with necessary goods and groceries. Check.
Step 3: Acquaint and reacquaint one’s self with friends, new and old. Check.
Step 4: Receive invitation to — and join — local thrash metal band. Annnd, check.
That’s right, none more metal than I — a 36-year-old married father of one, twenty pounds (OK, forty pounds) past my prime shape with ever-increasing quantities of grey hair on my head. Yet, Poizon Green, Bangladesh thrash metal pioneers, have been gracious enough to ask me to join their fold in the joint effort to bring unadulterated molten metal madness to the masses who yearn to bang heads deep in the heart of Dhaka.
How did this happen? Easy answer — divine providence, or maybe it was dumb luck. During some time in 2006, I met the band after walking out of the only Mexican restaurant in the country. From their car, they spotted me wearing my trusty Type O Negative t-shirt — one of my all-time favorite metal bands. We had a brief chat on the side of a dusty road in the Gulshan area of Dhaka and decided it would be a great idea to have a jam sometime.
I was also introduced to a fiercely vibrant underground metal scene, which was surprising and refreshing at the same time. I imagine this is what foreigners moving to the U.S. must feel like after being subjected to the mainstream musical horrors of Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber until they eventually discover indie rock, jazz, electronica (especially if they’re European), or Slayer. Also, I immediately recognized a deep pool of musical talent in Bangladesh that I previously thought was only reserved for use on a harmonium, tabla drums, a flute, or high-pitched nasally vocals to fuel the nation’s passion for folk music.
I was wrong.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised at the existence of a legion of metal-heads in this country. After all, this is a genre of music fed by frustration and anger toward society’s ills, which abound here on a daily basis. Many of you probably know Bangladesh by virtue of news reports on monsoonal flooding and the occasional cyclone. When Mother Nature is not wreaking havoc, mankind gladly takes over the reins of making people’s lives miserable, whether it’s perpetual political confrontation or pervasive corruption among the nation’s elites. As a result, any hopes of prosperity among poor and middle class citizens typically result in a vigorous exercise in lachrymology, so there is a LOT of stuff here to piss people off.
Rather than channel aggression through the typical channels of throwing bricks at police officers or torching buses in the name of partisan politics or religion, music offers a creative solution for blowing off steam, giving a voice to the overlooked, underserved wave of youth who wish to rage against the machine (even if the machine is a two-headed monster of self destruction).
Thousands of miles off of any well-known hard rock or heavy metal band’s tour itinerary, the Dhaka scene relies on itself to deliver live performances of classic metal covers and original material all the same. At shows, you can expect to hear faithful renditions by metal titans like Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and the like. Original songs can span from ballads about lost or forbidden love, or speed metal soirees delving into topics of death, addiction, hopelessness, and anger…you know, the pillars of heavy music.
So while the land of Bangladesh continues to face challenges of crumbling factories, religio-political riots, and nationwide strikes that cripple the country’s economic productivity, rest assured that a growing number of young, disgruntled music lovers simply are not going to take it anymore. Deafening distortion and pounding drums may not solve the nation’s problems, but it will most certainly soothe the souls of many, many metal music fans in a collective ritual of chaotic catharsis that only heavy metal can so deliver.
Horns up, Bangladesh. \m/