The spooky no-names, no-photos "anonymous band" shtick is a metal move that I generally find irritating from a practical standpoint, but, in some instances, makes perfect sense. Such is the case with Heathen Beast, a ferociously political extreme metal trio from Kolkata who choose to keep their identities secret for fear of government retribution. Their lyrics have long been trained on what they see as a corrupt, racist, suffocatingly religious, Islamophobic establishment, currently embodied by India's prime minister Narendra Modi and the ruling party, BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party).
First conceived as a black metal band in 2010, the band has expanded their sonic reach even as they've pulled no punches on songs like Rise of the Saffron Empire's "The Systematic Annihilation of the Islamic Race," which decries the Indian government and dominant Hindu community's treatment of Muslim citizens. They've only upped the ante since then, especially in music videos like the one you'll find below, which rails against the inhuman treatment of lower caste Indians. As their label head put it to me in an email, Heathen Beast's music is "as hard-hitting as it gets, and that's why the band members prefer to remain anonymous as it can get really dangerous here. Even I'm taking a risk putting out such scandalous stuff. We don't enjoy as much freedom of expression as you do!"
On their latest album, $cam, the band both cranks up the tempo and turns up the heat, hurtling forward in a more blackened grindcore direction. Shades of black remain, but here, Heathen Beast is far more firmly focused on blasting noise, pinch harmonics, off-kilter rhythms, and a swaggering toxic stomp, occasionally accompanied by what sounds like a traditional hand drum on tracks like "If the Army Can Do It, So Can You" and the scathing "If You Disagree You Are Anti-national, Go to Pakistan." It's fast, mean, and extremely catchy, even as the tracks are dotted with distorted spoken word pieces that ominously explain the political and cultural inspirations for the lyrics in a weird-ass V for Vendetta voice.
Most of the track list focuses on Prime Minister Modi's controversial 2016 decision to devalue India's currency overnight, removing 500 and 1,000 note rupees from circulation in an effort to curb so-called "black money"—funds stemming from corruption, counterfeiting and terrorism financing. The heavily paper money-dependent (90 percent of transactions are in cash) country ground to a halt as the panicked citizenry flooded ATMs and banks, and the resulting financial chaos disproportionately affected those with the most to lose in the first place—the poor. While the move was initially sought to combat tax evasion by the cash-hoarding rich, as the BBC noted, "Millions of low income working class people, poor and roadside small businesses and traders hoard cash because they need the liquidity to run their lives and also, because there is no bank where they live… More than half of Indians still don't have a bank account, and some 300 million have no government identification. The two scrapped denominations—500 and 1,000 rupees—account for more than 85 percent of the value of cash in circulation."
This is where Heathen Beast's outrage stems from—the prevailing lack of empathy and privileged ambivalence towards the plight of the poor and working class that they see extruding from India's political and upper classes, and that they lampoon on songs like "It's Only a Minor Inconvenience" and "Fuck Poor People, I Have Paytm" (Paytm is an Indian mobile banking app, similar to Paypal). It's fitting that the band has finally moved away from black metal's more esoteric, spiritual borders to embrace grindcore's fast, ugly sociopolitical screeds instead; thematically, Heathen Beast has always been far more of a Napalm Death than a Nargaroth, and now the music finally fits the message.
Listen to below, and cop the album from Transcending Obscurity.
Kim Kelly is eating the rich on Twitter.