There are only a few moments when you can pinpoint the birth of a music scene. There's the 1976 Sex Pistols show in Manchester, England, that allegedly sparked the birth of the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, the Smiths, and Factory Records. There's Black Flag's 1981 show in New York that brought the DC, NY, and California scenes together. There's the moment the The Strokes' first EP hit the UK press. And, in Indonesia, there's the first time Napalm Death's album Harmony Corruption landed on local shelves.
Indonesia was already pretty obsessed with heavy metal in the early 90s, but all the country had back then were the hair metal theatrics of Mötley Crüe and Guns N' Roses or the classic UK sounds of Iron Maiden. Metallica was about as hard as things got at the time.
This was a time long before the internet when new music used to arrive in the suitcases and Walkman cassette decks of Indonesians returning from overseas. The albums would then be duplicated and traded among the members of small, but dedicated scene. But the local metal scene was hungry for something heavier than Metallica's …And Justice For All.
Enter Napalm Death. Harmony Corruption was most Indonesians introduction to death metal. It was the first time local metalheads heard a band so pissed off, so heavy that it made everything else seem like poser shit. The album first arrived in Indonesia as a cassette bootleg. But before long, it was released locally by Indosemar Sakti as catalog number KG-1060891—an iconic number many Indonesian metalheads can still recite by heart.
The Indonesian music press was ecstatic. Music critic Heru Emka described Harmony Corruption as: "The sound of a steel train crashing into a concrete wall." The music magazine Hai, wrote something like: "Napalm Death and Morbid Angel made Slayer sounds like Poison or Faster Pussycat," recalled Bimo Samyayogi, the owner of Indonesian metal label, Undying Music. He immediately ran out and purchased the album after reading the reviews.
The singer of the Indonesian metal act Seringai, Arian 13 (real name: Arian Ariffin), told VICE that he first heard Harmony Corruption on a bootleg tape handed to him by a high school friend.
"It was copied from one cassette to another, so the quality was not that good," Arian 13 told VICE. "It was around 1990, when it was just freshly released. Death metal and grindcore were on the rise. This was my first introduction to Napalm Death. A year or two later, the official cassette was released in Indonesia."
Cassette bootlegs were most Indonesians first exposure to Western genres like metal, hardcore, and hip-hop. The bootlegs would make the rounds through tape trading communities before they would be officially released by a local record label. These connections formed the foundations of the country's DIY scene that continue to this day.
Soon, Harmony Corruption was everywhere.
"Harmony Corruption was one of the first nationally available death metal/grind albums," Arian 13 said. "So the impact was obviously huge."
But Napalm Death's morbid album art also caused some problems for the band's younger fans. A teacher confiscated the tape from Revan Bramadika, the drummer of Rajasinga, and gave it a listen. He heard one song before sending Revan to the guidance counselor and principal for some much-needed "guidance."
"I remember them saying it was 'satanic music,' that it was inappropriate and shouldn't be listened to by a high school kid," Revan told VICE. "I was told to listen to Ricky Martin instead, whose hit song was the official soundtrack of the 1998 Word Cup. But when they weren't looking, I took the cassette back."
Harmony Corruption was massively influential. It was the album that taught Indonesian metal bands to tune their guitars to Drop D. The vocals were a deep growl. The riffs had a groove to them. Soon local metal bands like G.A.S, from Surabaya, and Warhammer, from Yogyakarta, were slipping a cover of "Suffer the Children," into their set lists. Death Vomit actually covered both "Suffer the Children," and "Circle of Hypocrisy," on stage as a poet critical of Gen. Suharto's New Order regime read his poetry aloud.
Watch: Seringai Are The Kings of Indonesian Heavy Metal
Napalm Death was the reason most fans of "extreme" music who grew up in the 90s decided to form death metal bands themselves. Legendary Bandung metal act JASAD was heavily influenced by Napalm Death's sound. Tengkorak's vocalist said he learned how to scream by listening to the vocal patterns of Napalm Death's Barney Greenway.
Arif "Gobel" Budiman, of Rottenomicon, told VICE that his band probably wouldn't have existed if it wasn't for Harmony Corruption.
"Their guitar riffs are sick, the vocal patterns are interesting too," Gonbel told VICE. "And most importantly, they showed up at the right time as an influence."
Metallica's 1993 concert, which ended in a riot, might be the country's most-notorious metal show. But Napalm Death's 2005 concert in Ancol, North Jakarta, is probably Indonesia's most legendary. Thousands of fans packed out the seaside festival grounds to see their favourite band perform for the first time. That concert is what cemented Indonesia's place as a must-stop country on the "extreme" music world tour circuit.
Arian 13 was part of the production team behind the Napalm Death show. He said Napalm Death was so important to Indonesia's metal scene that even its most-senior members turned into teenage fanboys around the band.
"When I picked the band up from the airport, Ombat [the vocalist of the grindcore outfit Tengkorak] was so nervous that he couldn't say anything to Barney," he told VICE. "He was starstruck!"
Napalm Death's fan base even extends all the way to the highest levels of Indonesia's government. President Joko Widodo, a serious metal fan, has told the local press that some of his favorite bands were Metallica, Megadeth, Lamb of God, and, of course, Napalm Death. President Jokowi has been seen wearing Morbid Angel and Napalm Death shirts to press events.
Napalm Death recently tried to use Jokowi's love of their band to urge him to cancel plans to execute foreign drug traffickers Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran, and Lindsay Sandiford.
Greenway, the band's vocalist, wrote:
As a follower of our band Napalm Death, you would appreciate that our lyrics and ethos challenge the unbroken cycle of violence in the world, whether it comes from a State or as an individual. If these things are not challenged and ultimately changed, I believe we will never truly move forward as humankind.
I understand that you are standing as a leader determined to change things for the better, and so I believe granting clemency would be a major step forward in this pursuit of betterment. I appreciate that heroin can be damaging on many levels, but I believe that this is a much deeper issue that cannot be changed or altered by simply taking away the lives of people.
The band failed to influence the president's decision to execute Chan and Sukumaran. But Napalm Death, and Harmony Corruption, still continue to influence the next generation of Indonesian metalheads. Budi Santos, the owner of Blok M's Deep Rock Music, said that he still sells a lot of Harmony Corruption cassettes.
"The cassette can go for Rp 35,000 ($2.26 USD) and up, depending on the condition," he told VICE. "The reissued vinyl goes for around Rp 400,000 ($29 USD). Unless it's the first press, which can easily go for more than Rp 500, 000 ($37 USD)."
Twenty-seven years later, Harmony Corruption is forming the foundations of Indonesia's metal scene.