Sahil Makhija is as metal as it gets. “Demonstealer”, as he’s been faithfully calling himself for some 20 years now, is the frontman, vocalist, guitarist, chief composer, and heart and soul of Mumbai’s longest-running blackened death metal band, Demonic Resurrection. He formed the band way back in 2000, as a fresh-faced teen looking for like-minded musicians to play his songs live. Five full-lengths later (the last of which, Dashavatar, came out last year), the band is 18 years old, and Makhija, 35, is now a towering statesman of metal in India.
“Everything I’ve done in the last 18 years has been to promote Demonic Resurrection," he tells me over the phone from Mumbai. "I knew the moment I started the band that my one goal in life was to make music with this band forever.” His introduction to metal as a kid was almost accidental; his friends introduced him to Metallica and Iron Maiden after making fun of his taste in music.
“They were like, ‘What is this crap you’re listening to? Try this,' he remembers. "It clicked with me. Obviously during my teenage years, it was a frustration release; it’s your safe space, that one little thing that belongs to you. It was the whole lifestyle, everyone dressed in black… black metal connected with my inner atheist. I hated religion – I’ve seen how people get brainwashed – and this was embodied in black metal. It spurred my interest, it made me connect with the music."
The searing aggression of their music works in conjunction with a strong melodic core. On their last release, they added the sitar, the tabla, and the flute to their sound, functioning across a broader sonic spectrum. Further, Makhija has always enjoyed the fantastical storytelling elements of metal, and they’ve released a trilogy of albums with a running theme of darkness descending upon the earth and a reluctant protagonist.
A recurring theme in the life of Demonic Resurrection has been ITS rotating cast of band members, with Makhija remaining the only constant; the current line-up has Virendra Kaith on drums and Nishith Hegde on guitars. The band has, in a way, acted as a springboard for its musicians; past members have gone on to play for, among others, Exhumation , Solar Deity, Scribe, and the Minerva Conduct. Rehearsing with a new person and getting the chemistry just right takes time, stalling the band's momentum, but Makhija has made peace with it.
Demonic Resurrection started off at a time, in 2000, when extreme metal existed only on the margins. They joined bands like Kryptos, Third Sovereign, Acrid Semblance, Myndsnare, and Threinody, playing sporadic gigs at college festivals or at Razzberry Rhinoceros (known universally as just ‘Razz’), the only pub venue of note in Mumbai. Their first few gigs, fundamentally DIY, were largely uneventful; most criticism they faced was online. There were the occasional boos, and he recalls playing at Independence Rock, an open-air battle-of-the-bands known for its notoriously difficult crowd: “I remember we got booed and things were thrown at us. You had to win over that violent crowd, which we never managed to do till much later.”
He’d pick fights on independent music forums online, at the same time heavily promoting his band all over the internet. “Now I’m able to look past a comment, but in those days I would give it back to whoever was trying to diss us," he explains. "Obviously it depends on who it came from – if it was a poseur who only listens to Metallica or some idiot who doesn’t know jackshit. But we were never such a bad band. There was only the occasional ‘fuck you, you suck.’” In fact, they’d accumulated fans all over the world thanks to Makhija’s efforts.
He’s moved on from those days quite a bit. Demonic Resurrection is a legitimately big deal in the Indian underground today, and Makhija is seen a sort of homegrown metal hero. He constantly finds himself bombarded by young fans who worship him, or admire him deeply for his contribution to Indian metal at the least. The band has done short tours to Europe and hit the festival circuit, with spots at Wacken and Sonisphere in the past few years, are booked for London's Eradication Festival 2018 alongside bands like Abbath, Master's Hammer, and Rotting Christ – and are currently crowdfunding an upcoming 8-city Indian tour to address the country's dearth of metal tours.
By now, Demonic Resurrection's sheer determination and resilience have won them considerable appreciation and respect – though that hasn't always translated into scene-wide success. “Demonic Resurrection is a band everybody loves to respect," he tells me. "We’re that band everyone says, ‘Hey man, I respect you. I just don’t like the music.’ We have to look at it from a positive point of view, that people respect us and think we’re good. But as a musician, you just want people to listen to your music, man. You see your peers playing the same festivals, the same spaces, and crowds seem to be 10 times more into the music. During your set, everyone has vanished. Then they’ll tell you, ‘We respect you.’”
Sometimes, they don't even get that. They’ve been heckled a fair bit, particularly in Mumbai, a city that, Makhija feels is interested in a more modern style of metal. He recalls a time fans of another band in the scene showed up while Demonic Resurrection were on stage – “they tried to create a ruckus, they danced while we played, they showed us the middle finger.” Another time, Banger TV host Sam Dunn got in touch with Makhija about featuring his band and documenting the Indian metal scene for his 2007 documentary, Global Metal. Makhija arranged a gig for the shoot, booking Demonic Resurrection alongside bands he felt were representative of the Indian metal scene. This proved to be a controversial move; some people, who felt there were more deserving bands who should have been on the bill, showed up to the gig protesting Demonic Resurrection’s presence.
Despite the scene drama, Makhija is aware that his band has helped to open a lot of doors for fans, and serves as a de facto entry point to the metal scene here. “Everyone gets into Indian metal through Demonic Resurrection,” he says. “They come and see us at a gig. Then they realise they prefer, say, Bhayanak Maut or Scribe or Undying Inc. It’s part of being that gateway band.”
He’s also had to contend with the fact that a lot of people treat metal as a youthful pursuit. “I think it’s largely a genre of music that finds itself being a release for people,” he says. “It’s that thing they latch on to while they’re in engineering college or that age; then they grow out of it.” He knows that metal will always exist in a niche space in India, but believes that a lot of the problems dogging the scene have to do with the fact that it’s a young audience, without the spending power necessary for support or, indeed, patronage. In his opinion, “You need an older audience with disposable income to sustain something.”
He’s faced setbacks and obstacles, survived a barren scene, and has had to build and rebuild and rebuild again enough times, but Makhija seems pleasantly free of cynicism. And somehow, he has also found the time for multiple other music-related projects. Demonic Resurrection began as a dictatorship, with Makhija responsible for composing every element of each song, before evolving into a more democratic setup; after that, he decided to take his spare ideas and work on a solo project. He is currently accepting pre-orders for his third solo album as Demonstealer, called The Last Reptilian Warrior. His previous release, This Burden Is Mine, came out in 2016 and featured Nile's George Kollias on drums.
Makhija has also headed several now-defunct bands like Reptilian Death, a brutal death metal band with a theatrical stage presence (as well as short-lived comedy metal band Workshop); he also founded Demonstealer Records several years ago but was eventually forced to shutter. For now, he’s busy with Headbanger’s Kitchen, a YouTube cooking show focused on low-carb Keto recipes. Demonstealer, the snarling frontman of Demonic Resurrection, is also a gifted chef who has always loved food, and fondly remembers cooking for his parents and their friends as a kid. True to form, Headbanger’s Kitchen began as another tool for him to push his band by reaching out to wider audiences. “I thought if I have a heavy metal theme, people are gonna watch it if they like those other bands," he explains. "Then they’ll see me on it and maybe listen to Demonic Resurrection as well!”
Ultimately that's all that matters to him. Behind everything he does and has managed to achieve in the face of an unforgiving scene, Makhija is just a determined, goofy guy who loves what he does and wants to share it with the world. Everything else is just in service of that. The music moves him, it’s made him who he is, and all he really wants to do is to write more, to play, and most importantly, to be heard.
Ahkil Sood is repping Delhi metal on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Noisey US.