After events last week, I definitely needed cheering up by the time the weekend arrived. Happily, I was duly cheered up by the holding of Colombo Open Air 2019. This was a heavy metal concert featuring mainly Sri Lankan bands held on December 14th at the premises of the quaintly named Otter Aquatic Club – actually a private club with swimming and other sports facilities – just off Bauddhaloka Mawatha in Colombo 7.
This was the first time I’d been to this venue and I much prefered it to Shalika Hall on Park Road in Colombo 5, which had hosted most of the previous live music concerts I’d attended in the city. (The hall doesn’t have sidewalls, creating weird acoustics because much of the sound escapes out into the night, and causing discomfort because a lot of mosquitos get in.) The Otter Aquatic Club provided a pleasant open courtyard with a covered stage for the bands and some other roofed-over spaces, including a makeshift bar, where the audience could shelter if it started to rain. Fortunately, despite Sri Lanka being gripped at the moment by a protracted and seemingly interminable rainy season, the only rain that fell tonight did so during an interval between two of the sets. Meanwhile, the Club evidently makes efforts to keep its premises mosquito-free because I didn’t see (or feel) one of the bity wee bastards all night.
The concert kicked off in the late afternoon with a competition whereby some less established / up-and-coming bands competed for the prize of a place in the line-up at the Indian heavy metal festival Bangalore Open Air. Due to other commitments, however, I was only able to get there at seven o’clock, with the first in a series of established bands due to take the stage at 7.20. It was here that I experienced the only bum-note of the night, because it transpired that the schedule advertised on Facebook differed from the schedule actually being followed, and the first of those established bands, Mass Damnation, had already performed their set and left the stage. (At least I’ve seen Mass Damnation before, at Shalika Hall.) What, things not following the official schedule? That’s never happened before in Sri Lanka…
Oh well. I still had three Sri Lankan bands to see, plus the concert’s headliners, Kryptos, a band from Bangalore, which seems to be the happening place for heavy metal in India these days. (According to this Guardian article, Bangalore has Iron Maiden to thank for that.) First on after my arrival were Paranoid Earthling, described by their Wikipedia entry as a ‘grunge, experimental, psychedelic, stoner rock, heavy metal’ band from Kandy. One of their assets is their vocalist Mirshad Buckman, who always struck me as looking a little like the late, great Ronnie James Dio and sounding a little like the late, great Bon Scott; and who, with his between-song tirades about the state of things, is surely the grumpiest man in Sri Lankan heavy metal. I was just glad that tonight when Buckman was railing against the media and the low standards of his country’s journalists that he didn’t glance behind him – otherwise, he’d have seen a screen at the back of the stage, which was advertising the concert’s sponsors, flashing the logo of Ceylon Today.
Next up were comparative old-timers – founded in 1995 – Whirlwind, who provide a denser and more mannered sound. Due to ongoing scheduling issues, they hadn’t had time to do a proper soundcheck beforehand and were forced to give ongoing instructions to the audio engineer between songs. I have to say I didn’t think this affected the quality of their music, which I found intense, immersive and even hypnotic at times.
After Whirlwind, by way of contrast, came death / black metal outfit Genocide Shrines. Clad in ski-masks and gimp-masks, the Shrines present a thunderous assault of noise that, according to the Metal Archives website, is inspired by themes of ‘tantra / spiritual warfare’, ‘death’ and ‘arrack’. So at that point, to get trantrically attuned to them, I bought a big glass of arrack at the bar.
The evening’s final hour was given over to Indian guests Kryptos. It doesn’t surprise me that their Wikipedia entry says they are greatly influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal of the late 1970s and early 1980s. (They’ve even supported Iron Maiden, which must have been a dream come true for them.) This is because while they struck their opening chords, I immediately thought: “Judas Priest!” And every song that started up thereafter sounded like it was about to turn into Breaking the Law. I say that in an absolutely complimentary way, incidentally.
At the end of the night, with a smile restored to my face, and with my body filled again with good cheer appropriate to the season, I took my leave of Colombo Open Air 2019. Thank you, Paranoid Earthling, Whirlwind, Genocide Shrines and all the other great guys (and ladies) of the Sri Lankan heavy metal scene. And a Merry Christmas to you all.