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Songs of Rebellion: A Call From The Down Troddence

features May 07, 03:21pm

The folk metal band from 'God's own country' hope to redefine metal with their narration of history and their debut album.
 Photo Courtesy: Clint Soman

The language of music is universal and alike minds are not always fortunate enough to cross each other regardless of their affinity. But every now and then, variables will align themselves to the effect of enabling the gathering of great musicians wherever they may be or may be from; members of thrash/groove/folk metal band The Down Troddence consider themselves lucky enough to be among the latter. Just off the coast of Kerala, a few hundred kilometers north of Trivandrum, lies the district of Kannur, a name that even in the most unprecedented of chances deters from being uttered in the same breath as a metal band; a metal band that is redefining the game from their bedroom, all the same. It is purely a result of random probability that members of The Down Troddence met each other.

From guitar competitions to western orchestral festivals to school and college music competitions, the members of the band met each other in all instances that would rarely ever point toward metal as the common ground of interest; such is the way of this universe. It begs the question, How does a city virtually invisible on the music map, or most others for that matter, give birth to a metal band? Vocalist Munz reflects on the music scene in his native city with a tired hiss, “Oh, that’s a long story,” instantly letting you know that it has been an upward climb for this band. “See, as far as metal goes we don’t have any rich history or anything,” he says. The Down Troddence, amongst many other things, can also arguably be referred to as pioneers of the metal music scene in and around where they come from; dishing out metal music to a crowd that probably looked at the band as a bunch of carnival freaks and refusing to digest what they had to say, the band’s journey truly began as one against the tide. From 12 hour train rides with VIP seats next to the toilets, to being called off stage in the middle of a set and hilarious instances of complete alienation, the band has seen it all. “The most memorable thing, I think,” Munz shares with us, “is when back during college we played at a college called Vimal Jyothi College, at that time Varun (guitarist) was doing his second year of engineering. We were doing covers at that time, like Metallica and Pantera and stuff; this was a Christian missionary college and we were playing ‘Master of Puppets’ on stage and during the portion where you sing  ‘Master. Master,’ they heard it as ‘Bastard, Bastard.’ So they asked us to stop the gig. We had to announce:  ‘Sorry, we are having some technical difficulties,’ ” Nezer Ahmed, the bassist, adds laughing away.

The Down Troddence were fortunate enough to take guidance from bands like Avial and Motherjane, musicians that have pioneered their own brand of music, leaving behind footprints that only a few strong of mind and brave of heart dare to follow. Munz confesses to being a sort of musical acolyte to these artists, “We’ve always wanted to be like them, in terms of music, their promotion and the kind of gigs they play. So we’ve always looked at them like idols and the kind of issues that Avial were talking about in its first album, like social causes and politics. So even in our album, we kind of talk about the same thing.” But, the band is far more than an unscrupulous attempt at emulation; on their debut album, How Are You? We Are Fine, Thank You, which the band released last year, the listener is subjected to witness genuine inspiration on account of influences ranging from Lamb of God to Motherjane to airy post rock God Is An Astronaut-ish ambience and traditional Carnatic ragas through instruments and samples. Nezer attempts at defining their music, “Well, uh… if you want to encompass that into a single ball of genre then I don’t know what to call it, but we are heavily influenced by thrash and groove and progressive metal, and a lot of traditional folk elements from Kerala. So I think we can all ourselves South Indian groove metal [chuckling].”

“The album from beginning to end is a journey. Our influences change, the kind of music and the lyrics change”
- Munz (Vocalist)

There is a reason why folk music is called ‘folk’ music, the music is an attempt at paying homage to the culture, the tradition and the history the band members have grown up with; the performance aspect of music styles including Carnatic and Melakarta Ragas is secondary and less important than the journey of the mind itself, that every musician undertakes and hopes to conquer. Coming from Kannur, and with a few members trained in music classically, the band has a clear understanding of its origins and infuses aspects derived from traditional forms of art and dance like Kathakali and Theyyam, orating stories of great martyrs and events from their history. But the infusion is natural and not forced; as Nezer explains it: “It was not at all a conscious or intentional process. So if a certain portion of the song demands that kind of an approach in terms of following or riffing, we just go with it.”

In 2012, drummer Ganesh Radhakrishnan moved to Bangalore after being placed in a company there, along with Nezer, who followed suit to pursue his masters in the same city. Fret not, this wasn’t the nail in this band’s coffin, far from it. As Munz puts it: “So I thought, ‘Okay, these guys are already there so I’ll also get a job in Bangalore,’ and we all moved to Bangalore. We got ourselves a house and started staying together and writing music.” The move probably turned out to be the kick off that the band needed, Munz says, “In Kerala, the gig scene is not great and we wanted to play a lot of gigs, so Bangalore really helped us. All the Bangalore metalheads and musicians, they really helped us.” “Yeah, regardless of old school, new school and all that shit, everyone helped us,” Nezer agrees gratefully.



 

With a new city and new fans waiting to rip it, The Down Troddence decided on pulling a rabbit out of the hat with their debut album. The members reminisce their experience recording the album as one of the best and enriching experiences of their lives, “First of all,” Nezer reminds us, “we had never done anything like this before; roping in Keshav Dhar from New Delhi and getting him to come down to our small place in Kormangela, and, you know, doing everything inside the house, it was a testing time, actually.” The debut album was recorded entirely in the bedroom that the members share with whatever tools they could find, creating something that would essentially catapult the band’s reputation within the circuit, drawing in eyes and ears from all over, toward the varied trajectory that the music from this band follows. “The album from beginning to end is a journey,” Munz says. “Our influences change, the kind of music and the lyrics change,” in essence pushing the envelope and keeping away from stagnating musically. The band was now on its way to make a name, stirring attention from known players in the game like Baiju Dharmajan, formerly of Motherjane, sharing his guitar licks on ‘Forgotten Martyrs’ off of the album. The band even jammed with him at a gig once. “Actually that wasn’t’ planned or anything,” Munz explains about their encounter with him, “Baiju chettan just called and said that I want a really powerful song to end the gig with and he asked us, ‘Do you want to play?’ I wasn’t even headbanging, I was like, ‘Should I headbang with him or play with him, what should I do?’ It was a really good experience because when we recorded ‘Shiva’ on our laptop like three years ago, we just sent it to him randomly; so one day he just called me and gave me his entire review of the song and wished us luck. And then I got the chance to play with the very same person on stage, so that’s like the biggest achievement.”

Stream the official video for 'Nagavalli' by The Down Troddence below:

Considering the success their debut album has garnered, the band is ready for the next counter-attack with plans of rampaging across stages across the country. “We’ve released an album and that was more than a dream,” says Munz, “because we never imagined that we would release an album.” But, they have no plans of letting up just yet, “We have a music video coming out,” he adds, "that is the next big thing.” From a bedroom project to becoming a force of metal music’s evolution in the country, bands like The Down Troddence are few to come by, their music, their journey and their progressive evolution shines like a beacon, come hell or high water.

This article originally appeared in the April edition of Rock Street Journal magazine.

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