Cover story : How to write a Sri Lankan Psalm

Coverage of Stigmata’s third album launch : Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom. First published in the Sunday Times, on 20th June 2010 – http://sundaytimes.lk/100620/Magazine/sundaytimesmirror_05.html, along with the cover photograph – http://sundaytimes.lk/100620/Magazine/magazinecover.html

All launch and pre-publicity photography can be found here –

1. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=411208&id=554945322&l=ef520fb3be

2. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=430099&id=554945322

3. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=441744&id=554945322&l=87c7f6f086

On a day not so different from today and a little over ten years ago, three young Thomians met up and wrote a song. Just like that. An instant chemistry formed all of a sudden and different genre of rock & roll became the voice of an alternate young Sri Lanka.

They are none other than Stigmata, Sri Lanka’s first heavy metal band who, in a few days time will be celebrating a decade in the scene and thereby a decade of the scene with the launch of their third album. “Metal was like a magnet. From the beginning, that’s what we were.” Tenny, one of the guitarists tells us.

They were the first, the pioneers venturing into a new territory that to the untrained ear would have been a bunch of long-haired boys making too much noise. Today, they have become a band set to tour Australia in the coming months and are on the radars of some of the biggest names in the region. Stigmata has played over 300 gigs locally and have toured India, Maldives and Malaysia in recent years, affirming their status as one of Asia’s strongest metal voices. Ian Wright of the Discovery Channel has featured them in two of his shows. They are in all major tour guides about the country. They have even been reviewed by international metal magazines. And yet, they identify themselves as martyrs, because they have done nothing short of sacrifice their all for the love of their kind of music. It seems to be paying off.

Suresh, front-man and vocalist tells us that “this album – whoever has heard it, from playwrights to financial analysts have been blown away with it. One went on to tell us that there’s no one else in the world who sounds like us. Hearing that was very moving.” Stigmata have found their distinct sound that can be replicated by no one but them and this album proves to be nothing short of raw testament to that.

Sri Lankan metal doesn’t need to borrow from our Indian brothers nor use a national language in its lyrics to be truly Sri Lankan; it was almost an epiphany to realize upon hearing the results of Stigmata’s last 2 years in the studio. “We went in to the studio in May 2008 and came out in May 2010,” says Suresh. The album that has been 4 years in the coming, has been re-recoded twice and is finally ready to be heard. In fact I’ve been listening to some of their older tracks as a lead up to the interview and as soon as Andura started playing, another thought struck me – their metal rendition of our gajaga wannama was infact the first ever metal track to have a local feel to it, paving the way for many more bands to create their own original Sri Lankan sound.

Again with this new album, there is something undeniably Sri Lankan about it that is difficult to merely pinion in terms of instrument or style. It feels ours; a series of anthems dedicated to true Sri Lankan metalheads from a band that has known them and the call of their musically attuned ears for a decade.

Suresh says that “this album has a hell of a lot of feel.” That “it’s emotive.” Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom was easily one of the most pleasurable listening experiences I’ve had in a long time. I spent just one hour listening to it then many more trying to dissect it and I can’t. I tried to pin it down to a genre and I couldn’t. It’s extreme. It’s progressive. It’s psychedelic. It’s melodic. It’s baila. It’s pure Sri Lankan metal, combining a fusion of myriad genres and distilled into one unyielding hour of listening.

The band’s chemistry is undeniable; Andrew, the lead guitarist tells us “the chemistry was naturally there. I mean, the first day we met we wrote a song. From that our chemistry has developed into what it is today. With Taraka and Javeen coming in – the contribution to that chemistry has really worked for us.” There are five distinct personalities on stage and yet the chemistry is always apparent. All you need to do is watch Tenny and Andrew play in perfect harmony together across two ends of a stage to know that.
They tell us that “the album is accessible although it’s heavy,” making it a listening experience for more than just the metal fan.

On this album, Andrew also sings backing vocals over his guitar playing, Javeen has added a new dimension to the sound with his bass and loves how he has grown with the band and become part of the group. Taraka, on drums has built in performance-driven aspects to his playing in his own right and feels that the entire band, since the last few gigs have been playing in perfect synch. The addition of these two musicians has truly worked in taking the band another notch higher. They have contributed their own ideas to the recordings that have given the tracks a new edge. Tenny, who usually plays rhythm guitar has taken on a second mantle and will be playing lead on this album as well.

Stigmata have also been signed up by M Entertainment this time around making the album more accessible to music lovers. Ozzy Nugera whose studio the album was recorded in has been a valuable asset to the band, working with them to mix and master it, finally giving Stigmata the sound their music deserves. All things considered, these Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom are more than ready for the listening.

The band spend months in a studio going through an unrelenting process until the final product was ready to be heard; they survived on a few hours sleep, one meal a day and a small advertising agency operation to keep that meal on their table. And they have made it. We talk often of the American Dream, but on occasion it might be nice to see what the Sri Lankan dream is like.

If there were such a thing, these boys would probably epitomize it. They have truly sacrificed everything for their pure Sri Lankan breed of metal music.

Stigmata celebrate a decade in the business with the launch of their third album on June 26, 2010 from 7 – 10pm at the Auditorium of the British School in Colombo for saints and martyrs alike.

The tickets are priced at Rs. 1,000 and includes the performance, the album and an autographed poster. This finely honed fruit of their labour is yours for the listening… and thou shalt not be denied

They are none other than Stigmata, Sri Lanka’s first heavy metal band who, in a few days time will be celebrating a decade in the scene and thereby a decade of the scene with the launch of their third album. “Metal was like a magnet. From the beginning, that’s what we were.” Tenny, one of the guitarists tells us.
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