Review of stigmata‘s performance at the BMICH with their new line-up published in The Nation on Sunday 24th June 2012. Words and photographs by me.
If the turnout at Stigmata’s performance on Saturday, June 16 at the BMICH was staggering, it could have been for many reasons. Firstly, it was a free concert as part of the French Spring celebrations in Sri Lanka. As soon at Stigmata’s set was over however, the crowd literally diminished to a fraction of its size. Secondly, this was the band’s first performance in many moons, post recruiting a new bassist and drummer for the umpteenth time in the last 12 years of the band’s existence. None of the three albums they’ve launched have had the same line up, save the three original members, vocalist and guitarists Suresh, Andrew and Tennyson. Yet another line-up change. Could Stigmata continue to survive with the continuous need to rebuild a working chemistry with new band members?
The band has been known to come across as almost arrogant in their public and media statements in the past, but have also been able to consistently deliver the goods, be it a live performance or with each new album, bettering the last, if in no other way, at least with the band’s technical prowess as musicians. With this time’s performance, confidence began to sound overconfident and truth be told, there were a number of skeptical audience members, wondering how two young, barely 20-year-olds were going to hold their own with the likes of Andrew and Tenny, two well-honed performers, who make some of the most complicated riffs and solos seem like mere child’s play. Even under their experienced tutelage, fans and skeptics alike wondered if the band had finally made that one, over-the-top, arrogant decision that would become the death of them.
The performance literally blew the pants off the audience, owing to its unexpected brilliance. Stigmata felt rekindled. Suresh kept that ever-confident smile on his face, because he knew he had his audience in the palm of his hands; these new boys pulled off some of the most complicated local (and probably Asian) compositions with complete effortlessness. As a unit, the new line-up performed music from all three Stigmata albums, including a complex new thrash/prog original ‘And Now We Shall Bring Them War’.
The audience felt strangely nostalgic for the familiarity of the Stigmata sound; tight, complicated, thrashy, progressive and laced with lethal doses of real, old-school feel. No one should have doubted the band’s ability to identify talent, irrespective of how young or inexperienced that talent seemed, having become pioneers in an industry themselves at just 17. The addition of these young musicians to the band now seems like a nostalgic return to the band’s roots of being young enough to believe in a dream that has brought them to their present juncture.
The original line-up were part of a revolution that became the country’s first heavy metal band, paved the way for a dozen or so talented outfits to come together, forming a real underground industry and following. In a country full of cover bands in the western music front, their mere forming as a band at just 17, changed the local music industry as a whole by creating an original new sound that is nothing short of truly Sri Lankan. One merely needs to listen to their 2010 album, Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom to hear the only metal album to have elements of baila and papare merging in perfect harmony with what is nothing short of a very, heavy metal album.
Andhura, one of their oldest tracks, a heavy metal rendition of the Gajaga Wannama, is still being covered as tribute to Stigmata by young bands all over the island. These facts are often forgotten in a niche industry, coated in petty politics and one-upmanship. Only one metal band has survived as long, launched three albums and continue to release new music.
“People often mistake determination for arrogance,” said Shamir Hussain, former band mate, referring to the bad internal press the band has been unfairly receiving over the years for their seemingly supercilious perception with those not in the know, having been around to witness the amount of hard work and commitment that made Stigmata what it is today. They have performed at music festivals across South Asia, toured Australia, received glowing reviews by local and foreign media alike, and continue to maintain levels of professionalism that is testament to their position at the very top of the game.
Stigmata probably spend more time in rehearsal that any other musical outfit in the country. Music is far more serious business than merely knowing how to play an instrument; it’s more about raw talent and staying power. If the new additions of Lakmal and Chathuranga have both those, then Stigmata may just be onto a combination that had better stay put. If there is something to be learned from this experience, let it be this – that these 20 year olds have the maturity to realize the value of what they’ve found – some very real chemistry with the biggest and oldest metal band in the country.
What more can be said? You even had a pregnant lady come out to watch you perform, because your music has managed to have an even deeper, more connected effect on fans than the mere mastery of how you put your music together; be it live and lost in thick of the crowd or at home on your headphones – Stigmata’s music is incessantly hypnotic.