India’s Heathen Beast are a prolific, if obscure, bunch. Having formed in 2010, the trio pumped out an EP almost every year, detailing the atrocities committed by their local government, the nonstop pollution of their environment, and the violent hypocrisy of the various religions coexisting in India. Each EP showed increasing musical growth and Eastern influences livening up their vitriolic black metal attack, until the band decided to inexplicably call it quits in 2016. Rumors abounded that the government got involved (hence, the anonymity) and shut the band down. All that is a moot point, as a particularly questionable act by their government warranted the release of $cam, bringing the band back to life, and switching their sound from Eastern-inspired black metal to more visceral grindcore.
And that act would be the demonetization of the 500 and 1000 rupee banknotes on November 8, 2016, the same day of the United States Presidential election. In a nutshell, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi decided to make those specific banknotes null and void. Problem is, those bills made up 86% of the cash flow of India, and in a nation that is mostly cash-reliant, chaos ensued. People were standing in lines that stretched for miles, trying to exchange their now-invalid banknotes at banks that were low on the newer notes. Needless to say, in trying to end corruption, the poor got royally screwed over. People died of shock and fatigue, waiting for hours to get to their banks. “Fuck Poor People, I Have Paytm” recalls this event in seething detail, with guitarist/vocalist Carvaka spitting vitriol over music that leans more towards Nails than Chthonic. The use of tabla still remains prevalent, but it’s not as prolific as it was on earlier releases. The band prefer to lay waste this time around instead of peppering their culture’s sound.
That switch of styles works in Heathen Beast‘s favor, for the most part. “If the Army Can Do It, So Can You” rages in Napalm Death-esque fashion, with lines such as “You were born into comforts and lots of wealth/Serving the nation is for someone else/But you got the balls, to stand very tall/in the line of the ATM” feeding the fury gloriously. Opener “Surgical Strike (De-Modi-Tization)” rips heads and goes for the throat throughout the song’s barely three-minute run time. None of the songs go past their expiration date of usefulness. They go in, lay waste to everyone around them, and then skedaddle when it’s time to go.
That said, there are a couple of issues plaguing $cam. “Bailing Out the Banks” starts with this weird bouncy riff that could fit in with Machine Head‘s bouncy-yet-sad nu-metal period, though they right that ship towards the end. “If You Disagree You Are Anti-National, Go to Pakistan” is the album’s only foray into Eastern scale work, and it’s a brief one at that. Part of Heathen Beast‘s appeal was their expert use of Eastern melodies in their attack. Go watch the video for “Contaminating the Ganges” off of 2012’s The Drowning of the Elephant God for further proof1. Hearing less of that aspect to their sound is a bit disappointing, but I also understand the need to sacrifice certain parts of your sound for a stronger message.
$cam succeeded in two aspects. One, it caused me to fly down the rabbit hole of information on India, and its equal parts beauty and ugliness. And just as importantly, it turned me on to yet another new band. I’m hoping Heathen Beast stick around a bit longer this time, and that they remain vigilant in getting their message out to the world. You could do far worse for 21 minutes of your time.