Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Interview with Imtiaz Ahmad of GRIMORIUM VERUM by Dave Wolff

Interview with Imtiaz Ahmad of GRIMORIUM VERUM

On June 24 last year you released unmastered demo tracks of songs that are planned to be included on your next album. The album itself is to be released this June. How much of a buzz has these uploads generated so far?
The demos/unmastered tracks shared online on June 24 were not part of a formal demo. These tracks were later re-recorded in parts and they are currently under mixing/mastering for inclusion on the full-length. Also we’ve re-recorded our two previously released tracks for it.
Our fans are super excited; they have been asking for this album for quite some years. Our Soundcloud and Youtube pages are showing substantial increase in views. It feels great for us to share the links when asked about the progress of the album. Fans from major cities with strong underground scenes in Bangladesh are frequently asking us if we have confirmed labels, when we are going to release the album, in which format we’ll be releasing it e.g. CDs/tapes, will there be merch items and even if we are planning to organize an album launching gig… hahaha. We received two interesting reviews from Afterlife Zine (Australia) and Timpani Allo Spiedo Zine (Italy) recently.

Does the new album have a working title yet? How many songs are being recorded in full? Are you searching for a label or releasing it independently?
The album will be titled “Opus Delusion Intravenous”. It is from the lyrics from one of the tracks “My Fatal Brain’s Deformity”. We decided this around 2014 because it best reflects our lyrical themes. Though our interests include war, religion, myth, lore, crippled society - we assume and represent them as forms of human insanity. So far, we have completed recording all the tracks. The album will include four new tracks (currently available as demos/unmastered tracks on Soundcloud), two pre-released tracks (re-recorded for the album) and one theatrical/orchestral instrumental track. Of these tracks. Empire of the Defeated Blood and Mirages of Imminent Mortality have some of our early melodic influences, while Conjuration is more blackened, War At Nekad, Murtaad and House of White Confession are kind of straightforward death metal, and our own favorite My Fatal Brain’s Deformity is a doomy yet slightly technical track. One thing that needs to be mentioned here is, almost all our songs feature substantial guitar solos unlike the current trend here.
We’re still contacting potential labels and so far we’ve received some interest from a number of labels from the USA, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Italy, Ukraine, Russia, Sweden, Indonesia, Philippines and Australia. That is beyond what we expected! So now, we are discussing releasing the album through multiple formats and multiple regions. This is not for monetary profit as we are open to all kinds of offers. The only thing that matters for us is that metalheads around the world get to hear our music!

In what cities in Bangladesh are extreme metal fans asking about the release of your full length? Why do you prefer seeking a label for distribution rather than self-release it?
We have been receiving enthusiasm from fans in Khulna, Chittagong, Dhaka, Rangamati, Rajshahi and Sylhet, the cities accommodating the majority of extreme metalheads. In addition, just to add, we have played a number of gigs in these cities (except Sylhet, where we failed to perform last year due to some unavoidable circumstances, but have a modest fan base still).
The reason for not going for an independent release is, though we’re quite confident about our fan base in Bangladesh, we believe teaming with international labels might probably ensure better international distribution, thus ensuring more devastation through our war efforts.

What did Afterlife Zine and Timpani Allo Spiedo Zine have to say about the band in their reviews? How did those two zines hear about Grimorium Verum? Does the band know many contacts in Australia and Italy?
The reviews from both zines have been quite interesting, given that we only shared the demo/unmastered tracks available on Soundcloud and our two previously released tracks on two physical compilation albums and that we still have little contacts in Italy and Australia.
Just to share a few things the zines found in common, first and foremost the existence of extreme metal in Bangladesh, a Muslim and disaster affected country. Both the zines said a lot of nice things about our music, especially our opus, dynamic songwriting blending brutality, technicality and blackened sections especially in the guitars. Surprisingly the zines had a mixed opinion on their favorite tracks. While Afterlife Zine praised Conjuration of the Promised Land and House of White Confession, the opinions of Timpani Allo Spiedo Zine were more inclined towards War at Nekad and Murtaad. But it was My Fatal Brain’s Deformity that both the zines both hailed. And just to finish (and we’re humbled for it!!!) these two zines dropped lines like:
“… they can play and deliver a total opus in terms of songwriting, the layers of sounds spiral out of control and gives a sense of urgency, is technical at times it has those crunchy guitar riffs but also they can add a bit of melodies which sometimes don’t go well with death metal but if you add it in a smart way it could enhance the songs and that’s what it does, sometimes they let it all loose and it goes ballistic but not over the top to put it mildly this will crush anyone with it’s sheer power.” (Afterlife Zine, 2019)
“… need to say that Grimorium Verum are surprisingly good since their songs are well structured, dynamic and even various in terms of atmosphere… Grimorium Verum, after many years in the ranks, have forged a sort of blackened death metal style that offer a mix between Behemoth and Morbid Angel blended with dark atmospheres and melodic desparation” (Timpani Allo Spiedo Zine, 2019)

Name some of the labels interested in signing the band and distributing the new album. Which of them do you think will have a deal most beneficial to the band?
Actually we are discussing terms with a number of labels, and as some labels have reservations regarding other labels distributing from the same region/country/state or releasing the same format (CD/tape), it’s still hard to mention names at this stage. We’re hoping to finalize these decisions by February. In finalizing the deal with the labels we have not considered only financial benefits (e.g. the number of copies or royalties that will be shared to us), but rather the reputation of the label, the number of copies that will be pressed in total in comparison to the size of the metal community in the region, promotional offer and last but foremost personal relations and prior communications.

Can you relate what it’s like to be an extreme metal band in a Muslim country? I’ve heard occasional accounts some time ago. What is it like in 2019?
Most people from outside cannot even believe that we have a metal scene. Metal is still more of an urban thing popular mostly among the angry (hahaha!!!) young people with long hair and black shirts. As such very few people are actually aware about the messages that we intend to deliver. The earliest hard rock/heavy metal bands like Rockstrata, In Dhaka and Warfaze from Bangladesh can be dated back to the 80s. It was not until the early 2000s, I guess, that underground gigs started in Dhaka while it started to spread outside Dhaka in the mid-2000s, notably at Khulna and Chittagong and then to Sylhet, Rajshahi and Rangamati. Recently metal/underground gigs are popping up gradually in smaller cities as Mymensingh, Noakhali and Feni, and the scene is growing, not significantly in Dhaka but outside Dhaka. While the scene in Dhaka has recently been trending mostly to old school stuffs especially thrash along with a few black and death acts, the scene at Khulna, Chittagong and Rajshahi are more inclined towards death metal, but Sylhet has more of a thrash and death blended flavor. The mosh’s also have diverse regional characteristics in Bangladesh. To me the best mosh does not belong to our home at Khulna but at Chittagong, man you should have checked out their wall of death. Also interestingly a big chunk of the gigs in Chittagong are school/college events!!! Still to date, the only zine from Bangladesh has been Venustas Diabolicus from Dhaka, which is mostly focused on black metal stuffs. Outside Dhaka, for example me, Niaz, Shupto, Emon, Rocky and a few other fellows founded a community in Khulna University, Noise Factory in 2009, which till this day organizes one the most prestigious and long-running extreme annual festivals. Few other notable festivals are Banish the Posers Fest by Primitive Invocation and Metal Morgue in Dhaka, Rise of Khaos by Graveyard Metal in Khulna, Invocation of Sinners by Bengal Legions in Chittagong. We often have severe challenges in getting venues including international touring bands. Although bands like Impiety, Desecravity, Manzer, Funerus, Abigail, Infernal Curse has played in Bangladesh, two years ago Krisiun and Eluveitie were rejected immigration to perform. And finally, I believe we have already had quite some amazing metal bands like Mirrorblaze, Burial Dust, Dissector, Exalter, Orobas, Sacrilege, Creature of Judgement, Serpent Spells, Torture Goregrinder, and my personal favorites Severe Dementia, Satanik, Orator (previously Barzak), Nafarmaan, Chromatic Massacre, Warhound, Abominable Carnivore, Eternal Armageddon, Homicide, Jahiliyyah, Nekrohowl, Surtur, Enmachined, Trainwreck, Overlord, Power of Ground, Ionic Bond, Demonic Assault, H2SO4, Moonshiner, Necrolepsy, Psychotron, Revolution and Feral Throne etc. and most notably Weapon (Yes!!! the infamous Bangladeshi-Canadian band that was signed to Relapse Records before splitting up in 2013)

What were the earliest shows like where you played? Were there any run ins with the authorities you heard about?
Me and our guitarist Niaz are both from the capital Dhaka, and were quite active at the underground scene with another lineup (Artemis, 2004-2008) back then. After moving to Khulna and forming Grimorium Verum in 2009 there with our vocals Emon and drummer Nibir (former bandmates from Death Rattle), and Shupto (from Rude Talkers) the band initially started playing at the underground gigs at Khulna extensively. Then gradually after the release of “Metal Domination Vol - 1” compilation album the band started playing gigs at Dhaka again. The first gig that we played outside Dhaka was at Chittagong in 2015 then soon followed by other cities.
Although there has been no significant run-ins to date with the authorities, overall venue arrangement and visas for international bands remain a challenge. It is quite hard to get venues for underground gigs both in most of the cities. Everyday less and less venues are made available for these gigs apart from the increase of venue costs for underground gigs. For example, Noize Fest was banned from organizing gigs twice, while asked to change the name of our community once, and even were remarked by one of the Khulna University faculty members to have connection with IS, can you imagine that hahaha!!! Another instance for example, while we were headlining at our first gig at Chittagong we had to stop after playing only two songs because the police turned off the electricity. Apart from that, Krisiun and Eluveitie were rejected immigration to perform, where Krisiun and Nervochaos had to go through serious troubles at the airport, as I have mentioned before.

How much have the scenes in those cities grown since the 80s? Do the metal festivals get a lot of zine and magazine coverage? How large are the turnouts?
Although the earliest heavy metal bands like Rockstrata, In Dhaka and Warfaze originated in the 80s, it was not until the 2000s that the metal scene started taking a definitive shape. As I have mentioned here before, the scenes outside Dhaka (for example at Khulna, Chittagong) started growing in the mid-2000s, while a lot of the newer scenes growing up very recently (e.g. Rangamati, Noakhali, Rajshahi, Mymensingh…).
To date there is only one Bangladeshi zine “Venustus Diabolicus” which solely focus on black metal, and as such does not comprehensively cover the entire metal scene. On the other hand, I do not recall too many gigs or bands to be featured at the international zines or magazines either.
Most of the fests in Bangladesh take place in indoor venues and usually can host a maximum of 200-400 audiences. Apart from that the only metal festivals arranged open air with larger crowds are held surprisingly only at Khulna regularly (by Noise Factory) and occasionally at Rangamati, Chittagong, and Sylhet.

When bigger underground bands (those who are signed to labels like Metal Blade and Relapse) come to perform in your country, are they still met with resistance from the authorities?
Hahaha it does not even matter unless you are a Bollywood star or global icon like Brian Adams in Bangladesh, hahaha!!! As I said before Eluveitie and Krisiun could not perform due to resistance from authorities as due to the lack of awareness often consider the genre as a cultural aberration.

How much distribution do the zines you mentioned receive? About the bands you mentioned, are any of them included on compilation CDs that people can get hold of?
I am not quite sure about the distribution of the zines, as most of them are probably circulated online, but what I can assume is between a few hundred and a thousand.
Many of the bands that I mentioned here before were also included in the physical compilation albums that were released from Bangladesh. For example, tracks by Satanik, Chromatic Massacre, Jahiliyyah, Trainwreck, Eternal Armageddon were featured on Metal Domination Vol - 1. While the “Luxury of Pain” compilation featured tracks by Orator, Chromatic Massacre, Abominable Carnivore, Eternal Armageddon, Dissector, Psychotron, Necrolepsy from Bangladesh and other bands from outside Bangladesh like Dying out Flame (Nepal), Synopsis (Italy) and so on...

How many independent labels exist in your home country? To your knowledge do those labels have an easier time mailing physical promos or emailing promos streamed on the internet?
Unfortunately, like the number of zines, we do not have many functional record labels in Bangladesh. The only few that we have are either inactive to serve the large volume of releases or focus mainly on mainstream music or per se mainstream metal bands. Just to name a few for example there is G-Series, Deadline Music, Incursion Music who work with bands with mainstream popularity, while other independent labels include Metal Monger Records (which had bands like Master in their roster), Qinetic Music, Dust & Guilt Records, Mortuary Productions, Putrid Production, Retro-Claw Records only have released only a few albums and most likely to be inactive. Most of these labels limit their business solely within Bangladesh; while in many instances cater to reach the local crowd with a release through an international label. Therefore, I am not actually quite sure about the issues these labels face for mailing and streaming.

How is the postal service when it comes to receiving promo releases from unsigned bands and independent labels? How did you and the band hear of the bands who influenced you?
Hahaha that is just a fantastic question. There were actually a lot of jokes on our postal service although things have changed a lot since. It is not very expensive I would say compared to courier services but it still has quite some setbacks in terms of sending music through CDs. In most instances, the post office might consider this as an act of sabotage to leak state secrets, while during receiving you might face like an unjustified amount of taxation without any reason based on what the CNF agents assume that your package might worth.
The way we managed to first listen to metal is quite similar for me and our guitarist Niaz. I had a chance to listen it from one of my uncle’s mix tapes (there were actually record shops who would make you a mixed tapes of your favorite artists and tracks) and Niaz so far what I remember got a similar one from one of his school friends Salehin (also later played with us for our previous lineup briefly). By the time, we were in college and I met Niaz, computers were already becoming widespread and as such we used to exchange mixed CDs (same as mixed tapes) and hard-drives. By 2009, the internet became widely available and we are actually able to access a broader range of music.

Do local record stores still make mixed tapes for fans to listen to? How many do you know of that are still circulating? How many do you still own and what bands are on them?
Not sure, but I guess not since most of the population has been brought under some extent of internet coverage and CD/cassette players have become nearly obsolete. People only go to record stores if they have a specific band or album in mind, and then usually transfer them to laptops and mobiles for portability. In addition, there the role of distribution has been taken up by a number of online distros like Old Serpent, who distribute albums by both Bangladeshi as well as international bands. I still probably have 10-12 of these mix tapes/CDs in one of my messy drawers with tracks by Jimi Hendrix, Rainbow, AC/DC, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Deep Purple, Skid Row, Pantera, Dream Theatre, Europe, Guns N’ Roses and other bands. The rest is either lost, damaged or never returned back after being borrowed.

I’ve heard that vinyl has made a comeback in the US and UK if I remember correctly. Do you think that could happen in Bangladesh at some point or will things continue to develop the way they are now, with fans using laptops and mobiles?
I have also heard so for a few more countries like Germany and Canada, though I am not sure. That might happen in Bangladesh, but the odds are likely too. I am saying this because, for example, if you are living in major urban cities like Dhaka and Chittagong you are likely to spend a substantial amount of time of your day on the road due to horrible traffic and as such, a rather portable option like mobile-phone might still be useful. Or for say, if you are a full-time student or job holder (like me) a laptop or mobile might be a more suitable option during daytime, while the LP player is at home apart from the additional amount of money that you have to spend.

How much has the internet helped spread word about bands from Bangladesh since it became widely available since 2009? Are more bands building websites and hosting streaming pages on Youtube, Soundcloud and Bandcamp?
Internet played a pivotal role, especially Facebook to regularly share updates with our fanbase or even share contents from YouTube and Soundcloud. Having your fans at Facebook means that you can share news about gigs, recording updates, photos, videos and so on. Building websites is yet to be popular among Bangladeshi bands given the already mentioned popularity of Facebook. Apart from Facebook most of the bands are active on YouTube and Soundcloud. Although many bands do have Bandcamp pages I still doubt its contribution to the bands’ exposure in Bangladesh since credit cards and PayPal are not quite popular or accessible to the mass population.

How many releases do you have out to date, and how have you had to distribute them?
If you are asking about physical releases to date, we only have tracks on two compilation albums from Bangladesh that were released by G-Series and Mortuary Productions. G-Series is one of the largest labels in Bangladesh and as such have a few physical stores across the country, which were used to distribute the album. On the other hand, Mortuary Productions distributed the albums through their own contacts and communications along with online distros. Apart from that the rest of our digitally released tracks were published at online platforms as Bandcamp, Itunes, Spotify, Discogs etc.

How did Grimorium Verum hook up with G-Series and Mortuary Productions to release your material? Have those labels treated the band well?
Both the albums were coordinated by other fellow bands from Bangladesh. For example, Dip, the vocal from Abominable Carnivore coordinated Metal Domination from G-Series while Ruzlan from Necrolepsy and Moonshiner coordinated Luxury of Pain by Mortuary Productions. We did not receive or ask for any royalties from these labels, not even complementary copies (and of course, we knew about this beforehand, so it’s all sorted out). We even had to sign a contract with G-Series stating some imaginary studio costs so that they can claim the copyright… hahaha!!! However, we are fine with that from the spirit of brotherhood and as you can imagine there are very few such pure metal compilations that were released from Bangladesh. We have been in good terms with both Dip, Ruzlan, their bandmates and other fellow bands participating the album both before these albums and ever since the release. Especially I would always remain grateful to Dip for accommodating our long track and bearing all the hassle for the album’s release. I would always remember the way he was trying to hide away on the release day as the album copies arrived late… hahaha!!!

Were you given a reason for the delay when the copies of your album arrived late? How long did you have to wait before you received the copies?
It was no big deal; it was just a few hours because of the insane traffic due to Ramadhan.

Where do G-Series and Mortuary Productions do most of their promoting of bands? Will they be handing your future releases as you come out with them?
To be honest there was almost no promotions from these labels other than that at the Facebook event page and a national daily article. Apart from that, the bands promoted the album via Facebook discreetly.

Will you eventually seek distribution outside Bangladesh to spread word to extreme metal fans in other countries? If so, what countries are you setting your sights on at present?
Of course, my friend, we would like to reach the extreme metal fans throughout the world with our album. This was also the primary reason we are currently speaking with so many labels from different countries. We want our album to be within the reach of as many listeners as possible. Although we don’t have specific countries in mind, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Germany, France, Russia, UK, Sweden, Norway, Brazil, USA, Canada, Mexico are some of the countries that we definitely wish to distribute our album to.

What will be the easiest way to promote your releases to new listeners from so many countries? Will you have the means to travel to some of these countries to perform at festivals? If so, how well do you think you’ll be received?
I think there is no easy answer to it. However, we expect the labels to promote the album to a certain extent and this is our strongest chance too. This is because extensive touring might be quite challenging. For example, when a label owner asked me the same question we had to decline the offer as we found out that we do not have South American embassies here in Bangladesh apart from the fact of our full time jobs and families. Therefore, to further complement the album promotion we were planning to seek professional support from Qabar Extreme Metal PR from Bangladesh. However, we will still be looking forward to perform live in these countries someday after all. Moreover, I believe that they will definitely love to mosh with our blackened death aggression.

-Dave Wolff

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