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Underground Metal Special: South Africa

Underground Metal Special: South Africa

by Luxi Lahtinen

South Africa, the southernmost country in Africa, populated with over 60 million people, is surely a country one might like to visit due to its colorful culture and history. And if you are a metalhead and always looking for new metal bands from the most obscure places of the world, that would be another reason to turn your head to South Africa because they have a vivid and productive underground metal scene there, though it hardly gets the recognition it deserves.

That's the reason we fine people here at The Metal Crypt want to give metal musicians from every corner of the world the opportunity to let fans know about their bands and how they can be reached via the wonderful world of the Internet.

So, all the way from South Africa, here are a bunch of stories from several metal musicians about how they became musicians, what led them to form/join their bands, release music and all that jazz.

Special thanks to Carlos Sanches from Deadline for helping me out with some contacts.

Thanks to all the musicians who participated in this South African metal special.

When you decided to form/join this band, what did you primarily want to achieve?

Guthrie Garnham (KILL FRENZY): I don't think we had anything in mind specifically when we formed. We just wanted to play heavy music and play live as much as possible because we always thought of ourselves as a live band. We had all played in other bands, but this one just felt different, so we knew from the beginning that we were going to pour our hearts and souls into it and see where the road took us.

Tasha "Axe" Danzig (LADYAXE): I signed with Inhouse Records in Johannesburg in 1992. Initially, I hoped to do metal music for a living, tour, record albums, etc. and wanted to be an international act.

I was 19 years old at the time, so I wanted to be the female version of Manowar! ;

Ryno Theron (TRUTH DECAYED): Warren and I formed the band during the hard lockdown here in South Africa. At first it was just a side project for me, while my focus was on my solo music. But when people started responding very positively to the music, and we achieved some wonderful things early on, I realized that I should put the same, if not more effort into Truth Decayed as I do with my own music. Since then, we set out to be as professional as possible, and we really started focusing on building a strong international following.

Grant Lazenby (SKINSTRIPPER): When I decided to start my Skinstripper project my main objective was to create the music that I always envisioned in my head with no restrictions or rules. I am a big fan of grindcore and death-grind as well as shred/instrumental guitar music. Skinstripper is more or less an amalgamation of those styles of music with some other bits thrown in.

Robyn Ferguson (ROBYN FERGUSON): I branched out from performing in bands and became a solo artist around 2018/19 with the main goal of producing music that ignites my soul. It's been a personal journey of self-discovery and growth and I've always aimed to play music on the stages of the world. The goal is to find and create experiences through music and art.

Christopher Paterson (MONOLITH): We initially formed Monolith Z.A. as a studio project. We wanted to focus on crafting interesting and unique releases that would hopefully get the attention of the South African and global scene. This was the mindset going into our first two EPs, Legacy of the Opium Eater and Memory Palace. Once we gained some traction, we filled out the lineup, started playing live shows and worked on new material as a 4-piece band. The full lineup had a lot of creativity and a very specific goal in mind which led to the creation of our full-length record The Lord Conspirator. We are really proud of this record as it captured the sound and atmosphere we were hoping to achieve.

Grant Lazenby (ALIEN DISEMBOWELMENT): We just wanted to write some really heavy death metal with old school and new school influences and release it and have fun with some ridiculous alien invasion themes.

Carlos Sanches (DEADLINE): At the time our goal was simple, to play old school heavy metal/hard rock. Unfortunately, we do not have a very big metal scene in this country and at the time we formed there were no old school metal bands, so we merely wanted to form a band and play our favorite genre of metal for the masses. Our scene was saturated with death metal and metalcore bands. We never thought we'd achieve the success that we have to date. I didn't even think we'd record a single, let alone two albums and an EP. I'd say we achieved what we set out to do.

Daniel "Dr D" Burger (CHAOS DOCTRINE): When Chaos Doctrine was formed roughly 12 years ago, the intention was always to create something new and fresh. We wanted to do an industrial form of metal our own way, where the tracks are really heavy and clearly influenced by old school thrash and death metal, but with an industrialized twist. In addition, we wanted the band to be a full brand, complete with visual identity, name and lyrics that support the themes associated with the music we create. While we have experimented a lot over time and pushed the boundaries in many disparate directions, I think we continue to achieve this!

Damian Buys (A NAMELESS DREAD): We formed as a trio of veteran South African musicians; we've all been playing in various bands for over a decade.

Since we're an experienced bunch, we knew we could achieve a lot without dedicating every waking moment to the project so we set out to form a band we could be proud of on the international stage, but without getting in the way of our day jobs and our lives.

Once we got to talking, we found a massive mutual love of cosmic horror and thus A Nameless Dread was born with an occult vision, and one quick demo later, our sound found us.

We wanted to keep the band small, so that our vision and friendship would remain focused, and decision-making would be as quick as possible. I also, personally, wanted to perform in a single-guitar band (something I'd never done), and wanted to produce the album myself, in my own studio.

Ultimately, we wanted to play heavy music live, and we achieved this in short order!

Joshua Barkley (IMPERIAL DESTRUCTION): We started when we were still in school. I think we had no other goals than to play a local metal festival (Metal-4-Africa) with the adults and share the stage with some of our favorite local bands.

Which things are you most proud of regarding past and/or present achievements of your band?

Guthrie Garnham (KILL FRENZY): We are proud of the first recordings that we released. We managed to put them together while our country was under a very strict lockdown due to Covid-19. They are mostly home recordings and only the drums were recorded in a professional studio. We are proud of the outcome, considering the circumstances. Another thing we are very proud of was the first video release we shot in a day with zero budget. The video came out looking better than we could have imagined.

Tasha "Axe" Danzig (LADYAXE): I was, as far as records show, the first professional female metal artist in the Southern Hemisphere in the early ‘90s. My record label booked my band to support Napalm Death at one of the venues on their SA tour, but that fell through apparently.

Later in 2007, my music was used for the end credit song in the UK horror movie "The Ghosts of Crowley Hall."

LadyAxe headlined the Windhoek Metal Festival in 2009 in Namibia. For that gig only, the band consisted of my 55-year-old mother on drums and my 15-year-old daughter on lead guitar. We made history being three generations of women in one band and headlining a metal festival.

I did the intro to Greek black metal band Drama Noir's second album, A Necromancy Lore. This was a great honor, and it drew possible collaborations with bands like Rotting Christ and Syntelia.

Warren Jones (TRUTH DECAYED): So much has happened in a short space of time. Some highlights include being featured in Metal Hammer magazine with a positive review for our debut EP. This is something we never imagined being possible. Being nominated in three categories for the South African Metal Music Awards, and a nomination for the Global Metal Apocalypse Awards (results still pending at this time) were both very proud moments. Our headline Gauteng tour this past December was a big moment for us too. And, of course, the amazing fans we've made and connected with from around the world has been a mind-blowing experience.

Grant Lazenby (SKINSTRIPPER): One of my big achievements was playing a hip-hop vs. metal show at a reggae bar a few years back. It was a great show and I got to meet some really great people and make some good contacts. Another show which stands out was Spawnfest 2019 (put on by SA death metal titans, Bleeding Spawn), which was a killer metal festival! Another thing for me is I am almost constantly writing music and maintaining an almost constant release "strategy" for my music is what I always wanted (Buckethead is a big influence on me, and I like his idea of an almost constant flow of music).

Robyn Ferguson (ROBYN FERGUSON): The top of the list is five solo EP releases in two years. It's been an epic journey and I never expected my albums to be so well received. It's been a highlight performing them internationally both physically and online and I'm excited for the future!

Christopher Paterson (MONOLITH): We have been lucky enough to share the stage with some of the best bands South Africa has ever produced. Insidious Reign, DevilSpeak, The Fallen Prophets and Megalodon to name a few. Most of the main cities are pretty far away from each other so it's always a treat to tour/perform and mingle with bands from other scenes. Our most proud achievement as a band is the release of our record The Lord Conspirator. We had a very specific vision for the songs, sound and feel of this album and I think we achieved what we set out to do.

Grant Lazenby (ALIEN DISEMBOWELMENT): We have not been around too long and have only played a handful of shows, but we have a digital distribution deal in place with Sepulchral Silence which we are pretty stoked about.

Carlos Sanches (DEADLINE): I touched on it in the previous answer. I am proud of every album/EP we've released and I'm proud that even during a pandemic we can still keep doing what we love in our country, although on a much smaller scale. We've won six South African Metal Music awards. I am very proud of that achievement. I suppose the reason for feeling so proud about these achievements is when we started, we were all in our early to middle ‘30s, all had day jobs and just started this as a hobby. We never thought our music would touch so many people. For me, this is a real feather in our caps. It's turned out to be a real soul fulfilling hobby.

Daniel "Dr D" Burger (CHAOS DOCTRINE): I think for us the greatest achievement is doing what we have wanted to do for over a decade despite so many setbacks and challenges. For us, the rule when creating music is we can do whatever we want to do, as long as all the band members like it. That prevents us from being stifled creatively and creates opportunities for really going all out with every new song we create, pushing the boundaries of our style and identity.

We also managed to secure our own space, a combination of live space and recording studio, which allows us to explore what we want to do at our own pace. During the initial stages of Covid-19, when our country was in lockdown, our guitarist Alec also put a lot of time into sharpening his engineering and mastering skills, which further helps us continue independently, the way we want to. Because of this, we have matured over time in our song writing and production from our first album and EP to the second album (released in 2021) and the music we are busy with right now is a step up from there!

In addition to the above, we also would like to think that we brought something new and fresh to the South African metal scene. We have had great metal bands and great industrial bands here but as mentioned above, our sound is a unique combination of multiple metal genres and we work hard to create something novel and different supported by a complete visual identity and stage shows.

Finally, we have done some great collaborations! We are fortunate to have had metal legend Jörgen Sandström on our track "Black Friday Bedlam," we worked with Russian metal diva Anna "Hel" Vavilkina on the track "Blood Serpent God" and got Russia's Demeter Grail to do vocals for us on a Russian version of our track "Father Grigori." And there are loads more to come!

Damian Buys (A NAMELESS DREAD): As we all know, new bands get the less desirable time slots at shows until they prove themselves. We are proud to say a combination of our professionalism, quality of performance, and industry connections had us playing premium time slots in short order.

We were also nominated for a total of four South African Metal Music Awards and walked away winning best design for our album art by the magnificently talented Barend Chamberlain (an old friend from a previous band).

We're incredibly proud of our debut album, The First Nothing, and I am personally incredibly proud that I wrote all the songs (sans lyrics) and went on to record, mix, and master the album entirely on my own in my own personal studio.

Joshua Barkley (IMPERIAL DESTRUCTION): Imperial Destruction's biggest contribution to the SA Metal scene is that we began to organize and host heavy metal festivals/events in a part of the country that had none. We began small with a single-day event and over three years, it has matured into a 3-day New Year's open-air festival (Geraas Plaas). These festivals were completely independent and truly DIY.

How popular is metal music in your country these days compared to 10-15 years ago? Are metalheads something one can see walking on the streets among so-called "regular people", wearing shirts from Sabbath, Slayer, Behemoth, etc.?

Guthrie Garnham (KILL FRENZY): I would say it has a decent following but still very small compared to other countries. It's not uncommon to see people out and about wearing band shirts. I'd say where it lacks the most is event organizers and promoters. That has definitely dropped off over the years and venues that accommodate heavy bands have also drastically declined over the years.

Tasha "Axe" Danzig (LADYAXE): Yes, metal is well known in South Africa and metalheads do not live underground lives anymore.

However, between 1992 and now, South Africa is mainly a nest for death and black metal with a clique-based, gatekeeper vibe from promoters who generally do not bother with any other subgenres. Most power/ heavy/ doom metal bands are ignored until Iron Maiden or Blind Guardian comes to SA, then, suddenly everyone loves old heavy metal!

Johan Maree (TRUTH DECAYED): Metal has never been huge in general in South Africa, but you do see many metalheads amongst the "regular people" as you put it, especially in areas that are arty or creative in nature. The biggest difference today compared to 10-15 years ago, is you see more extreme metal shirts and fans today.

Grant Lazenby (SKINSTRIPPER): Metal is rather small in our country. There are a few of us diehard older guys that keep going because of our passion for it and there is a fairly large younger crowd of people into it which is always encouraging to see. In my hometown of Durban, we are a very small scene. Johannesburg and Cape Town have always had bigger scenes as they are larger cities. It has always felt like most of the scene is made up of the people in the bands. It did feel like more people were going to shows 10-15 years ago. I can only assume that the reason fewer people might come to shows now is due to economics and there being a lot of other forms of entertainment that were not around as much in the 2000s.

Robyn Ferguson (ROBYN FERGUSON): Even though heavy music isn't very commercial in South Africa the genre and its subgenres have and will never die. You'll always find like-minded folk if you search hard enough and for the most part metal is growing slowly. There has been a serious lack of venues over the years, but the wheels are always turning.

Christopher Paterson (MONOLITH): In the main cities there are enough people to maintain some form of scene. The scene 10 years ago may have been bigger but live shows were a more consistent thing at the time. I feel like areas with an active live scene have more consistent growth as more and more people get exposed to the genre, creating more interest in the music and bands and that may even inspire somebody to learn an instrument and start their own thing. The size of the local scene has its ebbs and flows, but it will never die.

Grant Lazenby (ALIEN DISEMBOWELMENT): It's not very popular but there are a bunch of us that keep it alive and going. You make the scene what it is. There is an online radio station called "Burg Studio" and a DJ named "France the Planet" that has given us some airtime which is really cool. Sometimes you will see a fellow metalhead on the street and connect with them.

Carlos Sanches (DEADLINE): Unfortunately, heavy metal is not very popular in South Africa. It is a very small genre in our country and getting smaller by the day. You won't see many metalheads on the streets wearing metal shirts. The scene was definitely stronger 10-15 years ago. There were more clubs, more festivals, more fans, and more bands playing all kinds of genres. These days as I mentioned before it's mostly death metal and metalcore bands forming and gigging. That said we've been very lucky to have had a few international bands visit our shores over the last 10-15 years from Metallica and Iron Maiden straight to Lamb of God, In Flames, Behemoth, Eluveitie, Cannibal Corpse, Alestorm, Kataklsym and more.

Daniel "Dr D" Burger (CHAOS DOCTRINE): Our band members are all over 40 and we played in multiple bands before. We always reminisce about "back in the day" when metal was absolutely huge in South Africa. In the 1990s, there were multiple great bands and multiple great venues, so there were always shows and bands were generally doing quite well. But, somewhere along the line, things changed, many venues closed, and at face value, the popularity of metal or the size of the metal scene seemed to decrease. There could be a variety of reasons for this, like people prefer to stay home and watch Netflix! When you look at the demographics of South Africa, you will also realize that metal would be a small sub-population inside small sub-populations, which obviously further contributes. Covid-19 obviously didn't do the scene any favors.

Damian Buys (A NAMELESS DREAD): You will see metalheads in the wild from time to time. Since it's difficult to get more niche band shirts here, it is more common to see the more mainstream band t-shirts walking the streets; Slipknot, perhaps Iron Maiden or AC/DC. If you want anything else, you need to get it from abroad.

Metal is very niche in South Africa, though. You'll see the same people at most gigs. We love their support, but I'd love for the crowd to have some more unfamiliar faces. That being said, when international acts visit, turnout is always excellent, even for more extreme genres.

From my experience, death metal runs deep in the roots of South Africa. Many live acts have at least a trace of death metal running through their veins (as do we!) Black metal and its adjacent genres are alive and well, but with such a small pool of dedicated artists, more progressive genres don't get as much live action. That being said, I have had the pleasure of sharing the stage with some absolutely phenomenal musicians and the artists who do dedicate themselves to metal are incredibly talented. Thrash has upped its local game lately, and the popularity of my other band, Deadline, is testament (no pun intended) to the lifespan of old-fashioned metal.

Joshua Barkley (IMPERIAL DESTRUCTION): Metal music is not really on the radar for most people in SA. I tend to think of the scene as a guerilla force embedded in the population, fighting against all odds.

You'll seldom see guys or girls wearing band shirts on the street and when you do, it's cause for excitement. There definitely are many metalheads here but our population isn't large enough to have a powerful counter-cultural movement or presence in the popular culture.

I think the local heavier music was more popular and had a healthier scene from 2005 to 2015 perhaps because of the pent-up cultural angst we had coming out of the Apartheid era that had to be processed. This generation of metalheads who lived through the Apartheid era are the true diehards who consistently attend shows and are the lifeblood of the scene.

Because South Africa isn't considered a "hotbed" for metal music, have you ever thought of relocating to some other country and making your career somewhere else?

Guthrie Garnham (KILL FRENZY): We haven't spoken about relocating as such, but we definitely work on promoting ourselves outside the country with the hopes of gaining more exposure in other countries. Unfortunately, you just won't get anywhere in South Africa and local bands are just not supported enough. If the opportunity came for us to relocate, we would most likely jump at it.

Tasha "Axe" Danzig (LADYAXE): Since I was 15, when I started playing metal and writing songs in the genre, I knew that I wanted to relocate to the USA or Europe. Besides being far out of reach of the rest of the world where the majority of the metal world was, the one-dimensional approach to only specific genres was evident. This was when I knew a heavy metal band like LadyAxe would never get the credit or attention it was due in South Africa. Since I came to Ireland, LadyAxe has received ample recognition, had international exposure on podcasts and even landed a #14 spot in the Top 50 Irish metal charts and been involved (as mentioned before) in the Hellenic black metal as well as German power metal scene by collaborating with other bands like Drama Noir, Syntelia and Elvenpath.

Ryno Theron (TRUTH DECAYED): The thought of relocating is always at the top of my mind, even within South Africa itself between provinces, never mind overseas. This is because the scene is even stronger and more vibrant based on where you are in the country itself, and overseas also presents big opportunities. But I think we have more to offer than many might realize straight away. Vulvodynia for example, has achieved massive international success, and made huge breakthroughs, and most of them are still based in South Africa. Strong acts like that have definitely paved the way to change the perspective on South African metal indeed.

Grant Lazenby (SKINSTRIPPER): I have sometimes thought of relocating but I really love my home country regardless of all its problems, as it's home. Even with a small heavy music scene like we have, it's really easy to reach a fairly large fanbase nowadays via the web, so you have to take advantage of that as much as you can.

Morbid Angel hasn't called me yet for that guitar position ;).

Robyn Ferguson (ROBYN FERGUSON): Yes, of course, I've considered it, and I do think on it from time to time. I truly believe that the Internet has made the world more accessible for all and we are able to do and show so much more than before. South Africa has huge potential and so much to offer the world if they are willing to see. I am South African and so it will always be part of me no matter where I find myself and it's our time to shine and show the world that you can do anything you put your mind to despite your background.

Christopher Paterson (MONOLITH): South Africa does, unfortunately, lack the infrastructure for most bands and musicians to have a career in music. I think relocating is something every musician has thought about. Places like North America and Europe have touring circuits, stronger economies and music industry infrastructure that is lacking in South Africa, so it's understandable to think that a band might be better off trying their luck abroad. Financially and logistically this just isn't a possibility for most but if you have the opportunity, I think it's worth pursuing.

Grant Lazenby (ALIEN DISEMBOWELMENT): We have not really thought about that, but you never know what could happen. Vulvodynia have made a fairly big impact on the global metal scene, and they started in our hometown.

Carlos Sanches (DEADLINE): We have but, when we started this band, we started purely for fun and to have an escape from our day job/careers. Since the start of the band both our drummer, Dizzy Styxx and our original forming member and guitarist, Raven Chaos have emigrated, and emigration is definitely in the cards for a few of us as well, but we won't be moving the band over. I suppose if we were to get noticed by a promoter or a label and get a whole string of gigs overseas it would be different. For now, we remain a South African passion project.

Daniel "Dr D" Burger (CHAOS DOCTRINE): This is a great question and one we have pondered many times! Emigration from South Africa is a constant hot topic here, so it contributes to said pondering. An honest answer would be perhaps if we were younger! As much as we love Chaos Doctrine and everything that comes with it, we all also have "grown up lives" with jobs, families and such, which obviously makes the question a lot more difficult to answer! So, while we are still working towards seeing stages in many countries, I do not think leaving South Africa for the band is a real option.

Damian Buys (A NAMELESS DREAD): You're definitely correct there!

As we alluded to in our first answer, this isn't a job for us. While artists deserve to be paid for their art, we are under no illusions that performing in a death metal band will pay the bills. Any proceeds go straight back into the band and I'm confident almost every metal act from SA will tell you the same. It pays for marketing, merch, recording, et cetera, and is not used as a means of income.

If we moved abroad, we'd definitely continue our work in bands, but we have our own careers that sustain us and our families, and A Nameless Dread is a creative outlet that we do for the love of metal. Naturally, I'd drop my day job in a heartbeat if I could earn the same money from making the music I love, but it just isn't going to happen, locally or abroad. This is why metal is so fascinating and honest, because you can't sell out!

I'm quite happy having played my cards this way. I work my day job, which has afforded me a recording studio, all the guitars and amps I need, and I write and perform my music as a passion project. I don't feel the pressure of writing music to live, so any creative output is purely for the love of metal!

Joshua Barkley (IMPERIAL DESTRUCTION): Our group has never seriously considered emigrating to further the career of the band.













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