India is a place I wouldn’t really associate with extreme music. The limited exposure I’ve had with the culture comes primarily from Indian restaurants, vacation stories from friends, or movies. That being said, it feels like a really traditional kind of place. The limited amount of Indian music I’ve heard is immediately identifiable as such, and even the pop music feels like it follows in that convention, there’s a distinct “sound.” So when I caught wind of a split by hardcore bands from Bangalore and Mumbai, I was obviously surprised. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Why wouldn’t there be an underground scene in India? Beyond that, considering how “conventional” and “traditional” it seems to me as some ignorant dude from the states, it makes absolutely perfect sense that there would be some positively savage bands out there stickin’ it to the man.
As luck, fate, destiny, whatever, has it, that show fits this split release from Shepherd and Death By Fungi. Shepherd (now defunct) were better known as a Melvins-esque sludge/stoner metal group, living and dying by the riff, and coating things with a veneer of gloom reminiscent of early 90s alternative rock. This split has them ramping things up a bit tempo-wise, adding an urgency not found in their earlier work. Striking an interesting balance on each of their five songs, a noise rock thread carries over from their prior work and runs through the side, muckifying each track’s (ahem) -core, and infusing some humor along the way. Whether it’s the sludgy and grindy movements on the opener, the fuzzy Queens of the Stone Age high on hardcore in “Hope Comes Gnawing”, or the punkified, Mastodon-ian “Fungalord”, there’s the feeling that these guys are playing out of their comfort zone and having fun with it. It’s weird, it’s fun, and it kicks like a mule.
The Death By Fungi side is a more spastic and angular take on hardcore. Fans of Converge will appreciate their ante-upping and brake-smashing tendencies throughout the side. Opener “Edgelord Beatdown” sets expectations well. Highlight “Dead Soil” is a multifaceted trip that snakes it’s way through some meat and potatoes passages before creeping down into a post-hardcore jazzy break. To be honest, there’s not much in the way of format breaking or genre blending compared to the split’s other side, but instead more of a best-of hardcore mixtape. Mathy touches nod to late-2000s glory days, and feel about as fresh as they did then – a welcome surprise. Closing track “I Was So Mad That (I Wrote a Letter Elucidating My Point of View)” is exactly what you think it’d be. It’s fitting in the sense that this split is so stylistically varied, but a Thursday or Comeback Kid-flavored melodic hardcore diddy was the last thing I was anticipating after the previous ten minutes. Needless to say, they’re versatile, and are proficient in almost everything hardcore (fortunately, without egregious caveman breakdowns or cringey).
Admittedly, I’m partial to split releases with some surprises, something that makes them unique and worth revisiting. This brings ‘em. The sort of “costume change” of a sludge band and the omni-core stylings of the flip side make a worthy pairing. Appropriately subversive to both their own cultural conventions and extreme music, there’s much to enjoy despite its relative brevity. So unless you’re already schooled in the international underground, press play and dig into something from India that isn’t Ravi Shankar.