Extreme metal has long served as a creative outlet for bringing light to historical events that many have been left in the dark from. With the globalization of metal we’ve seen these musical dramatizations serve as a means for musicians to share their local histories, especially lesser-known injustices or tragedies, with the world. One of the strongest such opuses of the year so far comes from the Indonesian solo artist and multi-instrumentalist Januaryo Hardy, known better as the atmospheric black metal project Pure Wrath.
Indonesia, and south-east Asia in general is vastly under-represented and underappreciated by music journalism and listeners alike, so its refreshing to be able to highlight a rising artist from this region. Formed in 2014, Pure Wrath have two full-lengths and a split in their discography. Yet, the new three track EP The Forlorn Soldier might be their most ambitious release to date. This is due primarily to the graven and culturally personal nature of the concept and lyrics.
From 1965-1966 the Indonesia Army and various Death Squads, lead by military general Suharto, conducted a systemic genocide of up to one million Indonesian citizens. What began as a cleansing of the Communist Party of Indonesia as a response to an alleged attempted coup and assassination of six top military generals, quickly escalated to the mass killings of communist sympathizers, Gerwani women, Javanese muslims, Chinese Indonesians, and alleged leftists. I must admit I myself was ignorant of the severity of these events, like I’m sure much of the western world remains so I think it’s worth mentioning here for more than just context to the music.
Most of the victims were among the lower class, regular working people. Firearms were sparingly used, instead settling for knives, machetes, and swords in a swift and orchestrated manner. The bodies were often thrown into rivers and their houses were either burned or looted and given to the military. However, these events weren’t just occurring in a bubble. Just recently as 2017, declassified US documents revealed the CIA had detailed knowledge of the genocide and was supportive of Suharto’s actions as part of their cold war era anti-communist sentiment (Melvin, 2017). Pure Wrath’s The Forlorn Soldier hones in on the story of one of such families who were vanished in the name of nationalism.
The aggressive and upbeat tremolo black metal riffing sets a sinister stage of despair and panicked turmoil. It does a tremendous job of the painstaking task of painting the picture through a musical medium of what these families who were ransacked from their homes to be executed experienced. On top of that, the music is just plain good. The melodies are surprisingly catchy for such dark subject matter, but they add to the adventure of the story-telling narrative.
“When a Great Man Dies” displays some of the most creatively integrated vibrant keys I’ve heard in black metal since Windir’s Likferd. The melodic keyboard riffs provide an unsettling contrast with the depressive atmosphere of the black metal assault. These elements present a sound similar what Dimmu Borgir also arguably popularized in their early material before they went all-in with their symphonic sound. For the most part however, the keys serve as a backing atmospheric element that adds significant depth to their sound. The production finds a nice balance between crisp and raw that doesn’t distract from what makes this genre great.
For this EP, Hardy sought the aid of drummer to Yurii Kononov (ex-White Ward) to really give it an extra aggressive punch. Pianist Dice Midyanti (Victorian) also provided additional piano contributions for some sombre passages of pure melancholia and retrospection. Several of such slowed down piano or clean guitar segments that do a great job of breaking up the tempo and offering a diverse and unpredictable song-writing pallet. Slow, chanted singing alternating with blackened screams on the EP closer “With Their Names Engraved” takes this even further. They combine this with mid-tempo post-black style riffs for some of the most devastatingly powerful music I’ve heard this year.
The Forlorn Soldier serves as a powerful ode to a tragedy painfully close to home to the artist, translating into an equally important and memorable piece of music. Through just three tracks they’ve delivered some of the most inspired black metal of the year that fans of the genre should not ignore. As a bonus, it should serve as a reminder of the atrocities that nationalism and totalitarian military/police states can bring about, while hopefully drawing more attention to the past of a place solemn heard about in the west.