Shooting Metal Gigs/Concerts

I'm no expert on the subject of shooting concerts and live events, however having shot 5-6 metal/rock gigs in the last 18 months or so has taught me a lot about the nuances of stage photography in extreme conditions of lighting and space. Daytime and open-air concerts are a rarity and majority of these shows take place at extremely small venues with no space between the bands and the audience. To make matters worse, things like the 'Wall of death', moshpits and shoulder butting make life a complete nightmare for your regular photographer. It's definitely not for the weak-hearted. I've been hit in the back, on the shoulder, on my camera bag, etc. while shooting and it's a risk I'm willing to take because of my love for photography and music.

Coming to the technical part now. It's almost impossible to shoot these gigs without a fast prime and high ISO. Do not be afraid to use the highest ISO setting for 90% of the show because you'd rather have a noisy shot, than one which has a lot of motion blur. Also cheap primes like the 50 f/1.8 will not focus in such low light and APS-C cameras do not have a great viewfinder to nail the focus manually at f/1.8 each time you try. I prefer Live View shooting combined with manual focus. The drawback to this method is that you end up sacrificing a few stops on the shutter speed as holding the camera in the Live View mode as opposed to the traditional method induces a lot of camera shake. Also, do not be disheartened if you've shot 400 images and got only 30 usable ones. You've got to shoot at least 2 images of the same scene to make sure that you've nailed everything correctly. With practice, comes perfection.

Most of these gigs are not well-lit and the ones which are, have extreme colours on stage. These could end up spiking your RGB histograms making few areas of the photograph unrecoverable. So, you've got to keep on eye on both histograms after most shots. Oh and it is pretty obvious that you HAVE TO shoot in RAW if you want to have any sort of headroom whilst processing the pictures. Shoot in Manual mode at all times as the Av/A mode will give unusable shutter speeds for most of the time and every other mode is completely useless for indoor concert photography.

I feel that one must also know the music to shoot the music. A person who has no idea what the heavy metal subculture is all about, will have very little success in shooting a black metal gig and the same can be said about a person who's not fond of Indian Classical music and is shooting at Sawai Gandharva. One has to anticipate the emotions behind each riff, the mannerisms behind each beat and the showmanship of every individual to capture it at the right moment. Here are a few photographs from the various gigs that I've shot so far:

An Interview with Leonhard Waltersdorfer of Araxas

Leonhard Waltersdorfer began writing songs under the moniker of Araxas for the first demo Dunkelheit in the spring of 2009 when he was just 15. One of his basic goals was to combine Black Metal with orchestral music. I was very impressed with his demos when a friend recommended it to me last year and was eagerly looking forward to conducting an interview with him on his musical journey so far.

XD: Hello Leonhard, it's great having you here on Metal and Beyond. As a big fan of the Depressive Black Metal (DBM) sub-genre, I appreciate your great contribution towards this type of music. To start off things, how did you manage to churn out 5 demo tapes in the space of 2 years at such a young age?
LW: Well, when I started to play the guitar I also got educated at recording. So I tried some crappy melodic death metal stuff first. But I have always liked orchestral music (I’ve been playing in some orchestras) very much and thus I wanted to combine black metal with orchestral music. Later, the demo Dunkelheit was the result of my earlier recordings.

XD: Who are your greatest influences?
LW : I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of influences. During Dunkelheit, it was (of course) romantic orchestral pieces, and on the later demos I don’t really have any influences. I like the instrumental parts from the band, Shining very much, but I think that’s it. At the moment I’m writing some orchestral stuff again, but it's a lot more cinematic, so I would say my influences now are soundtrack composers like John Williams and Hans Zimmer.

XD: Apart from your own music, do you listen to a lot of other DBM artists?
LW: When I changed my music to depressive black metal I used to a lot of DBM bands. But now I hardly ever do. At the moment I like piano artists like Ludovico Einaudio or Yiruma. I also like soundtracks very much (John Williams, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, Howard Shore, etc.). And I also like Jazz and Funk a lot.

XD: A one-man band has its pros and cons. On one hand, you get the creative freedom to express yourself in the way you want to. But, it's also difficult to tour without any band members. How do you manage this?
LW: Araxas was never planned to be a live band. When I started Araxas, it was a pastime for me. But it turned out that people liked it, so I continued recording. Of course I like the freedom to write whatever I want and whenever I want to write it.

XD: Why did you shift from Symphonic black metal to the depressive stuff after Dunkelheit?
LW: I used to listen to a lot of DBM before I changed my music. But there are so many crappy bands and just a few who are listenable, but none of them really combine epic music with DBM. I mean, I love epic music (soundtracks, symphonic metal) and I thought it would be great to create something that combines DBM with that. Suicide of my Mind and Das Ende der Gezeiten were not as epic I wanted them to be, but with Umarmung des Nebels I really hit the point I wanted to get to. It has epic melodies, clean and quiet guitars and of course that strong distorted guitar sound that is needed in this genre.

XD: Do you plan on releasing a full length album or an EP anytime soon?
LW: Just a few days ago a label from Vienna asked me if I wanted to release a CD. At the moment there is nothing really planned, but I think it would be great to do a remake of Dunkelheit, which does not have the best sound quality and production on the original demo. I could make a 2 disk set, with some songs from Dunkelheit and perhaps some new songs in that style on the first CD, and on the second disk I could put the cinematic songs I write.

Q: Which is your favourite demo out of the five you've released so far? Mine is Suicide of My Mind.
A: I switch very often between Dunkelheit and Umarmung des Nebels as my favourite demo. But at the moment I would say it is Dunkelheit. But I got very positive responses on the song Suicide of my Mind from the same titled album, I also like this demo.

Thanks a lot for taking the time for this interview. It was great talking to you and knowing about your insight on orchestral and Depressive black metal. Here's wishing you the best in all of your future endeavours and hoping for a great debut album soon.

Araxas on Myspace
Araxas on

My top 10 'not-so-well-known' bands

Thought of compiling a list of my favourite bands which are not very well known outside the 'trve' Metal community.

10. Bethlehem

Genre : Black/Dark Metal

This German band almost single handedly created the genre known as Dark Metal with the aptly titled debut album 'Dark Metal' in 1994. This unique combination of black and death/doom metal spawned many similar sounding bands. Their recent albums have been quite a departure from their brand of metal and I'd recommend the earlier albums only.

9. Marduk

Genre : Brutal Black Metal

One of the more conspicuous Black metal bands with 10 full length album releases to their name and a career spanning two decades, Marduk defines brutality in Black Metal. Blast beats that aren't inferior to bullet shots and tremolo picked riffs which sound like they have been created in the pits of Hell itself, Marduk is all about brute and raw Black metal. The album 'Panzer Division' is considered to be the benchmark of heavy fucking Black Metal, but I prefer Opus Nocturne which was released in 1994 since it had the right amount of dark atmosphere mixed with insane brutality.

8. Watchtower

Genre : Technical Thrash Metal

The inventors of the Technical metal sub genre, these guys had a huge thrash influence which gave their brand of Technical metal a very thrashy feel. They were far ahead of their peers when it came to composition and song structure and it shows in the music. The music is technical as hell and Jason McMaster's vocals aren't bad. Too bad that they released only 2 full length albums, both of which were masterpieces in their own right.

7. Green Carnation

Genre : Progressive Doom Metal

They're more Progressive than Doom, however with added elements of Gothic metal, this band sure knows how to create some awe inspiring music. Their album Light of Day, Day of Darkness has only one song which is one of the longest and most epic songs ever created. At a playtime of over an hour, this song is a musical orgasm for all Prog heads.

6. Mahavishnu Orchestra

Genre : Jazz / Fusion Jazz

I think of this legendary band and I think about the genius of John McLaughlin. This band literally fused Jazz and Rock to form Jazz fusion in the form that we see other bands performing today. McLaughlin's double neck guitar and Billy Cobham's influential jazz drumming made them the force that they were in the 70s. The first 4 albums were recorded by the original lineup and these are the albums that define the quintessential Mahavishnu Orchestra.

5. Saturnus
Genre : Melodic Doom/Death Metal

This Danish band has sorrow as their main subject matter in the lyrics. The guitar tone usually has this ultra melodic feel to it and the doomsy drumming simply adds on to musical climaxes of the highest order. Christ Goodbye from their debut album 'Paradise Belongs To You' is undoubtedly their masterpiece and the 2nd album Martyre is no slacker either. Their music is in the vein of bands like Katatonia, Anathema & My Dying Bride, however Thomas Jensen's unique vocal style really puts Saturnus in the list of my favourite bands.

4. Kauan

Genre : Folk/Doom Metal
Kauan is the brainchild of Anton Belov and has the beautiful Lyubov Mushnikova (Yes, I love that last name) on the violin as the only other member of the band. They have no peers in the music industry. Kauan's brand of Folk metal has a very subtle doom touch to it. Mushnikova is outstanding on the Violin and Belov is great on everything else. Lumikuuro is their debut album and also the album which I like the most. The track Villiruusu is my favourite Kauan song and begins with a haunting Violin piece which only gets better as the song progresses. The 2nd album didn't impress me as much as Lumikuuro did, however the band is too good to not feature in my top 5.

3. Blackstratblues

Genre : Blues/Instrumental Rock

I've been a Zero fan since 2005 when I first saw them live at the Pune leg of Campus Rock Idols and what struck me most about the band was the calm and understated virtuosity of the maestro, Warren Mendonsa. He went on to form his solo project Blackstratblues based in New Zealand and I'm so fucking glad he did. His brand of Blues can soften the toughest Metalhead and be loved by the casual Bollywood listener too. He likes to call his style as 'Good honest music' and I don't disagree one bit. My favourite Blackstratblues' song is a tie between Anuva's Sky and Bombay Rain.

2. Agalloch

Genre : Atmospheric Folk/Doom/Dark Metal

I might get a lot of flak for including this band in a 'not-so-well-known' list, but hey, this is my list and I'll do whatever the fuck I want to. Agalloch are popular now but weren't when I first started listening to them in  2007. And scores of people have tried to classify this band, but all have failed. They aren't doom, they aren't black, they're more of a concoction of all the best parts of Metal. Try to find similar sounding bands at your own peril, because you will find none. From the eerie, chill-inducing melodies of She Painted Fire Across the Skyline to the sheer mesmerising harmony of Our Fortress is Burning, Agalloch is the benchmark of sounding cold and haunting without being classified as Black Metal.

1. ColdWorld

Genre : Atmospheric Black Metal

Only 1 full length album by a band that has only one member and it makes to the top of my list? Fuck yeah, it does! Ever since I first listened to the kold as fvck album Melancholie², I knew that this was the band for me. It sets the benchmark for Atmospheric/Ambient black metal with themes of Winter, Depression, Grief, etc. Some people classify it as a Depressive Suicidal Black metal band because of the themes of songs like Suicide, This Empty Life, Tortured by Solitude and others, but if you're a trained listener of DSBM, you would know the difference between a band like Nocturnal Depression and ColdWorld. G.B. is the guy who's the everything of ColdWorld and I worship this guy for the music he creates. He hasn't put a wrong step so far with the two records (TheStarsAreDeadNow is the EP released before Melancholie²) and I hope he releases at least two more frostbitten albums before calling it a day.

Interview with AbraXas guitarist - Abhimanyu Singh Negi

I had the pleasure of interviewing Abhimanyu Singh Negi, lead guitarist and band manager of AbraXas - a Pune based groove/melodic death metal band who are currently on a high after winning Mood Indigo - Livewire which was headlined by Doom metal legends Katatonia.

XD: Congratulations on winning Mood Indigo. AbraXas has now joined the likes of Zero, Parikrama and Sceptre who have won this prestigious event in the past. How does it feel to be in the company of these legendary bands and where does AbraXas go from here?

ASN: Thanks a lot man! Winning Mood I was a personal high I craved since long. It definitely means a lot to the band as well. You've mentioned some Big names here and I'd like to say that we're getting there and we still have a long way to go - we've only just begun!

XD: What is the history behind AbraXas?

ASN: Kenneth was the one who actually founded the old band 'Rigor Mortis' - a 5 piece Metalcore stint. I joined later making it a 4 piece instead of 6 and the covers remained Metalcore but originals became Melodic Death!
AbraXas was born one fine eve in Sep 2008 at ABC Farms, Pune when I joined Mr. Karan Pote and Vinay Joseph for a drink at Opus when we had to finally decide upon a name for the band after several lineup changes and a renewed interest in what we were doing. I remember sending them messages with 20 band name suggestions until we finally settled on Santana's 2nd album! It made sense in a lot of ways.

Vinay had joined a few weeks earlier. That's another story altogether! Ken and I had gone to meet him and decided that if he's a N00b we'll excuse ourselves and won't come back! We met him though and it was love at first sight! (Laughs) He could play then too man! We were mightily impressed!

As always, someone had a problem and this time it
was our good friend Saurav Chopra, our ex-drummer who became an ex- soon after and Naman Sachdev

joined us on drums. I'd heard about him from a friend in college and I auditioned him. Two observations. 1. He was 18. 2. He floored us.

We played our first proper gig as AbraXas at Zaha's, Pune supporting Bhayanak Maut in December 2008. That was our first gig with the current lineup and Naman's first gig EVER from either side of the stage! He delivered that night and we were never the same.

Campus Rock Idols and Rock in India is another story altogether .

XD: You guys have won fans around the country. In which city did you enjoy playing the most?

ASN: Manipal. It kicked ass! We headlined Ground Zero, MIT Karnataka's annual fest with Parikrama and played for 65 minutes nonstop for 3000 screaming maniacs! It was a high man. The reaction during and after the show alone made the trip worthy of my time. Cherrapunjee was a a ballsy trip we made and one totally worth the effort. Loved the people over there.

We love Pune the most, though. No doubts about it.

XD: As a guitarist, who are your greatest influences?

ASN: Jimmy Page got me into playing rock guitar.
Also - Nuno Bettencourt, John Petrucci, Van Halen, Randy Rhoads, Zakk Wylde, Allan Holdsworth, Chuck Schuldiner, Matthias Eklundh, Per Nilsson, Guthrie Govan, Jeff Loomis, Chris Broderick, Michael Keene, Jason Becker, Michael and Chris Amott, Ritchie Blackmore, Eric Clapton, Misha Mansoor, Acle Kahney & Wayne Hu ... I won't shut up dude!

XD: Any comments on the general Metal scene in India?

ASN: It has improved greatly in the last few
years but we all need to focus on our personal responsibilities. Very simply - Musicians should focus on the music and organizers should aim at making their show the best that they can and so forth.

I'm constantly amazed at the way some bands in
India manage to dedicate themselves to the Indian Metal scene - cases in example - DR, SCRIBE, BM, Undying Inc and many more. The number of International Metal bands playing in India in the last couple of years alone have also put India on the charts as a Global Metal Destination. Now it needs to be the other way round as well with Indian Metal bands making a mark globally, which I'm glad to say, is happening.

For younger bands, here's my message -
Practice, Jam, Create, Record, Play, Mix, Master, Promote, Advertise, Play, Repeat and present yourself internationally. The
quality of talent in India is in abundance. It needs to be nurtured properly. Go METCHUL!

XD: Which are your favourite Indian bands?

ASN: Scribe, Slain and Silver Tears.
DR, BM and Undying Inc and Goddess Gagged are mad as well!

XD: What gear are you currently using?

ASN: I'm using an Ibanez Prestige RG2027x VV 7 String Guitar with Dimarzio D Activator 7 Bridge and a Dimarzio Liquifire 7 in the Neck. It has a Mahogany Body, Rosewood Fingerboard, Lo-Pro Edge 7 Bridge and Piezo Acoustic Pickups so I have 2 guitar inputs.

Also, a LINE 6 POD X3 Processor and an Ibanez 10 watt Practice amp at home!

XD: Thanks for taking the time for this interview. Here's wishing you and AbraXas a great 2011 and a kickass debut album!

ASN: Thanks a lot.

Black Metal Krieg – Gig Review

Black Metal Krieg - India's first ever metal gig dedicated to my favourite sub genre in Metal - Black fucking Metal. I had first heard about something like this shaping up some 2 months ago when 1833 AD were on their India Tour. One of the 1833 AD guys had mentioned something about performing in Mumbai and/or Pune and making it a gig exclusive to Black Metal bands. This later took shape in the form of Black Metal Krieg at B69 in Andheri, Mumbai - where 4 black and crushing bands brought darkness blacker than hell to the city of Mumbai.

Travelling from Pune, my two friends and I were eagerly awaiting this gig like a trio of kids would wait to raid a candy shop. The 180km long journey was sweetened by the fact that we had a 20 min discussion with the band members of Dhishti - a Sri Lankan Depressive Black metal band. Being crazy admirers of the genre, we immediately got into a lengthy chat about the legends of DSBM such as Austere, Nocturnal Depression, Thy Light, Gris and others. Jayakody (vocalist) told us to be prepared for a surprise Atmospheric BM track that they would be covering. I had my guesses but what we got was something I never dreamt of. The aftermath of that performance still haunts me.

The gig went underway after 8pm and first to perform on stage were Spiked Crib from Mumbai who label themselves as Symphonic Black Metal. To be honest, I'm not a fan of this sub genre as most bands tend to forget their Black metal roots upon achieving some sort of stardom (*cough* Dimmu Borgir *cough*) What followed took my completely by surprise. They were more atmospheric than symphonic and that's something I totally dig. Special props to the vocalist, Gareth here. This guy has insane vocal chords and can belt out both DM growls as well as BM shrieks with relative ease. The keyboard player was good too. They played a good set and had to finish things off with Graveworm's cover of the Maiden classic - Fear of the Dark. I wish they hadn't, but I guess they had to do it to appease the crowd.

Dhishti was up next and I was surprised by this. I would have wished either Dhishti or 1833 AD to headline the event as these are really mature bands who can absolutely slay when given the main spot. Anyway, I had listened to the two Dhishti tracks on their myspace page at least 4-5 times before I came for the gig and thus I knew what to expect from them. However, the moment Jayakody uttered the first few shrieks, I felt goosebumps the size of little beetles crawling up my skin. I couldn't click a single pic for at least 5 minutes as it took me that long to recover from what I had just witnessed. Their originals are at par with most of the DSBM that I listen to and they're the best band I've seen live. At the beginning of their set, most of the crowd was either making fun of their corpse paint or of DSBM as a whole. I wish I could use Jayakody's spikes to pierce their sorry dicks, but as they were halfway into their first track, those asswipes realised (or didn't) what hit them like a freight train. Next, it was time for their cover and I missed a heartbeat when I heard the word 'Dunkelheit'. I don't think I've ever been happier in my life and it was weird because an hour later, this feeling was bettered. More on that later. Kunal Gonsalves from Stark Denial joined in for dual vocals on Dunkelheit and I really do not remember anything after that other than being in a state of trance and not remembering where I was. The last track was almost brutal black metal in the vein of Marduk and my neck's still complaining from the ordeal. I wish their set would never end, but I'm so damn glad that I was a part of this great experience.

1833 AD from Delhi were next to follow and I had been dying to watch them ever since I found out about them 6-7 months ago. Their Facebook page had mentioned that they would be covering a few Black metal classics but nobody expected 4 covers and a 75 minute setlist! Nishant Abraham (vocalist) is a very good Black metal vocalist and even though he admits to not being much of a talker, his vocals kill you with in an eerie manner. His vocals are very Abbath-like and Shashank Sagar on drums is an Indian Hellhammer (although he looks like Mikael Akerfeldt) I have been digging their originals such as Inheritance Evil and Who Killed The Emperor on their Myspace page and found it even better hearing them live. After playing Immortal, Dark Funeral and Ancient covers, I thought they were done. But surprise o surprise! Nishant asked us to yell Mayhem as loud as we could. I couldn't yell. I was dumbstruck. My heart was screaming out 'Freezing Moon' but my mouth couldn't catch up. Nishant did that for me and when said those words, I threw away my camera and equipment in my friend's hands and went on to become one with the music. Freezing Moon is my favourite track across all genres and I never thought I would ever get to witness it live. My lungs and my throat were strangers to me and singing along to Freezing Moon was THE best experience of my life. They didn't miss one note and even if they did, I could care less. 1833 AD is by far the best Black Metal band in India (of the handful that we have) and other bands should look up to them for inspiration and creativity. They closed their set with Who Killed The Emperor and it is my favourite Indian BM track. I can't wait for their debut album to be out. Nishant, Sushmit, Rahul, and Shashank - if you're reading this, we need an album like right now!

Stark Denial, the local boys, were the last band to perform and to be honest I had no mental or physical energy left to fathom what was going on. Kunal is a good vocalist and the band is pretty tight but I would like them to step up their game a bit. Having said that, their originals are pretty good and if they didn't have such tough acts to follow, they would have sounded killer. They covered Immortal's Damned in Black and also followed it up with a BM version of Slayer's Raining Blood with Jimmy from Zygnema brining his growls to make it a Blackened Death metal version of the Slayer classic. Also joining them was Shehzad from Sceptre. As with Fear of the dark, I understand that this was done to please the people who aren't really accustomed to listening actual Black metal tracks and I was okay with it.

The gig ended at 12.15 am and we reached Pune at 4 am. Spent more than a grand, yet came out much richer with experience. I don't know if my words and photographs could do justice to how awesome this gig was, but I tried. And 3 days down the line, try is all a person who is still experiencing the aftermath of the gig, can do.