Chepang Proves Geography Matters
A friend and fellow blogger who edits for one of our compatriot sites recently noted how odd it is that most metal blogging typically opens with boilerplate about a band’s geographical location. “Is it actually important that this black metal band plays in Dallas?” the question goes. With the increased globalization of not just metal but information and art, when any young person with the money and talent to do so can pick up a guitar and become a YouTube sensation or upload a rough demo to Bandcamp to eager young fans across the planet, it sure seems possible to conjecture that classic influencers like language and geopolitical background matter little. Chepang, former grindheads from Nepal who’ve immigrated to the United States, sure make the case to the contrary on their terrific new album Dadhelo – A Tale of Wildfire. For Chepang, geography, and more importantly the people group that calls that chunk of Earth home, is everything.
“How have your Nepali roots influenced the band?”
That the band cares so deeply about their home and their people is evident in every facet of the band’s characterization. The art for Dadhelo, designed by native artist Dib Gurung, depicts the Hindu god Bhairava, the annihilating manifestation of Shiva himself (often associated with the number five, the count of eyes on the icon’s face), the patron deity of Nepal. The lyrics to Dadhelo are written and screamed in Nepali, rather than English, and the band describes itself on social media as immigrant grind. Most importantly, however, is the way the band has chosen to christen itself. Chepang is not just a grindcore band; it is a people, a language, and a culture – so intrinsic to the band that they are inscribed on the their Facebook page. And it is that culture’s trials, both within Nepal itself and in the context of the larger global community, that informs the sound Chepang the band create.
Anger | Pride
Dadhelo, from the opening squall of feedback and eddying percussion (driven by a dual drum assault) and ricocheting guitar chords of “Parichaya” to the tumultuous d-beats of “Zerstoerung,” is a frothing burner of foam-mouthed anger and spite. It’s palpable wrath charred into the deeply jarring, dissonant notes that crack and whip against the delightfully chaotic drums in “Maile Choyeko Pani Chaldaina” beneath a flurry of atonal lead chords. It’s impossible to listen to the feral shrieking and bestial growling that rear and soar over remarkably unhinged blasts in “Kucho” and not breathe that rage, not feel it coursing through your own veins. You cannot hear the elastic riffs and deranged stutter starts in “Auda” and not feel your own blood boil.
Chepang’s anger is a righteous one, informed by decades upon decades of distrust for the government and foreign powers, for the religiously informed caste system, for the loss of an agrarian way of life at the hands of the relentless mechanism of industrial change. It is an anger born on behalf of the Chepang people themselves, often considered the poorest of the poor even among a nation struggling to rise above a designation as a developing country. It is an anger born from a people devastated by the earthquakes of 2015, stricken with widespread famine and hunger, inflicted with international meddling in trade and humanitarian aid. It is the anger of a people subjugated by the higher castes and manipulated through restrictions in zoning and education and citizenship. It is an anger at the cycle of political upheaval and transfer of power that somehow maintains the status quo. It is an anger we find written into the bones of the album itself, evident on the little waypoints Chepang leaves us in English on the way to the album’s summit.
[Fuck your borders]
[Deception and manipulation led to a revolution. Didn’t we lose more than we gained?]
[Blood spilled to stop spilling more blood]
[For some exiling themselves is the only option left]
And yet, the album is characterized by a deep, unshakable love of the Chepang people, of the good people of Nepal, of the land itself. That the lyrics are written in the band’s mother tongue shows the quintet’s dedication to their history. That the album features a wide array of guest appearances and performances from the musicians’ friends and family speaks even louder volumes. The band goes so far as to note that one performance of “love, warmth, and bliss” from a dear friend adorns their album with something that burns far brighter than hate.
And ultimately, all that rage, that terrible, palpable wrath, is offered as a loving tribute to the Chepang people themselves, a stolid, egalitarian people that has withstood the inexorable march of cruelty with faith and compassion. Amid the cacophony of kukri-sharp grind riffs, frenetic blasts, and howling vocals is a heart that beats for the Chepang and for the equality of Nepal, one that wants to shine a light on injustice while telling the world of the splendor and majesty of the land that calls Everest home. And with its lofty heights and treacherous valleys, Dadhelo – A Tale of Wildfire is a fitting tribute indeed.
The Nepalese flag is the only national banner that is not rectangular. Instead, its jagged red triangles remind us of the savage bravery of Nepalese warriors in the face of adversity. And yet, swallowing that ferocity, encompassing it and refining it, is a soft, blue wave that evokes the peace and calm of the folklore-loving people beneath the gentle warmth of a curved moon.
It is an apt symbol for the best grind album of 2017, one that reminds us that the best art is shaped by the politics and struggles and people of the land that births it. To not acknowledge that art’s heritage is to disregard its people and their legacy.