Burgerkill: Go West

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“When I saw the email from Bloodstock inviting us to play, I cried. It’s a big reward at the end of 20 years. We’re really honoured, we’re really proud… I’m just speechless! An Indonesian band playing in the UK, and in Germany at Wacken… who dared to dream it, you know?”

These are the words of Ebenz, guitarist and founder member of Indonesian metallers Burgerkill. Formed in the religiously conservative suburb of Ujung Berung in Bandung, capital of West Java and a major city with a reputation for being a little more liberal than Indonesia’s more fervently Islamic capital of Jakarta, a European tour always seemed just out of reach for the band. But now they’re heading over for their debut, along with fellow metallers Jasad, under the banner ‘Bandung Blasting’. Jasad will play Obscene Extreme in the Czech Republic, Burgerkill will play Wacken, and then they’ll unite for Bloodstock, giving British metalheads their first chance to witness the passion of Indonesian metal. Bandung’s mayor has even showed support by writing a letter of recommendation for Burgerkill’s visas, though other logistical concerns are ongoing…

“It’s not easy to make it happen,” Ebenz reveals. “We still don’t know how we’re paying for our flights, but we’re working it out!”

Veterans of a community that’s survived against the odds, Burgerkill have become a talisman for the nation’s entire heavy music scene, putting in the hard slog needed to spread the word on a global scale. The band began as the aspirant brainchild of Ebenz, who has led them through two decades amid social circumstances that would surely have put an end to any equivalent enterprise here in the pampered West.

“There weren’t many metalheads in Bandung back then,” Ebenz recalls. “It’s totally different now. You see people with black t-shirts everywhere, but in the 90s it was more underground. Ujung Berung is a religious place. People would be going to the mosque and we’d just stay on our corner of the road. They’d say, ‘Are you going to the mosque?’ and we’d say, ‘No, we’re going to rehearsal!’ and people thought that was pretty strange. Today it’s different. The scene has grown a lot over 20 years and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

Metal Hammer has been privileged enough to visit Bandung and see the local metal scene in its enthusiastic glory. In contrast to the fragmented and sometimes bitchy scenes in the UK and the US, Indonesia’s metal community gives the impression of being wholly united and devoted to a cause that is both culturally liberating for all involved and a fantastic means by which to build bridges with comparable scenes in other parts of the world.

That the scene in Bandung began at all, in the pre-internet era, is a miracle in itself. Burgerkill’s status as Indonesia’s undisputed heavyweight champions has occurred in spite of all the obvious political, financial and geographical disadvantages that they’ve been subject to. Instead of dreaming wistfully about being part of the global scene, going online enabled Ebenz and his mates to finally feel connected with the worldwide metal community.

“The internet really exploded here in 2001,” says Ebenz. “Before that I always had to order Metal Hammer from the UK, because you couldn’t find it here. My friends would all borrow my magazine and it’d get passed around to all of their friends. It was really hard to get information before the internet, then… boom! Suddenly everyone was listening to music on YouTube and finding new music, and a lot of new bands formed in Bandung and started making albums. We could see what was happening in Europe and the USA, and that was like new blood for our scene.”

There are hundreds of great metal bands in Indonesia today, but Burgerkill are several steps ahead. Once briefly signed to the Indonesian division of Sony Music, with whom they released their second album, 2003’s Berkarat, but now proudly independent, they’ve learned how to weather a storm. From the untimely death of original frontman Ivan Scumbag in 2006 – days after the release of their third album, Beyond Coma And Despair – to dealing with cancelled gigs and threats of censure by radical Islamists and an often unsympathetic police force, this band have hardly had it easy. But never underestimate the inspirational power of heavy music: a fourth album, the idiosyncratic and crushing Venomous, emerged in 2011 and cemented the band’s reputation in Indonesia and – perhaps most importantly – overseas. Over the past few years, they’ve toured Australia and picked up support slots at home with The Black Dahlia Murder and As I Lay Dying, before walking away with our coveted Metal As Fuck trophy at Metal Hammer’s 2013 Golden Gods ceremony. It was a watershed moment that made Ebenz realise that those crazy, youthful dreams of touring the world were not so ridiculous after all.

“Winning that award was mindblowing,” he says with a broad grin. “It was like, ‘OK, now we’re recognised as an international band…’ and we had a new challenge: to bring Burgerkill to Europe. ‘How do we prove to the world scene that it’s not bullshit, that Metal Hammer gave us that award for a good reason?’ We work hard and never give up.”

The last couple of years have been pivotal for Burgerkill, today completed by vocalist Vicky, bassist Ramdan, drummer Andris and guitarist Agung. They released their first DVD – historical documentary We Will Bleed – and embarked on an unprecedented and successful tour of Indonesian cities that, according to fans and band alike, was more like a lap of honour than a promotional jaunt. Burgerkill’s fanbase at home is increasingly huge, partly because they’re such a great live band, but also because they represent something more than just homegrown talent. Burgerkill carry the hopes and aspirations of their entire scene on their shoulders, and that’s something that Ebenz takes seriously as he prepares to start work on his band’s as-yet-untitled fifth studio album.

“Burgerkill are not just an Indonesian band anymore; we’re international and we have to think about introducing Burgerkill to the whole world,” he states. “We have to show the real shit, the real Burgerkill, because we represent Bandung, we represent Indonesia and we represent Asia, too. The new album is heavier, it’s faster and it’s more brutal than anything we’ve done before.”

Although it would be unfair to suggest that Burgerkill’s recent achievements and future hopes have in any way been influenced by outside forces, there was a definite wave of positivity and optimism flowing from the Indonesian metal scene when professed metalhead Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo was elected President in July 2014. If nothing else, Jokowi’s success suggested that a more liberal and culturally astute regime was taking over, but as Ebenz wearily points out, the reality of Indonesian politics is that real change will be a long time coming – a theory borne out by the recent spate of state-sanctioned executions that provoked much consternation beyond Indonesian borders.

“Indonesia is too big. There are millions of people here and you can’t fix everything that’s wrong with it in a year, or even five years,” Ebenz shrugs. “Joko has done a good job so far, but nothing special has happened for the music scene here since he became President. So for me, it’s not that different from how things were before. Did you hear that Carcass said on Facebook that Joko was a death metal poser? If he was really a Napalm Death fan, he wouldn’t be supporting the death penalty. Napalm Death is a really humanitarian band, so that’s how we know he’s a poser. He wore the Napalm Death shirt for his campaign but I don’t think it really means anything. It’s sad, but Indonesian politics is always this way. It sucks.”

What manifestly doesn’t suck is that Burgerkill will soon be on their way to Europe. What this means to Ebenz and his bandmates is arguably beyond the comprehension of those of us who take membership of the global metal community for granted. Twenty years ago, Burgerkill were just kids, sitting on the streets of Ujung Berung, dreaming impossible dreams and wishing that the world would wake up and take notice.

“We know that the UK has the best metal scene in the world and Europe is the best place for metal bands,” Ebenz smiles. “So coming to Bloodstock is amazing for us. We’ve had maybe a thousand tweets from fans that are really excited about seeing us in the UK. That is so awesome to me, man. We’re coming to Bloodstock… and that’s fucking crazy!”

They’re also keen to use their success to help bring their scene to prominence, going out of their way to share their dream with their peers.

“We’ve been talking with Bandung politicians to ask if we can do it next year and the year after, and bring Indonesian bands to Europe,” says Ebenz. “It’s a big gateway for us, and we want everyone to go through it.”

Brace yourself, because Burgerkill are coming, and they’re bringing friends…

“Anjing edan, motherfuckers!”

Five Indonesian phrases to shout during Burgerkill’s Bloodstock debut.

“Anjing edan!” – This basically means ‘Fuck yeah!’ As in, “Anjing edan! This song rules!”

Ngeri!” – This mean ‘scary’, which is ideal for when you get goosebumps watching Burgerkill slam Bloodstock.

“Mantap!” – Essentially meaning’ strong’ or ‘powerful’, both of which suit Burgerkill perfectly, especially if you’ve seen them live.

“Lada!” – Literally translated as ‘spicy’, but can be applied to kickass metal bands, too: “Man, that last solo was lada!”

“Gelo!” – Translated as ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ – “Oh man, I’m gonna drink a ton of beers and get totally gelo when Burgerkill come on.” Which we will.

Burgerkill play Bloodstock and Wacken festivals in August. Venomous is out now via Revolt