V/A: Brutal Africa – The Heavy Metal Cowboys Of Botswana
Release year: 2019
Label: Svart Records
Back when I started getting into metal, in the mid-90’s, there were a great deal of exotic places metal music could come from. With the exception of Sepultura, South America was kind of exotic, and notorious acts such as Sarcofago something almost esoteric; it wasn’t as easy as it is today to buy their albums. Asia was definitely exotic, even Japan with the exception of some names. Heck, even Eastern Europe was pretty exotic with the exception of the Polish black metal scene. And Africa… unthinkable!
Today, it’s of course entirely commonplace to hear metal of basically any kind from any of these places. Grindcore from Asia? Check. Black metal from South America? Take your pick from a gazillion artists. Thrash metal from the former eastern bloc? No problemo. Heck, even anti-religious black metal from the Middle East is a thing. But not Africa. Africa remains something of a blank spot still.
But metal does exist in Africa. And how!
It’s many, many years since the heavy metal cowboys of Botswana became a (small) sensation on the internet, thanks to a story by Vice adorned by many cool photos. The juxtaposition of rural African backdrops and these exquisitely dressed, apocalyptic Mad Max metal cowboys was something else. No doubt about it, these guys took metal seriously. But also kept it fun. And kept it inventive, re-shaping the leather clad look into their own likeness, springing from their own cultural backdrop.
Now, in 2019, Svart Records have teamed up with documentary director Samuli Pyykkönen (Freedom In The Dark) to bring us an album full of Botswanan metal. Featuring six bands and 11 tracks, Brutal Africa – The Heavy Metal Cowboys Of Africa offers listeners a nice cut through of what the Southern African country’s eccentric scene has to offer.
It is more than slightly surprising that in a small and isolated scene such as this, many bands have gravitated towards extreme metal. But they have: three of the six bands on this compilation play death metal. Crackdust, Overthrust and Wrust all offer their take on this guttural genre. In addition, Stane‘s sound certainly has elements from extreme metal combined with a more groove metal oriented sound. As such, only two of the bands, Metal Orizon (grand old men of botswanan metal with a career stretching back to 1990) and PMMA perform more traditional, or at least less extreme metal.
Out of the bands, PMMA come across as the most outlandish. Their single track is a weird mixture of high-pitched vocals (sort of like a third-rate budget King Diamond) and background growls… well, it’s funny but honestly, not very good. Metal Orizon also have a pretty distinct sound, as if they had a vague understanding of the concept of heavy rock music, but not much understanding of what metal really should sound like. Perhaps not so far from the truth, considering metal albums probably were a rare commodity in early 90’s Botswana. Both bands are an acquired taste, I daresay.
It is the three death metal acts (and Stane) who deliver the real goods. Wrust, the first death metal band in the country, offer up two tracks of somewhat crude and rudimentary death metal, which has little in terms of frills or finesse, but works for what it is. Crackdust’s sound is more fleshed out and modern, with a slight metalcore-like edge to it. Overthrust, who’ve played in Europe and as such as probably internationally the most succesful band on this compilation, offer up some old school death metal that’s surprisingly rocking.
Truth be told, none of the bands fare that well in comparison to international colleagues. Whilst thoroughly sympathetic and, circumstances and background considered, surprisingly good, what these bands sound like are promising demo bands. Which, I guess, isn’t too far from the truth. In a country with just one studio for rock bands to record drums, no sympathetic media, no proper labels and no international distribution, it must be extremely tough for bands to get even this far.
So, what does this all result in? On a purely musical level, Brutal Africa is a bit clumsy, a bit crude and more than a bit amateurish. But it’s also sympathetic, fun and interesting. The best of the bands on the compilation show some real potential, and would just need proper backing from a label, a good studio and a firm producer to reach the next level. Perhaps the real value of Brutal Africa is that it documents this unique scene, and at the same time brings these artists to a wider audience. One can only hope some label would dare to take the next risky step and give one of these bands a proper deal and the support they need to reach the next level.