sat 15/06/2019

World Metal Congress, Rich Mix, London review - celebration and critique of a global phenomenon | reviews, news & interviews

World Metal Congress, Rich Mix, London review - celebration and critique of a global phenomenon

World Metal Congress, Rich Mix, London review - celebration and critique of a global phenomenon

International metalheads and academics get together in Shoreditch to flash the devil’s horns

Singapore grindcore outfit Wormrot let looseAll photos © Asya Draganova

The stereotypical image of heavy metal music suggests it exists in isolation from other musical styles. And while it is true that metal is distinct and re-invents its transgressive nature all the time, the genre has generated commercial success as well as a loyal and diverse global community. The first edition of the World Metal Congress took place over two days in Shoreditch, London, and addressed metal in both celebratory and critical ways, through an impressive range of perspectives.

The event included artists as diverse as Barney Greenway of Napalm Death, Sabina Classen of Holy Moses, Sahil Mekhija of Demonic Resurrection from India, Zaher Zorgati of Tunisian progressive metal band Myrath, and the Congress’ Patron, Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, who curated all discussion panels via video interviews. The World Metal Congress also drew insights from music industry figures, journalists, cultural researchers – and even the UK’s Shadow Lord Chancellor, Richard Burgon, who happens to be a metalhead.

The discussion panels featured issues such as challenging the Western "canon" of metal; the inclusivity of music communities in relation to race and gender; metal’s ability to cross borders; and the political and social potential of metal in both conflict and peace.The World Metal Congress wasn’t all about talking though, and the event offered plenty of opportunities for headbanging and moshing to a range of bands that illustrated well the genre’s diversity. This involved performances from Grindcore band Wormot from Singapore, Northern Irish black/noise metal Unyielding Love, the energetic Zombies Ate My Girlfriend from Cape Town (pictured below), and atmospheric Black Metal from the North of England presented by Dawn Ray’D. Cellist and composer Jo Quail also performed at the event: building layers of emotion and power using looping techniques, she took her audience on a sonic journey beyond the context of genre.

zombiesThe event consolidated the idea that metal is a platform for musical dialogue: a globally recognised style that now actively evolves through new contexts and local specificity embodied by folklore, music instruments, vocal techniques, and language. At the same time, over 50 years, metal has produced its canon deriving from the West. Birmingham, for example, is a key place of metal origin through Black Sabbath, Napalm Death and Judas Priest, as celebrated by the City’s Home of Metal project – which was represented here.

However, it was not all about the past: band HAQ 123, also from Birmingham, only included one adult (bass player Dave) performing alongside 8-year-old drummer Zac and 10-year-old vocalist and frontwoman Millie. With a confident, professional, and innovative appearance, the band convinced Congress participants that metal is very far from dead, or even old.

The varied programme of the World Metal Congress included two film screenings. The premiere of Syrian Metal is War, presented by filmmaker Monzer Darwish, who took viewers on a thought-provoking trip to war-torn Syria, where metal scenes have become a “vessel of peace” and normality. Songs of Injustice, meanwhile, explored how metal has developed in countries like Mexico, Argentina, and Chile, by responding to themes like poverty, dictatorship and colonialism. Overall, the screenings suggested that metal can be far from apolitical, but a part of a culture of resistance. The music, art, fanzines, comics, and publications presented as part of the congress also highlighted the metal genre’s ability to act as a trigger for the imagination and an inspiration.

The 2019 World Metal Congress, supported by metal fans as well as research and private organisations, was the event’s inaugural run but, it seems, not last. This writer is left hungry for more, as this event is relevant beyond metal into the wider fields of popular culture, music and social change.

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