A playlist of indigenous bands supporting the survival of their culture through the power of heavy metal.
I was brought up with two things: Buryat culture and black metal. My mother is a Siberian indigenous woman and my father is a first-wave black metal diehard. I grew up sitting at my kitchen table, pouring over Buryat books, with Celtic Frost playing in the background. I began listening to metal and punk when I was thirteen, but it didn’t occur to me that there could be an intersection of indigenous identity and metal until I was about sixteen.
While indigeneity is not a monolith, among indigenous peoples there are commonly experienced challenges of cultural and linguistic preservation, land rights, poverty, human rights violations, and discrimination. Metal is a genre that seeks to defy society’s norms; black and death metal specifically focus on the darker, more misanthropic aspects of the human condition. Indigenous metal artists take lived experiences of dispossession, liberation, and death, and configure them to the music that could convey these experiences well.
Since 2014, I have DJ’ed an underground metal and punk radio show on WHPK 88.5FM, a wonderful community/college radio station in Hyde Park. In my search for new music, I’ve managed to find and connect with numerous bands from all over the world. It was through this that I stumbled upon indigenous metal bands. It’s important that I don’t claim to have ‘discovered’ these bands or take credit for the work they have done – some have been making music and supporting the scene longer than I’ve been around. This playlist showcases just a few of the indigenous bands that have been supporting the survival of their culture through metal.
Volahn – Gods of Pandemonium
I first heard Volahn on the compilation album Tliltic Tlapoyauak, which features several bands/projects from the Black Twilight Circle (Crepuscúlo Negro) black metal collective. Eduardo Ramírez, the man behind Volahn who is heavily involved with most of the bands in the collective, blends indigenous culture – through the use of pre-Colombian instruments and songs sung in Mayan languages – and black metal, a perfect accompaniment to songs of ancient gods and traditions. Their latest release, a split with Xaxamatza, continues this legacy of high-quality black metal backed by Mayan heritage and indigenous pride.
Corubo – Esperança Obscura
No indigenous metal playlist would be complete without including Corubo. In terms of indigenous metal bands, this band has been around for a long time, forming between 1999 and 2000. Since its formation, Corubo has stood for indigenous rights in the face of colonisation and oppression; their music is blatantly anti-colonial, with some songs sung in Guarani (an indigenous language) and a special focus on radical environmentalism. Indigenous peoples often struggle with land sovereignty and pollution of their ancestral lands, usually perpetrated by outside forces and corporations. The incorporation of elemental sounds, such as the falling of trees, compliments this unique style of raw black metal.
Naayéé’ Neizghání Mix 2014
This album is an amazing compilation album from Navajo Metal Promotions, showcasing a plethora of Navajo metal bands. Black, death, and thrash are all well-represented in this mix, along with punk and at least one industrial metal track. My favourite tracks are ‘Belial Incarnate’ by Salt Eater, ‘Each Buries Their Own’ by Defleshment and ‘Frozen Woodlands’ by MutilatedTyrant. The label also released a 2017 compilation album entitled Tse’tahotsilta’li (‘He-Who-Kicks-People-Off-The-Cliff’), which is an incredible sequel to this invaluable mix.
Divide And Dissolve – Indigenous Sovereignty
A band whose aim is to ‘abolish white supremacy with their crushing doom’, Divide And Dissolve’s music certainly delivers. I’ve noted above the large role that lyricism plays among indigenous metal bands, but it is the lack of lyrics in Divide And Dissolve’s music that ultimately emphasizes their message of decolonization. Colonial violence can and has been nurtured by language; ‘Indigenous Sovereignty’ is a track that swells with foreboding, heavy riffs and bass, carrying out a conversation without uttering a single world.
Gyibaaw – Gisigwilgwelk/Diiltk
Filed under ‘bands I wish would make more music’, Gyibaaw were a death metal band whose style was aptly named ‘Tsimshian/Gitksan war metal”. The band’s songs were sung in S’malgyax, the language of the Tsimshian, a people indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Unlike many war metal bands who are happy to exist as Blasphemy knockoffs with poor basement-quality production, Ancestral War Hymns has a clear, rich sound that features the inclusion of traditional Tsimshian instruments.
Mi’gauss – Algonquin War Metal [Full Demo]
Having already addressed Tsimshian war metal, Algonquian War Metal by Mi’gauss is next on my list. More OSDM than war metal, this album has everything you would want from a death metal demo: guttural vocals, slow Autopsy-like riffs, and lo-fi production that only enhances the disgustingly heavy music. Demos are a key component of the metal scene, and the inclusion of Algonquian language and cultural themes makes this demo stand out.
BIIPIIGWAN – Nishkaak
If you thought sludge metal was to be defined by an increasingly poor array of Mastodon copycats, think again. BIIPIIGWAN’s brand of Ojibwe sludge breaks free of any and all sludge metal moulds. Justin Trudeau fans, beware: this band does not hold back when it comes to criticizing the abuses perpetrated by the Canadian government against First Nation peoples. With howling lyrics centred on colonial power hierarchies, aggressive guitars and stunning album artwork, BIIPIIGWAN has left an indelible mark on not only indigenous metal, but sludge metal as a whole.
Morbithory – This Dying Fucking Useless Earth
Before I even listened to Morbithory, the album title Unholy Fucking Dine’ Black Metal Hell had pretty much already sold me on the band as a whole. This Navajo (Dine’) black metal band’s three-track album is a masterpiece of lo-fi, biting black metal, laden with chaotic vocals and occult references. The band’s music has definite crust and noise influences, making it closer to true first-wave black metal. Morbithory seeks to promote their own values, as well as everything unholy. I can’t wait to see what this band will release in the future!
Words: Tuyaa Montgomery (@heckhammer)