The Bandung (Indonesia) Death Metal scene is known for its secular orientation whereby religion and religious belief are viewed as personal matters that should be restricted to the private realm. Metalheads may freely go the mosque or church but in their capacities as private citizens only; religious identification and activity is not permitted to infringe upon the scene’s discourses and practices. We look at the differences in discourses and practices between the Jakarta-based One Finger Movement (Islamic) bands and the Bandung secular Death Metal scene. We also study Bandung band Saffar, which was known for its Islamic lyrics on its debut album but which has been for a few years in limbo due to the departure of vocalist and lyricist Parjo. We also look at Saffar’s positioning of itself as a “secular” band with Islamic and anti-Zionist lyrical themes rather than as an Islamic band per se. The secular Bandung scene context is a significant explanatory factor.
The Indonesian Heavy Metal scene has been well-documented by scholars;1 the scene is variegated, longstanding and deeply rooted; and although largely secular it contains religious elements that have been understudied. This article represents one of our early attempts to begin to remedy this deficiency. It is written from our broadly sympathetic viewpoint and from a somewhat Christian perspective; the first-mentioned author has a history of sustained interest in Christian Metal and self-identifies as a Christian. This article is not the place to find satanic, pagan or atheistic critiques of Islamic Metal, although we might find such articles emerging in future discourse.
The Bandung (Indonesia) scene has become a leading force throughout Indonesia and the region, and its set of dominant discourses and practices have long ago been reified. This scene arrived in Europe in 2015 when Jasad played at Obscene Extreme Fest in Czech Republic and Bloodstock Open Air in England; and Burgerkill also played European festivals during that northern summer. The Bandung Death Metal icons from the first day of our field-work (February 24 2011) are essentially the same people today, although a few modern-metal and metalcore bands (especially Revenge the Fate) have rapidly shot to popularity. The Bandung scene is known for its secular orientation whereby religion and religious belief are viewed as private matters that should be restricted to the private realm.2 Metalheads may freely go the mosque or church but in their capacities as private citizens only; religious identification and activity is not permitted to infringe on the scene’s “discourses and practices.”3
We look at the differences in dominant discourses and practices between One Finger Movement (Metal Satu Jari) (Jakarta-based Islamic) bands and the Bandung secular Death Metal scene. We also study Bandung Death Metal band Saffar, which was known for its Islamic lyrics on its full-length, debut studio album Mandatory El Arshy (Extreme Souls Production (ESP), but which is now in limbo due to the departure of vocalist and lyricist Parjo. We also consider Saffar’s positioning of itself as a secular band with Islamic Religion and Anti-Zionist lyrical themes rather than as an Islamic band per se. This dichotomy can be best explained perhaps by the phrase “a band of Muslims rather than a Muslim band,” although “band of Muslims” applies to many acts without religious lyrics.
The topic of religion and metal music in Indonesia is not perceived as something that most Indonesian metalheads want to focus on or discuss.4 This has made data collection difficult despite our extensive contacts within the Indonesian scene. One exception, although only partial, would be Islamic metal bands Purgatory, Tengkorak, and Kodusa. Our interview with guitarist Samier of Tengkorak will be studied in depth later in this article.5 Most Indonesian metalheads believe that religion is a private matter to be practiced in private and that a person’s faith or lack of one is irrelevant when she/he participates in the metal scene. In some ways this is a reaction to the very public and hegemonic roles that Islamic belief and practice play in Indonesian life. Metalheads want a safe place to pursue their subcultural interests and practices free from the influences of the broader society. As Wallach et al. write: “metal comes to function as a unique and appealing vehicle of youth identities . . . not burdened by religious . . . pressure.”6 Local metalheads also want to challenge westerners’ perception that Indonesian metal is interesting because it (Indonesia) is a Muslim country.7 They justifiably feel that this reductionism oversimplifies the complex influences on their music and the intricate set of meanings, discourse, and practices that constitute the Indonesian scenes. The opposition of secular metalheads, especially in the provincial city of Bandung (located 147 kilometres8 southeast of Jakarta), to the One Finger Movement springs from similar ideas and ideals, which hold that religion should be relegated to the private realm and to one’s life outside the metal scene.
Christian and Islamic Metal
Secular metalheads frequently criticize Christian and Islamic Metal on the tenuous basis that their proponents are religious evangelists first and therefore not “sincere” metalheads who love and play metal music for its own sake. They also claim these people are cynically “using” the metal scene to promote their private (religious) beliefs and agendas and to convert people. Quite clearly this is a strawman argument in that it fails to reflect the complexity of Christian and Islamic Metal discourses and practices, particularly how individuals in these scenes mix, harmonize, balance, sort, and classify their religious- and metal-oriented behaviours, so that the resultant mix of discourses and practices reflects closely enough their own values and preferences. Indonesian metalheads’ reactions to the Islamic bands Purgatory and Tengkorak tend to range from strong support to real indifference, pretend indifference and directly expressed dislike, the latter expressed in private with trusted others. The percentage of metalheads in each category on the spectrum is almost impossible to ascertain with any precision due to the disinterest, antipathy or nervousness that the topic of religion generates.
No one could argue that Samier of Tengkorak, for example, does not genuinely love metal music and he certainly enjoys being part of the Surabaya scene. At 40−45 years old, he is now a senior statesman of the metal scene in Surabaya. He has strong relationships, for example, with the members of Surabaya Power Metal band Valerian and is widely respected by younger musicians and metalheads. This feel-good factor has enabled Tengkorak, in recent years and at least in Surabaya (all the other band members are based in Jakarta), to turn some negative opinions about the band into positive ones. Samier does not go to the other extreme either; he sometimes tries to turn our interview away from religion to a discussion of actual music. In contrast, the guitarist of a well-known Jakarta Power Metal band has told me he does not want to attend social meetings where any One Finger Movement people might be present. This guitarist sees the One Finger Movement partly in terms of its anti-Zionist politics and, as an Indonesian-Chinese, he is wary of any racialist aspects of the One Finger Movement’s position, given the anti-Chinese riots that occurred in Jakarta in the 1990s. He also has an interest in Satanism, Chinese mythology, the occult, and ghosts, and he does not view kindly the perceived preachiness and moralism of the Islamic bands. The arms-length atmosphere in Jakarta remains different from the collegial and fraternal mood in Surabaya.
This article poses and attempts to satisfactorily answer the following research questions:
What are the histories, motivations, and worldviews of the Indonesian Islamic metal bands that made up the One Finger Movement?
What has been the response of Indonesian metalheads to the Islamic bands?
What are the dominant discourses and practices of the secular Bandung Death Metal scene and what explains the commitment of its members?
What is the history and perspective of the band Saffar and why is the Bandung scene location significant in explaining its members’ attitudes towards the Islamic bands?
Why are Saffar’s members keen to present themselves as a “band of Muslims” rather than as a “Muslim band”?
This article is structured as follows: Section 2 provides background information about the One Finger Movement; Section 3 provides analysis of our interview with the Tengkorak (One Finger Movement band) guitarist Samier; Section 4 analyzes the Bandung secular Death Metal scene and the bands Jihad and Saffar; while Section 5 offers our conclusions.
BACKGROUND – ONE FINGER MOVEMENT
The One Finger Movement was a community organization or collective of bands, fans, and gigs whose ethos was pro-Islamic and anti-Zionist rather than secular like the Bandung and most overseas scenes.9 It can be viewed as roughly equivalent to the Christian Metal scenes of the West and of South America but only in that it aims to spiritually nourish and encourage religious people who already have an active interest in metal music.10 This is also the way that Marcus Moberg characterizes the Finnish Christian Metal scene.11 Moberg writes that the scene provides a “distinct cultural space” where people “can share their passion for metal . . . with like-minded people who . . . share their Christian beliefs.”12 Evangelism in the Christian sense has never been the primary purpose of the One Finger Movement (which contradicts the earlier statement by Weinstein) with respect to Christian Metal (or at least with respect to Stryper) because Indonesia is a Muslim-majority nation.13 The emphasis has been on inspiring Muslims to deepen and strengthen their faith and bring back to faith those who have been slack or who have experimented with western lifestyles, including liberal-democratic and left-wing ideals.14 There is no concept identical to being “born again” within Islam. Similarly, the Punk Muslim Surabaya collective aims to be “a mediation, an intermediary, a channel, for anyone within the punk subculture that wants to try to (re)learn their religion and begin to adopt Islamic values for their everyday lives.”15 The One Finger Movement was based mainly in Jakarta and had some influence in Malang (East Java) and Medan (Sumatra). Jason Hutagalung, an Australian-based Indonesian music promoter and tattoo artist, estimated that the One Finger Movement comprised about 20 percent of the Jakarta scene as at January 2011.16
The movement had its supporters and opponents, the main figures for each camp being Ombat17 and Samier of Tengkorak for the Islamic bands and Doni“Iblis” Herdaru (the vocalist of Funeral Inception) for the Satanic or hell-raiser bands.18 The academic researcher Indra HS (Saefullah) says this specific skirmish, but only as far as it concerned Doni Iblis, has since been resolved.19 The movement was named after the one finger sign (meaning “one God”) used by its proponents and supporters in place of the generally accepted worldwide devil’s horns symbol, which they viewed as unacceptable.20 This one finger sign involves metalheads touching each other’s extended forefingers tip-to-tip. The major bands of the One Finger Movement were Purgatory (formed in 1991); Tengkorak (formed in 1993); and Kodusa (formed in 1998); the movement was also associated with the Al Azhar Mosque in Jakarta attended by Ombat.21 (All three of these bands are Jakarta-based, although Tengkorak guitarist Samier lives in Surabaya, East Java province.) The movement as a whole can be traced back to 1999−2000.22 Whereas the name of the movement may have outlived its usefulness, all three bands remain active today and continue with the same Islamic ethos and worldview.
Jason says the consensus among secular metalheads was not to give the One Finger Movement any attention or air to breathe. The following conversation with Jason introduces the context and the main players:
How many bands were involved in this skirmish or disagreement?
There are only a handful of bands involved in the skirmish—Funeral Inception leader Doni Iblis and, on the Muslim side, Tengkorak, meaning “skull”.
What does this Muslim band sing about?
The band preaches about going to the mosque and praying. They are connected to Islamic [Defenders] Front [Front Pembela Islam, FPI]. These people want the country to become a Muslim country; they have their own publication, magazine.
What percentage of the scene do you think is fundamentalist and where is it strongest?
About 20 percent of hard-core metal people [would support One Finger Movement] mostly in Jakarta, Malang and Medan. We had an agreement to ignore them and not give them publicity. We have not heard from them much but they are around in the Indo metal community” [author’s first interview with Jason Hutagalung, 11 January 2011].
Jason refers here to FPI (Front Pembela Islam or in English Islamic Defenders’ Front), a militant Islamist organization that has created nervousness and fear in the minds of some secular metalheads. Further discussion about FPI is beyond the scope of this article.23
Saefullah argues that support for the One Finger Movement has declined significantly in recent years.24 This may be true, but it seems that he bases this observation on the low crowd attendance and lack of enthusiasm for moshing at Tengkorak’s Jakcloth Festival 2016 appearance. Strangely, Ombat urged this crowd to pray for the disbanding of Tengkorak.25 But in our online interview with Kodusa on 27 November 2015, the band proclaimed that not only the term but the movement as well was still thriving.
INTERVIEW WITH SAMIER FROM TENGKORAK
I (the first-mentioned author) spent three weeks in Surabaya during two 2014 fieldtrips (January 2014 and December 2014) where I was hosted by Dimas Bramantyo, the guitarist of local Power Metal band Valerian.26 This hosting allowed me to meet and interview Samier from Tengkorak band. I visited Surabaya radio station Colors Radio 87.8FM, where Samier works; watched Samier play guitar at an Anthrax tribute night hosted by the associated Colors Pub (address: Jl. Sumatera No 81; Surabaya 60281); and interviewed Samier about Tengkorak and his other band, the new Surabaya-based political grindcore act G.A.S.
Samier Interview (Tengkorak)
The first-mentioned author asked Tengkorak guitarist Samier to explain the vision and philosophy of his band. Samier answered:
“It comes from our [personal] philosophy itself. We have faith in Allah, we believe Islam; it’s a good religion, not a terrorist. We should tell about the truth. A lot of kids in Indonesia, especially in Jakarta, at that time were starting to doubt their beliefs so we counter that. A lot of bands say they don’t believe in God; some of them are fake [hypocritical] you know. If they don’t believe [in] God they don’t [i.e. can’t, theologically speaking] believe [in] Satan. If they believe Satan but don’t believe God, it’s ridiculous, man! So we tell the truth. We want the kids who watch us to continue to believe their religion. Although they like metal they should not accept the lifestyle.”27
Samier asks why God cannot be discussed in the metal scene but Satan can, claiming that this is “ridiculous.” As Samier argues, if you do not accept and honor God, how can you accept and honor Satan since they are both key elements of Christian and Islamic theology with God having a nobler character and also being more powerful?28 Satan is a created being (a fallen angel), whereas God is Eternal.29 The situation of accepting Satan but not God in your discourses and practices is labelled “ridiculous” by Samier, presumably because these metal scene discourses and practices run contrary to Samier’s previously held worldview (held since early childhood) that God is greater, mightier, and worthier than Satan. The assumption is that most Muslims in Indonesia were socialized into the Islamic religion at a very young age by parents; nuclear and extended family; mosque; school; and community; and this socialization for most people would predate chronologically their first involvement in the metal scene. This might not be true in all cases but in the Indonesian context it is probably a reasonable assumption. The issue is then crafted in terms of where one’s primary loyalty and identification should lie. Islamic devotion to God/Allah should take priority in one’s heart and actions over one’s involvement in metal scene discourses and practices, according to Samier. This assumption implies for Samier (but not for those who want to keep the scene secular and/or satanic) that it is right and natural for Islam to “enter” legitimately into the metal world; and it should enter from the viewpoint that it is deeper and superior.
Samier uncritically accepts that Islam is worthier of deeper devotion than metal scene discourses and practices and that this conclusion has a complex relationship with the assumption that most Indonesians’ socialization into Islam occurs chronologically prior to their socialization into the metal scene. Samier couches this connection not only in terms of the need for respect for and devotion to one’s earliest religious teachers, but also in the presumption that Indonesian society has “got it right” by socializing young children into Islamic belief and practices early on. Samier expressed privately his fear that Islam may become less important in Indonesia in the future and no longer play such a vital role in most children’s earliest socialization experiences as it does today. He cites the declining role of the Church and Christian belief in European countries as providing a rational basis for his fears, but there is the unstatedimplication left hanging in the air that this decline in the West might be due to Christianity being false or incomplete, whereas Islam is true.30
The author’s interview with Samier, after a promising start, then is dragged down by the usual clichéd discussion of which aspects of metal scene discourses and practices are acceptable to Samier and which are not. This list of acceptable and unacceptable practices became the humorous highlight of the Swedish documentary-making brother-and-sister Resborn team’s interview with Ombat of Tengkorak in their coffee table book Labour of Love & Hate, where the terms halal and haram are used in a jokey fashion (at least by the Resborns) to classify scene practices.31 We note, however, that in the interview responses that Samier does add some important content to the discussion (before it again deteriorates into a list of dos and don’ts by the present author!)
What are the things wrong with metal lifestyle and what things are OK?
“A lot of metal fans here say that you are not metal if you are not drunk; you are not metal if you are not tattooed; it happens over the years. If you live in Indo you don’t have to take that lifestyle if you like metal. You have your own lifestyle. As a child you studied your religion, you prayed, it was like that. If you like metal you should not leave what you believe. If you believe it is not correlated with your music. Music is just entertainment. If you like horror movie it does not mean you are a killer or something like that. Don’t adopt the western lifestyle. If the lifestyle doesn’t match with your religion don’t take it.”
What about black tee-shirt and long hair?
It’s OK for me; it’s not OK for some. In the end we realize the music has power to state our message. If people have a bad message in their music the metal fans think it’s OK. Why then is the good music [i.e. the message of the good music] not OK? In Indonesia it’s different to other [western] nations, you still have religion.”32
In the first response Samier first notes that the worldview that a certain image and set of subcultural practices are deemed a requirement of taking on a metalhead identity has become a part of the metal scene culture in Indonesia and these influences have slowly accumulated and crystallized over the years. Here we see Samier refer again to the importance of the assumption that one’s early childhood socialization into religion occurred chronologically prior to one’s becoming part of the metal scene. Then we get the injunction from Samier that relies upon this crucial assumption: “If you live in Indo you don’t have to take that lifestyle if you like metal. You have your own lifestyle.” This injunction or instruction is straight-forward in theory but its practice is complicated. Clearly someone rejecting the moral worth of this injunction not to “take the metal lifestyle” might then have issues with Samier’s entire philosophy and purpose. It would depend on which aspects of the lifestyle are being referred to and to what extent the metalhead views these aspects as being important compared to that person’s own religious beliefs. It is easy to be caught up in the never-ending cycle of arguing about the dos and don’ts.
Samier then puts forward his belief that music should be seen only as “entertainment.”33 This ignores the fact that metal music for many of its adherents has meanings and values that go beyond mere entertainment as indicated by most metalheads’ loyalty to their preferred bands and disdain for “superficial” pop-music.34 Samier says: “As a child you studied your religion, you prayed, it was like that. If you like metal you should not leave what you believe. If you believe it is not correlated with your music [because music should only be viewed as entertainment].” Lastly, the injunction is stated in more direct form: “If the lifestyle doesn’t match with your religion, don’t take it.” We can conclude that the message is not to let metal scene practices enter into the deepest parts of one’s loyalties or values system without first questioning them (and probably not even then). It is not at all the case that Samier hopes you will view metal music as something useless or unimportant because his lifelong devotion and commitment to metal music would seem to run contrary to that presumption. It is about the ordering of priorities and what you give your heart to (which is a very religious worldview). This is not to say that this worldview is impossible because in our many daily interactions we habitually bring some friends and contacts into our inner circle and keep others out. The injunction is to treat metal scene discourses and practices in the same way we treat individuals.
Samier then refers to an oft-repeated theme when metal ethics are debated: metal lyrics about serial-killing are rarely acted out in practice. He uses this example to reinforce his point that we do not need to take literally or take into our heart all metal scene practices. But there is a tension here with his earlier stated view that even trivial practices (alcohol and tattoos are the examples he mentions, but devil’s horns in pictures and 666 and inverted cross signs in band logos and on website pages could be added), by their very repetition, attain a deeper level of significance over time as they crystallize and become regarded as synonymous with metal. Within Samier’s worldview we may just have to live with such existential tension. The tension persists because one is torn in various directions by varied influences, which Christian Metal circles sometimes refer to as “being too worldly for the church and too holy for the world.”35 Why should there be an easy way out? The easy way would be simply to leave the metal scene altogether, a path chosen by Niza, the female hijab-wearing Surabaya-based ex-vocalist for Death Metal bands Climaxeth and Osiris. This path is not encouraged or discouraged by Samier because it is not a path he has chosen. In the case of Niza, her bandmates and other metal scene members were saddened by her departure from the Surabaya and Sidoarjo metal scenes around 2014.
In interview with the Resborns, Purgatory band members recall the Napalm Death concert in Jakarta when the frontman said: “Religion is a myth—it only creates conflicts & bloodshed bla bla bla . . . ” and the Indonesian audience responded: “Yeeeeeaaaaaahh.”36 Purgatory admits to being “stunned” as these people are meant to be a Muslim audience and most would probably confess to Muslim identity in non-metal contexts (such as Indonesian identity cards where one of six approved religions must be stated). Clearly it is conflicted and confused metal audiences like these which treat the utterances of western metal musicians with the utmost respect as part of receiving “gestur[es] [from] elsewhere,” which Samier wishes to bring back to committed religious faith and practice.37 Speaking in his dual capacity as a Muslim and a metalhead, Samier says, “We realize the music has power to state our message.” As the radical theologian Jeffrey W. Robbins writes about St. Augustine: “It is knowledge of God that anchors self-knowledge [from the perspective of the Abrahamic religions].”38
The positivity and good values and ethics of the American hardcore scene (Agnostic Front, Biohazard, Madball, Sick of it All, etc.) was perhaps partially a collective response to the increasing trend toward “dark” and “evil” metalhead discourse and practices that occurred in Europe and North America around 1992−94 with the rise of Norwegian Black Metal (with its church-burnings, blasphemies, and murders)39 and Floridian Death Metal (with its graphic first-person lyrics of rape, torture, murder, and mutilation).40 Norwegian Black Metal took literally what the earlier Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal scenes had relegated to the symbolic realm.41
Toward the end of the interview the author asked Samier what he thought of the global hardcore culture (as opposed to the global metal scene culture) expecting him to praise it for its positivity and good values. It is good that hardcore culture emphasizes family and respect, but Samier says the source of these good values is ultimately religion rather than hardcore. Therefore, inspiration should be sought in the Al-Quran rather than in hardcore lyrics despite their positivity. (This is also what Samier told the Muslim music journalist Wendi Putranto of Rolling Stone magazine.) This statement suggests Samier believes that hardcore and metal scenes can only mirror and replicate positive things existing in other contexts first and especially in religious contexts. We can read Samier’s response here:
What do you think of the culture of hardcore genre?
“I think it’s good because if we learn religion you will find that you should respect family, parents, mother, sister, etc. All the good things come from our religion, your religion . . . I think a hardcore band should say about religion. Our culture came from religion. If they don’t say that a lot of people think hardcore is a religion. I read that it says metal has become a religion. Wendi of Rolling Stone magazine said hardcore lyrics are inspiring. Wendi is a Muslim. I told him that if you want inspiration you should read Al-Quran.”42
From this interview, we can conclude that Samier is concerned about the lack of devotion to Islam and the abandoning of religious fervor and sincerity by some young people after they begin participating in the metal scene.43 Samier’s goal is to counter this perceived negative influence so that metalheads may enjoy their participation (as Samier does, by releasing albums and touring with Tengkorak and his grindcore band G.A.S.; playing guitar at an Anthrax tribute night held at Colors Pub; and by working at Colors 87.8 FM radio station) while keeping their religious fervor and devotion intact.
THE BANDUNG DEATH METAL SCENE AND SAFFAR
Bandung Death Metal Scene
Keith Kahn-Harris writes: “Distinct scenes have developed around particular genres on regional, national and global scales, yet they share enough musically and institutionally so that we are able to talk of them as quasi-autonomous parts of a wider global extreme metal scene.”44 The Bandung Death Metal scene45 is known for its size; dedication and commitment46 (to the Death Metal sub-genre in particular);47 extreme self-confidence; professionalism; hierarchical nature; strong and cohesive networks of merchandise shops, recording studios, record labels, artists, and tattoo stores; large number of talented and motivated underground musicians; and high levels of organization.48 It is famous for its penetration into spheres of society not yet reached in other parts of Indonesia, including popularity of the genre even among primary-school students and widespread familiarity with the names and even the music of the leading local bands.49 It is associated with a lower middle-class/working-class district in the outer-eastern suburbs called Ujung Berung (or informally Ujungbronx), where most of the foundation bands originated in the 1990s.50 Addy Gembel, Forgotten vocalist, views the foundation of the Ujung Berung scene as occurring simultaneously with the coming of industrialization to this semi-rural farming and fishing community on Bandung’s eastern fringe, and the anger of the music reflected the anxiety this historical development generated.51
Ujung Berung bakes in the hot sun, but it is chilly in the evenings as clouds hang over the nearby mountain, which casts its eternal shadow upon proceedings below. When we first visited the home of ex-Jasad drummer Dani aka Papap,52 also used as a rehearsal venue and as home to the Pieces Records label,53 we entered through a maze of back alleys. In many built-up districts there are large numbers of houses that one can approach only on foot or motorcycle via back alleys because they have no street frontages. Metalheads were lounging around outside the back door of Papap’s house, leaning on walls and seated atop motorcycles, while young children were playing football on a spare piece of flat dirt beyond. Man of Jasad was holding court seated on his motorcycle, while Daniel of Turbidity was making his usual situation-humour jokes (fig. 1). The very shy and soft-spoken Bloodgush vocalist Glenn was present and in later times he would often be perceived as hiding behind his dreadlocks. Glenn surprised many by being chosen as vocalist (and doing very well at it) by Papap when he formed his new band, Dismemberment Torture, after being fired or resigning (depending on your sources) from Jasad around the time of his motorcycle accident in mid-2011. The only women usually present at this place are Popo of Demons Damn (the only female Bandung Death Metal vocalist54 as of May 2018); Maya of Mortality; and Papap’s Javanese wife, Amel. These women’s Ujung Berung credentials are impeccable, with Maya having played alongside her husband in Black/Death band Mortality since 2010 (see Mortality’s page on Metal Archives). On the day of our first visit, in February 2011, chickens were walking around freely and washing was draped across front verandas and in many other strategic places. The mountain and its accompanying grey cloud cover provide the scenic backdrop to all these happenings and events.
In Bandung the leading bands (Burgerkill, Disinfected, Forgotten, and Jasad in particular) appear to enjoy the profile and brand-name recognition value of mainstream rock bands but still self-identify with the underground scene and headline underground festivals for marketing purposes and to retain their hard-won subcultural reputational capital.55 It is a city where competition is fierce; and festival and gig bills are rigidly controlled and reflect a strictly observed pecking-order. Man of Jasad told the first-mentioned author on 24 February 2011 that there were 128 active Death Metal bands in Bandung alone, which surely makes Bandung the biggest metal scene in Asia and probably the world. Baulch refers to Bandung as “the heart” of Indonesia’s “underground scene,” whereas Wallach writes that Bandung is “home [to] a remarkably disproportionate number of . . . musicians.”56
That Persib Bandung Football Club built its impressive new 38,000-seater stadium out in the fields at Ujung Berung (opened March 2013) brought a new level of validation to the metalheads who feel that they were in the district first and paved the way. Now modernity in the form of capitalist national-league football has come to Ujung Berung; and the hooligan supporter element of global football culture reinforces, even in this sphere of life, the earlier underground ethos of the metalheads who were there before it.
We should also note that the Jakarta-Bandung relationship is fraught with tension as reflected in the Sundanese pride57 movement and the at times literally deadly football hooliganism between the followers of Persib Bandung (Viking firm) and the followers of Persija Jakarta (Jakmania firm).
Singapore-based Indonesian Black Metal scene identity Hans Yamin puts forward a critical Jakarta scene viewpoint (within Jakarta the One Finger Movement has never had a majority of bands or followers) about the Bandung scene:
“There is a reason why Jakarta [scene] looks down on Bandung mate. We’re in the know and we know what is going on, we have seen it happen before. And those try-hards can try as hard as they want. They will never be what they want them[selves] to be. [This is the] same reason I stopped supporting the poser Thai scene. [It is the] same festival with same bands always. I mean yes with all due respect it’s their money [and] their festival[;] their right to do whatever the f*** they want. Because it’s the principles behind it mate that are f***ed up. The reason why same bands play all the time is not because there are no bands. [I]t is because anyone who refuse[s] to suck their dicks will not be given a shot, it means they are outside of the inner circle and they are branded as posers. Now who is the real poser then? Look into the mirror. [A]nd ever since Avaejee’s murder58 all these act-tough c***s they became complete pussies.”59
Overall, the Indonesian scene must be viewed and understood primarily on a city-by-city basis and not as a large homogenous undifferentiated mass. Understanding tensions between the Bandung and Jakarta scenes and the Bandung and Surabaya scenes is fundamental to understanding the history and contemporary dynamics of Indonesian metal.
Bandung Death Metal Scene – Secular Orientation
Although Bandung is no less religious than any other Indonesian city, its rich history of arts, culture, and music,60 going back decades,61 also tends to create an artistic and music community today, which feels somewhat empowered and more likely to follow an art-for-art’s-sake philosophy while also keeping a quiet and regular eye on how to make money from art and music.62 The art-for-art’s-sake philosophy tends to encourage a more professional and secular orientation whereby people expect religion to be relegated to the private sphere. The secular orientation was reinforced, and people exerted more effort to defend it after high-profile Death Metal band Forgotten was condemned by Islamic hardliners because of the title of its third album, Tuhan Telah Mati (Rock Records, 2001), (meaning God is Dead), which was inspired by Nietzschean philosophy. Forgotten vocalist Addy Gembel offered to show the first-mentioned author a threatening text message allegedly sent to him by an FPI member or supporter when we met in Bandung on 29 November 2012.
One of the more interesting Bandung Death Metal bands is the relatively young Saffar, which is in the second or third tier of the Ujung Berung/ESP hierarchy and is widely respected without being a household name outside the metal underground unlike Burgerkill, Jasad and Forgotten. Saffar was formed in either 2007, according to Metal Archives or 2009, according to Ramon, Saffar bassist (author’s first Saffar band interview, 3 April 2012). The first line-up was Ezot (vocals); Acil (guitar); Faris (bassist from Lumpur); and Andris (drummer from Desire). Only band spokesman Acil (pronounced Ah-chill) has remained with the band until today. The band released two demos in 2011—Promo 2011 and You Fear Your Enemy; and participated in a 2011 split-album with one Filipino and two Indonesian bands titled Philippines to Indonesia 4-Way Split of Brutality.63
Following this, Saffar released its ten-track debut full-length album, Mandatory El Arshy, on 9 September 2013 on the high-profile Ujung Berung label ESP (band’s Metal Archives page). One thousand copies were released of the debut album, which is a typical production run for an established mid-tier band in Bandung. The Mandatory El Arshy line-up was Parjo (vocals); Acil (guitar); Ramon (bass); and Iyenk (drums) (figs. 2, 3). Parjo is pictured wearing a Tengkorak tee-shirt inside the album booklet, which certainly confirmed to the metal public his Islamic loyalties and beliefs. The band’s lyrical themes are listed on Metal Archives as being Islam Religion and Anti-Zionist.
Saffar is one of the best examples of the regeneration of the Ujung Berung/Bandung scene from within. Saffar is on many people’s lips as their favourite young or new Bandung band.64 The Mandatory El Arshy album benefits from a crisp, clear, modern production unlike the muddy production and residual Thrash Metal influences that marked early Ujung Berung scene albums.
Despite the Saffar band members’ reputations as being very well-connected and good socialisers who pay their dues, the band has not reached the next level of popularity and recognition partly because it tends to do much less marketing and self-promotion compared with other bands; and partly because it has been losing members since the debut album. The only two permanent members from 2014−16 were Acil on guitar and Iyenk on drums. The very talented bassist Ramon was sick for a long time, and vocalist Parjo left the band in 2013 to concentrate on helping his parents in their doctors’ clinics and continuing his university studies (Acil’s interview with the author, 18 July 2016). In 2017 Evan, from Bloodgush and Dismemberment Torture (live band only), became the new Saffar bassist replacing Ramon (band’s Metal Archives page). The band had no permanent vocalist as of 13 May 2018. Acil comments about Parjo’s situation as follows:
“Parjo left the band because he wanted to work in his family’s doctors’ clinic. He will continue what his parents built. Parjo is still continuing his study in college. He also got married and is more focused on work and family. He had a [further] problem because he lives far from Bandung so it was difficult for him to meet with the other band members” [Acil’s interview with the author, 18 July 2016].
Acil also explained that he does not want to ask Parjo to write lyrics for the next album because “it would be hard for [him] to explain the meaning of the lyrics to the fans [because] only Parjo knows the meaning of his deep [Islamic] lyrics”.
At our most recent (third) interview with Saffar on 16 May 2018 in Bandung, Acil admitted that, while previously proffered reasons for Parjo’s departure are not falsehoods, the main reason is that Parjo now believes that “playing Heavy Metal is not allowed according to his [current Islamic religious] beliefs” but [that] for the other band members playing Heavy Metal is OK (halal). Acil may have been willing to reveal this full information to the researcher this time because more trust had been established by this later date and also because he was put on the spot by a direct question from the researcher who had been given the information earlier that night by Popo of Demons Damn and he wanted Acil to confirm it. Acil was adamant, however, when pressed that religion is not the main reason for bassist Ramon’s departure. The Bandung Death Metal scene recently has been leaking members to religious devotion with Yudi Zeta of the reformed Injected Sufferage also quitting the scene for religious reasons (author’s personal conversation with Teguh Prasetyo of Interfectorment band, 17 May 2018).
Saffar’s inability to break into the next tier of popularity in Bandung, as Gore Infamous and Digging Up have done, may be due in part to the Islamic (and arguably Islamist) religious imagery used in Saffar’s lyrics, video clips, and band merchandise such as valiant Islamic warriors featured on tee-shirts and hoodies, although this is conjecture.
The album title El Arshy means “the sky” or “coming from the sky” in Arabic or colloquially we can say that the reference is to Allah.65 Acil explained further via interpretation from Indonesian to English provided by underground punk legend Butche of The Cruel:
“Coming from the God, you know? The people say: God lives in the sky, God is everywhere. That is why the people say: God is coming from the sky. The sky is the highest place on this planet. We just say “in the sky” meaning God because the sky is the highest place in this planet.”66
The use of the English word “mandatory” in front of El Arshy, from a band of non-native English speakers who prefer lyrics in Sundanese and Indonesian, has a vaguely threatening connotation, and Acil did not refer to this word when he explained what the album title meant. It probably refers simply to those actions mandatory within Islam, i.e. the five pillars of Islam, but the vaguely threatening nature of the title remains an unresolved issue.67 Jason Hutagalung has described Saffar as being “too religious” for his taste, whereas Jason confusingly accepts the beer-drinking members of Bandung/Cimahi band Jihad as “not too religious.”68 But showing the subjectivity inherent in Jason’s own very personal demarcation line, all of Jihad’s members are confessed Muslims; they write lyrics about Islamic theology and philosophy; and their ambition is to go on Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca with their wives and families (the Hajj pilgrimage is the fifth pillar of Islam).69 Kancil, vocalist of Jihad, explains the lyrical themes for the second Jihad album Strategi Setan (Satan’s Strategy), released by Recluse Production, Singapore, 2005:
“The lyrics mostly tell about the description of one of the most evil creatures from when he was born until the end of his days. In Islam the evil one can create chaos between humans and is a sign in the Al-Qu’ran for the end of the world. The nickname is ‘Dajjal’, the real name is ‘Samiri’, and he has three eyes in his face. We call America or U.S.A. ‘Uncle Sam’, it means the shortened form of Samiri.”70
We note here the closeness between religious and political commentary.
Jihad band members’ adoption of biker culture and dress, in the manner of Motörhead or Saxon or Zakk Wylde, has meant that they do not neatly fit into conventional perceptions about Muslims’ look and conduct. This may explain Jason’s declaration that Jihad’s members, unlike Saffar’s, are not, in his opinion, “too religious.” Jason’s Xenophobic Records was involved in an approved and official overseas reissue of Jihad’s third album Origin of the Rebels [sic] Angels, originally released by ESP/Krueger Records, 2013.
Acil has suggested that, with Parjo having departed, Saffar’s lyrical themes will expand to include social and historical themes. The reason is that Parjo wrote all the religious lyrics on the debut album and no one in the current band has shown the same interest or skill at writing lyrics on this complex and controversial topic.
Acil’s message to the fans on July 18 2016 was: “We still exist and our new songs will be different to other bands. Our style is always different from other bands.” With humility and a touch of anxiety he added, “I hope that Saffar will continue to exist.” Popo, vocalist of Demons Damn, supported his comments, saying: “This is why I do not agree with what they say in other [Indonesian] cities that all bands in Bandung follow the style of Jasad. Identity is made through both lyrics and music and Saffar has a unique identity.” Keeping the unique identity of Saffar without the unique lyrics of Parjo will be a continuing challenge in the years to come.71
Saffar has been able to avoid too much controversy by not publicly aligning itself with the One Finger Movement or the Jakarta scene; by avoiding preaching or the appearance of preaching; by building and maintaining strong relationships with Ujung Berung scene insiders; by consistently self-identifying with the Ujung Berung/Bandung scene since the band’s foundation; and by the band members’ patient and humble attitude. Band spokesman Acil is notoriously soft-spoken and shy and is sometimes seen literally sitting on the ground at the feet of other scene members who are seated on chairs.72 As Wallach points out: “paying attention to basic habits of sociality and to fundamental orientations toward physical space, the presence of others, and the burden of responsibility [are] part of an ethnographic perspective that is frequently missing from [popular music] studies.”73 When asked about Saffar, Rozi (bassist of Jihad) said: “I don’t know but they are very polite guys”; while Jihad vocalist Kancil added: “very religious.”74
Acil has stated to the author that he views himself as a musician and feels no connection to or affinity with the One Finger Movement, which has never had the influence or popularity in Bandung as it once had in Jakarta.
“Are you part of One Finger Movement and if not do you support One Finger Movement?
“Personally I try to be natural. I play Death Metal first and foremost and am not oriented towards One Finger Movement.”75
Acil was reluctant to discuss religious matters or the One Finger Movement further, even with the competent interpreter Popo Puji Apriantikasari present, preferring to focus instead on the band’s music and lyrics; the band’s line-up; and the band’s plans. Such an attitude makes perfect sense within the secular Bandung scene.
The Bandung scene is known for its secular orientation where religion and religious belief are viewed as private matters should be restricted to the private realm.
Jihad is a long-standing and widely respected member of the Ujung Berung Death Metal community, although it hails from Cimahi, Bandung’s sister city to the west.76 As such, it has been allowed to present Islamic philosophical and theological lyrics without being perceived to be a threat to the secular orientation of the Bandung scene. Releasing its second album, Strategi Setan, on a Singapore-based label as early as 2005 significantly added to its subcultural capital within the Bandung scene as part of the mechanism of “gesturing elsewhere” and receiving “gestures” from “elsewhere.”77
Saffar’s members are much younger than Jihad’s and appear to be very earnest and dedicated in their religious devotion. Saffar has been accepted by the Bandung scene for the reasons outlined above. Its strong religious lyrics and merchandise, however, have arguably prevented it from retaining a stable line-up over time (it has been leaking band members since the release of Mandatory El Arshy) and rising to the next level of success to join other fast-rising bands, such as Digging Up and Gore Infamous.
Overall this article illustrates various ways in which religious metalhead people in Indonesia balance, mix, and harmonize the divergent aspects of their personal interests and values. The research is challenging as few Indonesian metalheads prefer to discuss this topic, preferring to talk about myriad other topics instead. We see in this article the divergent ways of perceiving and “doing” religion between the One Finger Movement and bands that are proudly integrated into a well-functioning secular scene, such as Jihad and Saffar. We cannot simply equate One Finger Movement attitudes with the Jakarta worldview and the Jihad/Saffar “Muslims in a band” approach with the Bandung spirit. We do believe, however, that context is vitally important here. Bandung’s long history of arts and culture and its Sundanese heartland status have empowered and given meaning to today’s metalheads in a way which does not map easily onto any form of public religiosity; Jihad and Saffar have been hampered rather than helped by their religious foci in their quests to gain wider support. It would be much easier to be just another gore band specializing in gore lyrics. We should also note that the Indonesian attitude generally is live-and-let-live and that respect for seniors, hierarchy and dominant scene discourses and practices is vital to maintaining the mundane subcultural capital that Kahn-Harris (2004, 2007) writes about. Mundane subcultural capital, with nods to to wild behaviour (e.g. empty beer bottles strategically placed on tables before band interviews, rather than having been drunk previously by the band), may be the best way forward in a country where the influence of the conservative broader society is all pervasive. As Teguh Prasetyo says, we (Indonesian metalheads), as Muslims, generally take the music but not the lifestyle.
Suggestions for Further Research
East Java, comprising Surabaya, Malang, Kediri, and the rural hinterlands, remains an under-researched area in metal-music studies. Kediri is particularly interesting as this mountainous provincial city has become known around Indonesia for its Technical Death Metal bands inspired by local leaders Killharmonic. Research exploring smaller and younger scenes in more remote places, such as Banyuwangi, Blitar, Garut, Jombang, Tasikmalaya, Tulungagun, and Madura Island; and relationships between these scenes and their nearest big-city scene(s) could provide valuable information. We have done some preliminary work on the scene on Madura Island, which had eight underground bands in late-2014 led by Rajam (War Metal) and Sickles (Death Metal). The latter band gained significant exposure and subcultural capital several years ago due to strong online support coming from Canadian Death Metal expert Andrew Talbot aka Andrew Sick of Sick Reviews. Metal scenes in outlying Indonesian islands, such as Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and beyond are under-researched, as is the entire Filipino scene. Studying new and young Islamic bands and their connections to various scenes and communities should continue to be perceived as important, as should studying the experiences of Christian musicians playing in “bands of Muslims.” In terms of research into scenes in Muslim-majority countries, it would be interesting to compare the Indonesian scenes with those of Pakistan and Bangladesh.