When you hear about Venezuela, you probably think about crazy presidents, good food, beauty contests, or the biggest waterfall ever. Those are shallow clichés (except for the food, the food is good), and now I’m here to tell you a story about a few bands that developed our metal scene.
Venezuela is a country deeply rooted in a mixed-race region. The Spanish, ethnic tribes, and African Americans converged here since the foundation of this glorious nation. This racial and cultural mix developed a refined musical sense of rhythm and melody: the Venezuelan music drank from the European waltz, the magic of the left indigenous tribes and the hypnotic percussion of the slaves from Africa.
When metal came here in the mid-70s, there were a few bands that tried to push a little more the genre infusing those sources. It is sad, because those interesting mixes that could be fused with the genre were lost because most of the first bands looked more to the outside than the inside of our problems and culture. Nevertheless, there are still a few attempts of what we can call an original approach to metal.
While the Floridian, New York and Swedish death metal scene started to become a force in the underground music; in Venezuela the bands were still making the NWOHM style. Everything came late to the country because the Metal was a tiny niche that was not very prolific, did not have too much promotion and the country had a Black Friday, an economic breakout, which deteriorated the currency.
I’d like to pause to share some findings* about the ‘self-stereotypes’ of Venezuelan habitants, just to give you a global vision of the music scene, the motivations and the reason why the death metal scene got these big four exponents, I will short this part, no worries. According to the investigation of Montero (1984), the Venezuelan validates positively the North Americans, English and Spanish more than they, and the self-perception were qualified by the people interviewed as: happy, generous, intelligent; and, even impulsive, irresponsible and lazy. The research of Montero is wider, but I wanted to rescue those adjectives because they were the most generals for us to understand the culture of the country.
When we enter the 90, we can say that Venezuela was in bad shape due the bad governments, deteriorated economics and the grotesque division between the rich and the poor. The violence and the popular turmoil finished in one massive riot with deaths and disappearing of the protesters, and attempt of coup d’état in 1992.
From a chronological sense, the first band that was tagged as death metal was Stratuz. But, they did not make a bigger impact of the scene like what Baphometh did with their demos.
Baphometh was a band formed in Caracas that blended a fast thrash/death metal a la Brazilian style. Sepultura and Sarcófago were, in fact, the biggest influence in the Venezuelan extreme scene because they were perceived as a role model due the geographical proximity, contributions and their international projection.
In 1988, Baphometh recorded their first demo with just one song and the famous pentacle in the cover. I cannot imagine how the reaction to this was, it was primal and evil; and the metal in Venezuela was not prepared and used to this imagery. But, the success on the underground tape trading was there and, in 1992, they created Ars Moriendi with all the experience they accumulated, when they toured all around the country bringing their maniac music.
The bark vocal approach, the rumbling bass behind and the violent lyrics sung in English were a hit and opened the scene for the other groups. They quitted in 1993 without any recorded LP, but their roads travelled bring courage to other groups to start a scene. In 2014, they reformed for a last final couple of shows and their leader, Franklin Zambrano, exhumed their famous demos for free in Bandcamp in a compilation titled In the Beginning.
Baphometh’ comrades in death, Natastor, formed in La Güaira, near Caracas, in 1991 and were faster and darker, and while they were more leaned to the thrash metal, they incorporated distorted vocals to the double bass rampage. Their topics were more focused in blasphemy and destruction, a sign of the dark times of a country without direction and drowning more and more in the individualistic capitalist system.
The guys from Natastor created music very compact and direct. Center in the evilness of their sound, they influenced a lot of new bands because they transmitted their shows with high energy, and teached the other bands of the importance of the live setting. Their only full-length was released in 2005. You can taste a little of their project with the song “Regreso Del Abismo”:
Epitafio was the other band that spawned more death metal in the country. Created in the city of Maracay, in 1992, these guys were pal of the Baphometh crew and accompanied them in the road, too. Like Natastor, they made their LP in the 2000’s, because the tape trade was the easiest and cheapest way to share music in the 90’s.
Talking about general death metal topics, like death and gore, Epitafio was an example to the scene because they encourage more bands to tour. They quitted, and later reformed in 2006 delivering two LP and becoming the most awaited comeback of the scene. In 2011, they blasted our lands with a religious-obsessed death metal record called III Operis Tertium.
In the beginning, the band wrote their lyrics in English, but in their last record they switched to the Spanish making their concept more Venezuelan and united with their percussive delivering.
For the last, I want to give you the recommendation of the final band in this “Big 4 of Venezuelan old-school death metal”: Krueger.
This was the most atrocious, controversial and crushing bands in the scene because their sadomasochist costumes (the vocalist, Carlos Sánchez, go full on leather with pikes), album covers arts depicting venereal diseases and lyrics about sex, torture and crime. They call their genre as Porn Metal and even with this publicity, I must say that Krueger makes a good usage of the controversy to their music.
Formed in 1990 in the capital city, they’re the most prolific band in the scene with 5 full length albums. Rooted in the most evil and disgusting sound of the death metal, they still deliver some good guitar work with the frenzy maniac instrumental and the alternating use of shrieked and guttural vocals.
I can deeply say that their major contribution to the making of a pure Latin death metal genre, song-wise, is this piece called “Birongo”, which is named after a small town in the central region of the country where a lot of Santería rites occur. In that song, Krueger fused death metal with Latin and African rhythms to accompany and the percussive use of the distorted guitar the criminal lyrics about sex, Venezuelan ghosts, death and madness.
In last year, they edited a new LP that I think is a great example to the other bands in the country: Venezuela: Cuentos Grotescos de Amor y Muerte, it is an entire concept album about the most famous crimes in the news in the 80’s decade.
For example, this song is about one of those police and journalism cases that spawned books and a movie. The lyrics are perfectly described by Sánchez and narrates the history of a cop that killed three young people that lust over his stepdaughter, who was also his wife in her 12 years old. This sad and savage tale of pedophilia, murder and blood was portrayed on the film “Macú, la mujer del policía”, one of the most famous Venezuelan movies.
* This is a paper from Maritza Montero called “La Autoimagen nacional de los venezolanos” (The national selfimage of the Venezuelan). It’s in Spanish and you can find it here: http://www.gumilla.org/biblioteca/bases/biblo/texto/COM198653_92-101.pdf