This may seem like too much of a blanket statement, but a large number – the majority even - of metalheads worldwide have a pretty easy life. If some Norwegian dude singed his hair burning down a church or stubbed his toe kicking over a tombstone, he could go to the doctor gratis. If some long-hair from Tampa, stumbling out of a Morbid Angel show at three in the morning, finds his or her stomach churning from the dizzying mixture of headbanging and Colt 45, that individual can likely find a convenience store where Pepto Bismol can soothe the viscera and taquitos can calm the soul. But it's not like that everywhere, and some of the most bracing and relevant entries into metal's canon have originated in areas that were decidedly disadvantaged. One could call to mind Black Sabbath and Napalm Death's emergence from under the smog of Birmingham's heavy industry or the military dictatorship overseeing Brazil when Sarcofago and Sepultura first began making noise. More recent examples of metal bands springing up amongst the Middle East's theocracies bear the point out further. But few areas of the world were as harsh and unforgiving as Medellín , Colombia in the 1980s. As one of the primary centers for the international cocaine trade, at various points Medellín enjoyed the dubious distinction of being known as the world's most violent city. Cartels, most notably the one headed by Pablo Escobar, battled the police, paramilitary forces, and each other, turning the city into a warzone for much of that period.
But among the chaos, a small but dedicated metal scene arose, one that produced bands of striking consistency and consistent idiosyncrasy. I've written elsewhere about the background on this group of musicians and delved into the back catalogs of a handful, but there is one band in particular whose essence is difficult to really capture. I had heard this band referred to as the most extreme band ever recorded, a tag I had seen applied time and time again over the nearly two decades I've been into the heavier side of music. It's the type of description that would make most metal fans roll their eyes, both because of how overused the idea is and how subjective it is, but after giving this band a listen, it's difficult for me to say that the assessment is wholly incorrect. I'll spare the hyperbole of endorsing the idea that this band was the most extreme ever, but the music speaks for itself. In a nutshell (and again, hyperbole aside), it's a brooding, nihilistic slab of barbaric anti-music that channels the destruction and chaos of the band's surroundings into a destructive whirlwind of sound that makes Hellhammer sound like Pat Boone (and not metal-covering Pat Boone either). That band was Parabellum.
Parabellum has the distinction of being one of the earliest Central American metal bands, especially within the style of music they played. Formed in 1981, the band didn't actually record anything until 1987, but this six-year divide did little to smooth their writing process or refine their aesthetic. Theirs is a blunt, frantic approach where bilious vocals overlay music that can seem almost alien at times - caveman drumming, tinny practice amp guitar tone, solos that burst out over top of everything with no regard to key or metre like something Kerry King would come up with in the middle of a PCP binge, songs stop and start seemingly without rhyme or reason leaving queasy, detuned passages to bridge the gaps. It's music as pure negation, a whole-hearted attempt to reject everything that Western Civilization has ingrained in our collective mind regarding what constitutes tonality and structure. It's metal that would make most listeners scratch, rather than bang, their heads.
I do understand that descriptions like that make the thing seem like it's going to sound like some art school noise band, but the music speaks for itself. While so many artists attempted to seem edgy, crazy, or to fulfill some other socially-constructed role of rebellious other, Parabellum just sounds insane. I've played music for a long time and I really cannot figure out what their writing process must have entailed. My initial impression was that everything in their music seems to happen at random like some deranged heavy metal take on free jazz (years before John Zorn did it) but further listens reveal that the members are actually playing at least somewhat together. And this is the point I found most unsettling. People actually sat down and wrote this. While it sounds like the type of band Morlocks or C.H.U.Ds would start after hearing a warped Possessed cassette that fell down a storm drain and was washed down underground rivers into their hidden lair, this was all intricately plotted out by people that you might well walk by on the street.
Earnestness isn't always the first trait praised in heavy metal, a style that often leans towards larger-than-life themes and personalities, but it's a characteristic of Parabellum's music that has rendered it far more compelling than many other bands who have operated on the periphery of what most people would think of as music. It's like a black metal Shaggs trying to approximate the sound of a hydrogen bomb detonation, but for all the over-the-top discordance, there is a sense of vitality at the core that cannot be falsified, the sound of people playing because they have no other choice. If the extremity of an aesthetic statement could be measured by an artist's ability to channel dire circumstances into a creative outlet, the idea of Parabellum as heavy metal's apogee is not as bold a statement as it might initially seem and remains a lasting testament to the ability to transcend the worst of surroundings through the least likely of means.
For those of you keeping track, that's four new additions to The Team in four days, with yet more on the way. I'm definitely looking forward to hearing more from all of these guys. Hell, I might even write something myself sooner or later...