The SAMMA Chronicles 2017: Battle of the Genres

Zombies Ate My Girlfriend 2017 Witchfest JHB: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage
Zombies Ate My Girlfriend live: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage

Johannesburg, South Africa: it is always interesting when the different metal genre nominations come out for the SAMMAs and this year was no exception. Notably, 2017 has included an additional category by including Best Progressive Metal, whereas in previous years such bands were merely lumped into the more ambiguous category of “Alternative Metal”. This addition has arrived owing to the persistent and phenomenal groundswell in the local scene surrounding this categorization in recent years.

Sometimes fans question why bands were nominated in some categories as opposed to others, and sometimes there are bands who may fall into multiple categories; but here is where the public polls help out and usually ensure that top bands nominated inevitably end up being a top nominee in the category which is most fitting. This year at the SAMMAs we again recognize a few different genre categories being Best Black Metal, Best Death Metal, Best Alternative Metal, Best Thrash Metal, Best Core Metal and the aforementioned inclusion of Best Progressive Metal.

What are nominees saying?

We thought it apt to get some opinions from some of the nominees in relation to the categories in which they are nominated. We began with what is often regarded as the most extreme end of the spectrum, and asked some of the bands nominated to describe their belief in how South African metal fans react to the genre:

Adorned in Ash 2015 by C Duvenage
Adorned in Ash: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage Photography

“Well, a good reaction really. Black Metal is a really popular genre in South Africa, or has started becoming one over the years. We have always had a positive reaction from fans around the country.” ~ Spokesperson (Theatre Runs Red)

“Black Metal is no doubt a growing genre in South Africa. Historically, Black Metal is known for the raw and ugly, but with the elements such as Thrash and Symphonics, the response is growing.” ~ Spokesperson (Spectral Realm)

“We are not strictly a Black Metal band. We combine elements of various genres within Extreme Metal, of which Black Metal is but one. With any genre there are those who like it and those who don’t. The most important thing is to stay true to the musical philosophy of the band.” ~ Robyn Ferguson (guitar/vocals, Adorned in Ash)

Extreme, Extremer, Extremist…?

Death Metal seems to remain as ever a small but steady holdfast for local metal and nominees shared with us why they think Death Metal enjoys such dedicated appeal to the fans

SacriFist 2017 by C Duvenage
SacriFist: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage Photography

“I think it’s not just Death Metal but Metal in general. People do relate to it’s beauty.” ~ Spokesperson (SacriFist)

“The pure passion and energy. Also, bands are starting to really develop their own styles within the genre and that is keeping it exciting and interesting.” ~ Wouter Botha (guitar/vocals, Maximum Carnage)

“Death Metal in our country’s context is a very exciting genre for us because it’s complexities and considerations change, literally, by the year. It’s an evolving genus of Metal and bands are pushing the stereotypes in all kinds of directions. South African Death Metal is less restricted by the sub-genre war and rather embraces unique combinations of styles and themes that makes it an altogether different and awesome beast!” ~ Spokesperson (My Columbine)

“Death Metal is an extreme genre so the fans of Death Metal – and especially SA Death Metal – are very underground. It is, and always will be, separated from the more popular genres. Most fans of Death Metal will always say they want what is heavy in their life, so we hit that hard…” ~ Dominic Vorster (bass guitar/vocals, Bleeding Spawn)

What would Metal be without some attitude?

The compatriots of Thrash Metal represent something of an “undying” breed, resurfacing in force just when you thought the genre would be gone forever… and as with international heroes like Dave Mustaine or Kerry King, our locals stay true to that balls-to-the-wall Thrash spirit, caring little for things like modesty.

Deadline 2017 live by C Duvenage
Deadline: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage Photography

“I think all the current Thrash bands in the scene are excellent. They definitely have the potential to give international bands a run for their money given the right circumstances. The biggest obstacles most local Metal bands face are financial, location and lack of opportunities. I think this is what gives international bands the edge over local bands.” ~ Spokesperson (BloodBeast)

“The local Thrash bands definitely kill it, comparing more favourably with international bands in my opinion.” ~ Derrick Leppan (bass guitar, DevilSpeak)

“The level of musicianship has been raised over the years. I feel that every band is currently excelling in their art and pushing the expectation set by international standards. What I love is that you can throw all the Thrash bands on the same bill and get a very different vibe from each band.” ~ Francois Meyer (drums, DevilSpeak)

“In Gauteng, there are not many true Thrash bands so it is good to stand out above the other genres. Thrash has had an international resurgence in the last couple of years; there are some excellent local and international bands out there. Even the old guard is releasing material that is better than ever.” ~ Raven Chaos (Deadline)

“Thrash Metal is quite hard to come by here in SA. If you look at most of the Thrash Metal bands in our local scene, they’re either influenced by Thrash or their music combines elements of Thrash. We, however, are very purely Thrash oriented and are much closer to an old school sound in terms of the style of our music – we don’t combine elements of Death or Black Metal in our sound and prefer a more organic form of Thrash, utilising clean vocals as opposed to harsh growls and screams. Regardless, all these great other bands in this growing Thrash Metal scene bring something unique to the table and live up to the standard of our international counterparts.” ~ Spokesperson (Disarmageddon)

Skirting along the fringes of the genre pool

The category for Alternative Metal is always a bit of a mixed bag of tricks, often turning up some unexpected nominations… unexpected even to some of the bands nominated, but most felt quite graciously to have been forwarded as a nomination.

“I was completely unaware we were considered an Alternative Metal band, but that’s the raddest thing about the type of music we make. I think it fits into so may categories… The Metal scene in SA has always been a tightly knit community of great guys and gals, so naturally our little dark hearts are pouring custard at the moment.” ~ Spokesperson (Dirty Moonshine)

“Music is 50% what we put into it and 50% what the listener gets out – so while we wouldn’t put ourselves into the category, we’re honoured that the community has put us forward as nominees.” ~ Spokesperson (PSordid)

Others emphasized what meaning the genre categorization held closest their own hearts:

“I think it’s that people aren’t sticking to what everyone else is doing and are stretching the boundaries a little further, which is always good.” ~ Spokesperson (Juggernaught)

“This is a huge honour for us! The Alternative Metal scene in SA is not exactly Godzilla-sized yet, but we are doing our best, along with some other stellar groups, to bring forward quality music for those who share our enthusiasm.” ~ Spokesperson (Set For The Sky)

Metal to the Core, and then even more

“Core” Metal and it’s various derivatives began to emerge many years deep into the legacy of the parent genre, yet has mushroomed into it’s own identity since. We asked some of the local nominees about this global movement and it’s continued trajectory within South Africa and towards beyond:

Riddlebreak 2017 live by C Duvenage
Riddlebreak: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage Photography

“On a global scale South African Core bands have so much to contribute because there is a unique perspective that can be brought into the music. There are a lot of bands here that push the limits of what is considered traditional Core and start bringing in other influences to change it up a bit. We have so much talent in this country, I think if people looked beyond borders, they would find that there are a number of South African bands that could hold their own among some of the best.” ~ Spokesperson (Riddlebreak)

“As a global music phenomenon, metal-core has branched out into many different sub genres. If you compare bands like Killswitch Engage, Underoath, Northlane, Norma Jean, Bring Me The Horizon, Erra and Memphis May Fire (which are all metal-core bands depending on who you ask), you’ll find that while the bands share certain similarities, such as heavy breakdowns, a juxtaposition of clean singing and screaming and an emphasis on emotion and energy, they also all have very unique sounds that differentiate them from each other. There was a stage where most metal-core bands in South Africa sounded the same, as if every band was taking influence from the same set of American bands. During the last few years, however, we’ve seen a huge jump in the quality and sonic diversity of local Metal bands in general. Due to the greater access to global music thanks to faster and cheaper internet, bands in South Africa have a much larger pool of influence than in previous years. I think that we can expect to see a far larger percentage of South African Metal bands reaching international acclaim, thanks to the reach of the internet. There seems to be a trend of sonic diversification as well as a huge improvement in production quality of local Metal-core. We’re a small scene in terms of the global scale, but we think some incredible Metal-core has come out of SA in the last few years and we can’t wait to see what comes next!” ~ Spokesperson (Red Helen)

The ever-expanding universe of Metal

Of course, the new inclusion of Best Progressive Metal category has had the burgeoning community bursting with pride and commentary about it’s “now-formally recognized status” by the broader local Metal scene.

Mezzanine Floor 2017 by C Duvenage
Mezzanine Floor: image courtesy of Christelle Duvenage Photography

“I think it just offers a different variety to an already beautifully varied scene. It’s also down to personal preferences and not something limited to purely the South African scene but the Progressive scene in general. We love Guttural Metal but we also love Classic Rock, Atmospheric and Post Metal along with an assortment of more obscure tastes. A combination of those in one product is going to speak more loudly to the souls of the fans of this sort of thing because it’s just what years of programming has done to the emotional taste; it’s just how we’re wired. The scene in general is phenomenal, so diverse, constantly pushing boundaries and creativity and it’s that passion across the board that makes it incredible as a whole.” ~ Spokesperson (Mezzanine Floor)

“I think Progressive music in general stands out, no matter which country’s scene we’re talking about. It means looking outside the box somewhat. It’s a state of mind. It means constantly trying something different from what you tried previously. Basically, not writing the same song twice. Our Rock and Metal scene is exposed to a tiny demographic in this country. So I guess the Progressive side of things stands out like a boner in a Speedo here because it caters to an even smaller audience.” ~ Spokesperson (Deity’s Muse)

“The word ‘Progressive’ in Progressive Metal is such a vague word to be honest. Out of all the sub genres of Metal, we feel that Progressive Metal is almost it’s own genre, because of it’s diversity and intensity. It attracts people, because it is something fresh, different and can bring gaps between musical styles. It’s the musician’s music.” ~ Spokesperson (Megalodon)

“The nice thing about Progressive Metal is it’s so broad in scope, you don’t really know what to expect from each band within the genre. It stands out because it’s so diverse, and often encompasses a lot of styles synonymous with other genres, meaning it also has a broad appeal to metal listeners. It’s a bit of a newcomer in South Africa, even though the genre has been around for almost 30 years in the international arena, so I think people are really excited by the new sounds and styles that the bands in the category have introduced to the South African Metal scene as a whole.” ~ Spokesperson (Raptorbaby)

Be there when it happens!

Catch the SAMMAs official awarding ceremony on 1 July 2017 at Rumours Rock City starting at 16:00 to find out who takes the award for each genre category in South Africa. To see all final nominees in each category following the public participation polls, visit this article.

Connect with the organization South African Metal Music Awards on facebook
Connect with the photographer Christelle Duvenage Photography on facebook
Connect with this website’s True Believer funding initiative on facebook