AN NCS ALBUM PREMIERE (AND A REVIEW): DEMONSTEALER — “THE PROPAGANDA MACHINE”
Sahil Makhija (aka “The Demonstealer“) began a long road to recognition in the global metal community roughly 25 years ago. At least in terms of recordings, the road began with Sahil’s band Demonic Resurrection, whose debut album Demonstealer saw release in November 2000. Four more Demonic Resurrection albums followed, along with opportunities to perform outside their native India, and for a time it’s fair to say that DR was India’s best-known and most-celebrated extreme metal band.
Along the way, Sahil activated other vehicles for his musical output, including Reptilian Death and his solo project Demonstealer, and he gained further recognition through hosting the online cooking show “Headbanger’s Kitchen“, which gave him a chance to rub shoulders with members of metal bands scattered far and wide across the globe. And that’s not to mention his founding of a recording studio, a record label, a PR agency, and a consultancy service.
The road to recognition hasn’t been easy. It still isn’t. As Sahil explained in a recent interview with our man Comrade Aleks, he has experienced a fair share of moments when he wanted to give up, not because of a lack of desire to continue creating music but because of all the shit constantly shoveled up by “the business side” of releasing music and performing. And then there’s the fact that metal music is still an alien art form in India — “culturally strange and also sonically not appealing” to the vast majority of the population. “Metal music, unlike in the west, is music that people of a certain privileged and economic background listen to. It’s not the music of the common man.”
Nevertheless, Sahil forges ahead, with music still the mainstay of his life as he approaches his 41st birthday. And more than ever, disturbing conditions in his native land (and around the world) became the subject matter of his songwriting as he returned to his Demonstealer project. Reflecting that subject matter, the name of the new Demonstealer album which we’re presenting today is The Propaganda Machine, which is now set for release on March 31st by Black Lion Records.
As he did on Demonstealer‘s last album, 2018’s The Last Reptilian Warrior, Sahil enlisted a number of luminary guests to flesh out his song ideas and fill in the blanks. As explained in the interview cited above, that turned out to be a complicated and time-consuming process, but was worth the wait. We probably ought to quickly list those names here, but there are almost a dozen of them, including four drummers, four bassists, a keyboardist, and three lead guitarists, so we’ll include the complete list further below and mention at this point only that all the performers are stellar musicians.
To return to the subject matter of the album, we’ll share some more excerpts from our interview:
You’ve said that one of your new songs “The Fear Campaign” from The Propaganda Machine deals with the theme of the government manipulating people. Which events inspired you to write these lyrics?
Honestly, all over the world this is happening. In India the Hindu population is the majority but the government here keeps spreading propaganda about Muslims and tries to keep the Hindu population in fear of the Muslims. You see the same in the UK/USA/Europe about the fear campaigns to make people fearful of immigrants. In America you see the same being done with race, religion, etc. It’s a global tactic. That’s what the song is about. The lines ‘Keep them in fear, Keep them obedient’ sum up everything exactly.
When questioned about whether raising education levels and critical thinking among the populace might lead to favorable change in his own country, Sahil said:
It will take a long time before it does because India is a massive country and there is extreme poverty and social inequality. There is a hope that over time maybe we can reach that point but most of the time it’s just running around in circles. If you see the quality of life in India, the state of the government-run schools and hospitals, you will see the situation. The thing is, with all the religious indoctrination and brainwashing and all the people holding on blindly to outdated customs and traditions there is a long long way to go.
These ideas permeate many songs on the album. Again from the interview:
The album kind of follows a sequence of things in the propaganda machine. It’s completely inspired by the way the world has been in the last few years. Especially it’s inspired by the events in India since the right-wing Hindu extremist government stepped into the picture. “The Fear Campaign” talks about how the majority are made to fear the minority, this helps the government keep them in control. “Monolith of Hate” speaks about the hateful politics and how the same majority through the fear campaign are made to hate the minorities.
“The Art of Disinformation” talks about how technology is a weapon. In India fake forwards on WhatsApp and fake videos are used to propagate this hate and eventually incite violence and even killing of the minority communities. “Screams Of Those Dying” talks about the actual lives lost in the last few years from lynchings, riots, police brutality, straight-up murders, and assassinations of people fighting for basic human rights. “The Great Dictator” talks about the right-wing leaders who promote and propagate this hate and violence for their own benefit.
“The Anti-National” talks about how people who question the government in India and in their own countries are called ‘anti national’ when they are the true patriots who actually care to question the government and demand better things rather than be a slave to the government. And finally “Crushing the Iron Fist” leaves the album on a note of hope that maybe if we work together we can find better governments who will work to improve the quality of life instead of working to fill their pockets and divide people based on their religion, caste, or race. A government that does what it is supposed to, work for the people.
And we’ll share one more comment that Sahil gave us in anticipation of today’s premiere:
I’m elated that the album has finally been released. It’s something I’ve been working on since 2018, and it’s taken almost 5 years to bring it all together. There were lots of moments where I felt like it was never going to be finished, but I allowed the album to complete in its own time. I’m happy to say that it was worth the wait. I got to collaborate with some of the best musicians in the genre, and my songs have been given a whole new dimension, one I wouldn’t have been able to achieve without the incredible skills and musicality of the guest musicians. Lyrically I’ve been able to pen my views, frustrations, anger and disdain for the world, the current political climate, religion and everything I feel strongly about. This album is my hope for a better, kinder world.
We’ve devoted a lot of space to Sahil‘s background and even more to the subject matter of the record because we think it’s important to do that, but at last, we should turn to the music itself.
Succinctly summing up the album isn’t easy, because it packs so many musical ideas into its eight songs and nearly 43-minute runtime, not just in the riffs but of course in the ways in which the multitude of Demonstealer‘s uber-talented guests chose to flesh out the tracks. There’s more than enough flash in the performances of the varying rhythm sections to satiate devotees of technical death metal, and enough obliterating punishment to kindle the interest of brutal death metal fanatics. And Sahil‘s growled and screamed vocals are barbarically savage, both grim and enraged.
But the guitar-and-keyboard melodies of the songs are at least equally important. More than anything else, this is a melodic death metal album, and it’s also tempting to call it a symphonic death metal album.
The opener “The Fear Campaign”, for example, is an explosive onslaught, propelled by lights-out drumming, thunderous bass-work, and riffing that’s darting, jolting, and swirling. The song’s supernova brilliance is augmented by spectacular soloing, and driven to soaring heights of grandeur by keyboards and by Sahil‘s high-flown singing. In its mood, the song can be daunting, but also furiously defiant.
Like that song, others on the album are brazen, turbocharged attacks, easily capable of running up adrenaline levels into the red zone and inflicting severe beatings, but equally capable of sending heads spinning into heart-exploding stratospheres of instrumental exuberance and symphonic grandiosity (“Monolith of Hate” and “The Great Dictator” being prime examples of that, but only two of many).
On the other hand, you’ll encounter songs that seem designed to bring in the fear factor of frenzy and to jackhammer tall buildings into rubble (see the title track and “The Anti-National”, for example, though there’s plenty of darting and dancing fretwork in the latter track too), and others that include melodies that are almost dreamlike in their portrayal of despondency (“The Great Dictator”, “Crushing the Iron Fist”, and “The Art of Disinformation” are examples of that, and the latter is also marked by a saxophone-like guitar solo that’s a real scene-stealer).
As the album unfolds, Sahil continues adding his impassioned singing voice, both soaring and gritty, to the melodic quotients of the songs, enhancing the variety of the music’s emotional intensity. If you’re a fan of Soilwork, for example, that’s going to please you.
If there’s a throughline in these varying experiences, it’s the relentlessly electrifying impact of the rhythm sections’ eye-popping performances, the pulse-punching and often bone-jarring effect of high-octane riffing, the richly layered tonal tapestries, and a tendency to return to displays of glorious bombast. Speed is almost always the name of the game, with few opportunities for a listener to gulp air, though sometimes it’s the briefest of keyboard or guitar motifs that seize attention most swiftly.
Well, time for us to let the music speak for itself:
As promised, here ‘s that complete list of the luminary guests who contributed their talents to The Propaganda Machine:
Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Triptykon, Blotted Science)
James Payne (Kataklysm, Hiss From The Moat)
Ken Bedene (Aborted)
Sebastian Lanser (Obsidious/Panzerballett)
Anabelle Iratni (Veile, ex Cradle of Filth)
Dominic ‘Forest’ Lapointe (First Fragment, Augury, BARF)
Stian Gundersen (Blood Red Throne, You Suffer, Son of a Shotgun)
Martino Garattoni (Ne Obliviscaris, Ancient Bards)
Kilian Duarte (Abiotic, Scale The Summit)
Alex Baillie (Cognizance)
Dean Paul Arnold (Primalfrost)
Sanjay Kumar (Equipoise, Wormhole, Greylotus)
Black Lion Records is giving the album a suitably lavish release — on black and turqoise blue vinyl; a limited-edition digipak CD; a jewel-case CD; a limited-edition blue cassette tape; and a digital download. Pre-orders are available now:
I’m glad Demonstealer is still out there doing it. Demonic Resurrection’s The Return to Darkness album was a favorite back in the Death Metal Baboon days. I’ll be sure to get in on this action!