Malaysian metal has an enthusiastic following, but it’s fair to say that not much is known about it in Europe. To gain some insight, Andrew Doherty interviewed Leon Low to ask him about his bands, his vision and the way the metal scene works in Malaysia.
AN: Hello! Thank you first of all for the information you gave me about metal venues in Malaysia. You’ve prepared me well for my next visit! Thank you also for agreeing to this interview. To start, can I ask what first prompted your interest in becoming a heavy metal musician?
LL: Warm and humid greetings from Penang, Malaysia! No worries at all – I do hope the information will come in handy during your visit to Malaysia. I was a huge fan of Alternative Rock bands during my teenage years, then was introduced to Metallica’s “Black Album” by a friend in school who thought I should try something, well, ‘heavier’. I knew Metal was my thing at that point of time, so I went on a search at local record stores for albums of bands that I thought could play faster, more extreme than Metallica. That was when I discovered life-altering albums like Slayer’s “Hell Awaits”, Carcass’s “Necrotism: Descanting The Insalubrious”, Fear Factory’s “Demanufacture”, Morbid Angel’s “Altar Of Madness”, At The Gates’ “Slaughter Of The Soul”, and Marduk’s “Nightwing”, just to drop a few names.
AN: You’re a founder member of three diverse bands – NonserviaM, Dissectomy and Weot Skam. For the benefit of readers who don’t know them, can you give a summary of the bands you’re involved with?
LL: For sure bro. Here are some overviews of the said Penang-based bands that I’m very much involved with:
DISSECTOMY is an Extreme Death Metal band formed in 2003, and has released a full-length album (“New Tyranny Unsurpassed”, 2015), an EP (“Tribulation”, 2006), and a series of compilations in between. The band started off as a Carcass-cover band for a good 2 years before we started writing our own materials. A series of line-up changes took place between 2007 and 2009, but the current line-up has been solidified since 2010. Dissectomy (2017) is; Leon (Bass / Vocals), Jakpa (Rhythm Guitar), Fariz (Drums), & Dark.E (Lead Guitar).
NONSERVIAM is a Melodic Death Metal collective formed in 2009. We have since released an MCD (“Archetype Obscure”, 2016), a full-length album (“A Spectral Ascension”, 2014), and our debut EP (“Ordinance Of Reason”, 2012). We are signed with Salt Lake City, USA’s Extreme Metal label Slaughterhouse Records in 2016. NonserviaM (2017) is; Leon (Vocals), Vinoth (All Guitars), ChuXian (Bass), and Faris (Keyboard).
WEOT SKAM is a Thrashing Hardcore Punk band that was established in 2003 by founding members Edd (guitar) and Dzul (vocals). Along with the band’s former bassist and drummer, the band recorded the first and almost ‘cult-status’ demo cassette, “Demo / Reh” (2003). I joined them in 2007 on bass, and we went on to release 1 full-length album (“Six-Pack Tsunami Attack”, 2013), 1 Demo, 2 Splits, 1 Four-Way split, and participated in a multitude of compilations. Weot Skam (2017) is; Edd (Guitar), Dzul (Vocals), Leon (Bass), and Sam Ah Keat (Drums).
AN: On the face of it, it looks as if your musical journey, if I may put it that way, has gone from the rampant rebellion of hardcore punk via old school death metal to a more sophisticated form of metal. Is that how you would see it?
LL: Very much I suppose, only the other way around. To be precise, Metal was all that mattered to me when I was growing up (circa 1997 to 2002). From Slayer to Fear Factory, Sepultura to Carcass, Metallica to At The Gates, anything else besides Metal was just top-graded garbage, or so I thought. Fast-forward to the year 2003, I was invited by a college mate to a DIY Hardcore Punk / Grindcore gig held in an abandoned house somewhere in Penang, and I have to say, that gig changed my life completely. Today, I would see myself as a Metalhead with Grind Punk attitude haha.
AN: How does it work with your bands? Do you find there’s an overlap between them, or do you find you get in a separate zone of creativity each time with your band mates?
LL: Commitment wise, it’s all about time-management and prioritization. Creative wise, Dissectomy, NonserviaM and Weot Skam are three different musical entities altogether, so it is never too rigid or difficult for me to get into separate zones among the three.
AN: I’d like to give you one of my impressions of NonserviaM and hear your reaction. The first thing is that if I hadn’t known you were Malaysian, I’d have assumed you were Swedish and had spent all your life listening to Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and to a lesser degree Soilwork. “Exile” on your 2016 “Archetype Obscure” ep for me has “The Treason Wall” written all over it. I’m sure you must have heard this said. Is this something that you’re comfortable with?
LL: Yeah, I get that a lot; as in me being a Swedish that is, haha. Well, other than yourself, I haven’t actually gotten feedback from anyone on the similarity between the two songs. For sure, I’m a huge Dark Tranquillity fan (up to 2005’s “Character”, to be precise), and they are one of the many bands that inspired the birth of NonserviaM, but I must say the semblance of melodies (or ambience) on “The Treason Wall” heard in “Exile”, is just pure ‘artistic’ coincidence, if you will. As a matter of fact, I remember listening to a lot of early Insomnium, Eluveitie, and Dimension Zero when I was writing the song with Vinoth – he’s not the biggest Dark Tranquillity fan there is. Haha. So, am I comfortable? Of course. \m/ Thanks for even putting in some time to really listen to the song, mate!
AN: I sense a distinct difference between the musical structures of your songs. “Exile” is more hooky and lyric-heavy melo-death than the more diverse ”Disdain” with its anger, menace, transformation, dark and epic vocals. In others, such as “Fragments” on the 2012 “Ordinance of Reason” ep, there’s more dramatic content. I wouldn’t expect everything to sound the same, but are you still at the experimentation stage where you prefer to try out things rather than deliver a constant musical theme through your recorded works?
LL: I had one particular musical theme in mind when I was writing the songs in 2012’s EP, “Ordinance Of Reason”, and that was stripped-down Melodic Death Metal. However, with the incessant line-up changes and the coming and going of members, NonserviaM now consists of 5 individuals with distinct musical backgrounds. Vinoth (guitar) grew up with a lot of Thrash Metal, ChuXian (bass) is a Groove Metal person, Faris (keyboard) dabbles a lot in Symphonic and Avant-Garde compositions, Valent (drums) is into Extreme Death Metal, and I am a staunch worshipper of Carcass & At The Gates, so songs like “Disdain” is a composition comprised of all the elements and influences mentioned. In fact, we’ve got 7 new songs written in similar vein of such ‘elemental-amalgamations’ for our second full-length album. Experimentation? I will leave it to our listeners to decide.
AN: “Insidious Nihilistic Regimental Indoctrination”, which closes your 2014 “A Spectral Ascension” has a grim title but is an accessible track with its melodic riff and chugging motion. You’re not the first band to do this of course, but how do you reconcile the verbal messages of decay, oppression and hypocrisy with such catchy riffage?
LL: Music-wise, like most Metalheads (or any music-lovers in general), we are typically drawn towards tunes that are catchy, rhythmic, and memorable. Lyrically, I have my opinions – distaste, if you will – on the administration of organized religion, and the subscription of the ominous idea of theocracy. Without condescension, I would very much love to share my views. So, what better ways to spread the words than through music so, well, ‘captivating’? *wink* Oh, in case you haven’t noticed, the initial components of the song’s title are “INRI”; originally derived from the Latin initialism: “Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rex Iūdaeōrum” (Jesus, King Of The Jews). The rest is history.
AN: Moving onto Dissectomy, what I perceived here in listening to your 2015 album “New Tyranny Unsurpassed” strong riffs, heavy atmospheres and a deep affinity to the world of old school death metal. Is that fair comment?
LL: Spot on, that’s for sure. I’d like to add in some Teutonic + Bay Area Thrash Metal and a hint of Fuck-The-World Black Metal into the said maelstrom of extremity. That’ll further justify your description.
AN: There is a clip of Dissectomy playing a vocal-free cover of Morbid’s “Dawn of the Angry”. I really liked it. Unlike the much deeper and dingier original, it’s faster and fresher with really tight, technical drum work. Was this interpretation a one-off, which someone happened to record, or was this the seed of an idea for your future direction?
LL: Truth be told, it was just an idea of a fun-jam. I remember a few days before that particular practice session, we were all texting on Dissectomy’s Whatsapp group chat, ranting to each other the ‘dryness’ of playing our own materials over-and-over again, and how fun it would be to jam and ‘bastardize’ someone else’s songs. That was when Dark.E (lead guitar), who worships Trey Azagroth, said, “Hey, lets try some Morbid Angel! I’ve always wanted to cover Dawn Of The Angry”.
AN: It was interesting that you picked out for me the track “Al-Qiyamah: The Arcane and the Inevitable”. The obvious difference from anything else I’ve heard you do is its Middle Eastern influence. Would expanding your ethnic sounds to create wider atmospheres be a direction that Dissectomy could take, do you think?
LL: As mentioned, Dissectomy started off as a Carcass-worship band, and our first EP “Tribulation” (2006) had a more straight-forward Death/Thrash Metal sound, driven by an old-school undertone. As years went by, we became massive fans of bands like Nile, Orphaned Land, Rudra, Melechesh, Narjahanam, & Scarab (just to name a few). It was almost natural when we started incorporating Middle Eastern / Oriental melodies on top of our own brand of Deathrash Metal sound (as heard in our 2015 full-length album, “New Tyranny Unsurpassed”). In retrospect, not only we will be expanding the ethnic sound, if you will, we will be incorporating new ‘elements’ in our upcoming releases to further enhance the listeners’ experience. Do stay tuned. *winks*
AN: On the subject of band development, where do you see Weot Skam going musically? It’s raw, hard, fast and short – as your site describes it “libido in the underwear hardcore”. Can that change, and do you want it to change?
LL: Weot Skam is a Thrashing Hardcore Punk band, or so it seems for now. The band started off playing old-school hardcore punk in vein of bands like Minor Threat, Gorilla Biscuits, 7 Seconds, Agnostic Front, and early Earth Crisis, before evolving to a Thrashier, Crustier, Powerviolence infused Hardcore Punk sound that is heard in our recent releases. Our newer materials, which can be heard in the upcoming split album with Rupture, are faster, groovier, filthier, and even shorter than before. Perhaps we could move on to “Testosteronic Vulgarity In Your Mother’s Panty-Hose Hardcore”?
AN: Following on from your last answer, I’d read that Weot Skam were due to release a split album with Rupture, as a follow-up to your 2013 album “Six Pack Tsunami Attack”. So that’s now happening?
LL: Yes, it is definitely happening. We will be releasing the split by the end of September in cassette format.
AN: Can you describe what it’s like at a Weot Skam gig? I reckon it could be a lot of fun.
LL: Picture this; a bunch of drunk Hardcore Punks trying really hard to be a macho Thrash Metal band but stuck in between, playing in front of a whirlpool of partially-drunk Crusty Punks, Skinheads, and Metalheads. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll get to see Dzul (vocals) in his boxing gloves, crowd-surfing his way to the bar at the back of the venue to get a beer. Not fun enough?
AN: One thing I picked up was that Weot Skam played at a golf club in Kedah a few years back. I can’t imagine that happening in the UK! Is that the weirdest venue you’ve played at? If not, what is? What was the atmosphere like?
LL: If you think playing Hardcore Punk music in a Golf Club was weird enough, try digesting this; the headliner for that show was Singapore’s Grindcore export, WORMROT! Ha! But I can tell you, it wasn’t as weird as you think. It was an indoor gig, and the energy thru out the show was just fantastic! Weirdest venue we’ve ever played at? At an old-school Chinese Association hall …
AN: Bands everywhere in the world overcome restrictions like money, distances and time. What restrictions affect you and your bands the most?
LL: I suppose it the same for all my bands. With the perpetual weakening of the Malaysian Ringgit, I reckon money be the biggest challenge yet. Long holidays from work are not encouraged by Malaysian employers in general (we’re talking about anything more than two weeks), hence time is also a challenge for us to plan our tours, let alone distances.
AN: How many spectators would typically come to concerts by any of your bands?
LL: It depends on who the organizers and promoters are, the venue, and the bands that are on the bill. Typical crowd turnout would be between 20 to 50 spectators in a club-sized venue, and if we’re lucky, we may get to play in front of 80 to 100 spectators. It’s quite saddening, right? Haha.…
AN: Are you working on any new compositions and recordings with any of NonserviaM, Dissectomy or Weot Skam at the moment?
LL: Yes we are. Both NonserviaM & Weot Skam are finalizing on new materials for the next full-lengths, while Dissectomy is working one 2 new songs for an upcoming Malaysian Death Metal compilation CD.
AN: Do you have any further projects in progress at present or other ideas you would like to develop?
LL: Yup I do. As a matter of fact, I’ve done some vocals for the following projects;
1. REX DEMONUS is a Ransta, Sweden-based Melodic Blackened Death Metal project by guitarist and composer Håkan Stuvemark. The project consists of members of Swedish greats Wombbath, Skineater, Wachenfeldt, and Malaysia’s NonserviaM. Two tracks are up on Bandcamp and Youtube, so do feel free to check them out!
2. IMPERIAL DECIMATION is a Malaysian Groove / Progressive Death Metal project spearheaded by Ranveer Singh, and features members of In Believer, Bad Trip, NonserviaM, and former Crown Ov Horns. We’ve just completed the recording process for an upcoming EP, and planning for early 2018 release. Do stay tuned for more updates.
3. MALAPETAKA (meaning Disaster in the Malay language) is an Old School Death Metal band based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and I have joined them as their new permanent vocalist (following the departure of their now former vocalist). We have started working on new materials for a new album as we speak. More news to be revealed soon.
AN: And finally, is there anything you’d like to say to readers of Ave Noctum??
LL: Thank you all readers of Ave Noctum for checking out this interview piece, and I do hope for my bands to play for you guys in your beautiful countries one day. Do feel free to check out our official FB pages, Bandcamp, and Youtube channels. Last but not least, thank you Andrew Doherty for having me in this interview!
AN: Thank you too! We’ve been lucky enough to have had a number South East Asian bands play here in the UK, so let’s hope in future you too have the chance to come. Otherwise we’ll all have to listen to your music from a distance, or better still come to Malaysia! I wish all the best to you and your fellow band members, and good luck for the future in all your projects!