Medicine Hat, like many smaller to mid-sized cities in the vast expanses of Canada, has always struggled to be a metal hub. Arguably, its biggest claim to fame is producing former Disciples of Power main man Hart Bachmier. After that, the list dwindles in notoriety.
Enter Naraka, a melodic metal project led by scene figurehead Vanan Kesavan (vocals/guitar). The band employs a wide range of metal sub-genres, making them hard to pinpoint. The riffs range from classic thrash palm mutes to hauntingly black metal-esque chord progressions, while the rhythm section gels with a strange fluidity.
Kesevan has strongly assisted in keeping the Medicine Hat metal scene alive with his band, along with his label and production company, dubbed Black Dog Trauma Productions.
“I just came up with that name to have my own label to release Naraka’s new stuff on, so basically it was just me and the wife,” says Kesavan. He has hosted a large string of metal shows at Liquid, featuring groups like Calgary’s KYOKTYS, Vancouver’s Archspire and Surrey’s Iron Kingdom.
Kesavan is unhesitant to take Naraka, which is rounded out by Kyle Helmer (backing vocals/guitar), Merv Zee (bass) and Drayden Perner-Matthews (drums), to the stage when a spot needs filling. They’ve also booked and performed on their own successful Canadian tours and festivals like Drumheller’s Loud As Hell.
It’s a valiant effort to return to the glory days of the early 2000s, when metal shows were plenty and bands like Fallen Victim, Stone of End, Treachery and Agnus Meatplow were playing to sizeable crowds every other weekend.
Back then, as a rambunctious, teenage metal enthusiast, the shows at Scout Hall and Gringo’s Nightclub stood out for their outrageous, unified moshpits and how those bands seemed to unify delinquents from all walks of life. The jean-vested thrashers would be starting the circle while the goth kids painted themselves up in the corner and the punks made fun of everyone from stage right, their hands full of Olde English 800. That no longer is the case.
“Medicine Hat itself is a small pool,” he notes. “Last winter was pretty hard on the scene because [we lost] three of the more well-known bands: Ted Bundy and Trissection up and left, and Helltrack disbanded, too. That was a hard hit.”
Martial Law also relocated to Calgary, after being a mainstay for a number of years (they are now on a hiatus). One would think it would be enough to drive even Kesavan to the point of relocating, but that isn’t the case.
“I’d rather be the big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond, as the Chinese say. It’s better to be more noticed in a place where there’s less bands, rather than a place like Calgary or Vancouver, where we would have to start all over again,” he says.
And Naraka has been noticed. Since the release of their debut, self-titled EP, they’ve risen in notoriety. With 2012’s full length The Messiah Experiment they, along with Morbidly Depraved, Chaos Empire and Evolux, have formed a solid base that Medicine Hat metallers can build from and even expand their audience past the fishbowl cities often self-create.
“The ongoing joke is that we’re not brutal enough for death metal shows and too brutal for a rock show,” concludes Kesavan with a laugh.
Check out Naraka at Vern’s Pub on Saturday, October 5 with Netheriel, Anakronis, and Warbird.
By Brandon McNeil
Photo: Kafir Judas