originally published in The Nation
“Here, did you know Stigmata’s new album is coming out this week?”
The question came from a friend’s mother a few days before the launch of Stigmata’ third studio effort, ‘Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom’. A few years ago I couldn’t have imagined a scenario where a parental figure would come up to me and strike up a conversation on heavy metal. It is 2010 and, as Bob Dylan would muse, the times they are a changin’; heavy metal is becoming a fascinating study of demographics with Stigmata, the country’s pioneering metal band, becoming the face of Sri Lankan metal. And they have done all of this on their own terms.
The weeks leading up to the launch saw the band sign up with the country’s leading record label M Entertainment, Sri Lanka’s first heavy metal billboard being put up in Colombo and the band travel around the country with Ian Wright of the Discovery Channel.
But the best proof of how far they have come in the last ten years was the 26th of June, 2010, the day they launched ‘Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom’, dubbed the most anticipated CD launch of the year.
While the number of gigs has increased in the last few years, metalheads still look forward to them with the same fervor. When it’s a Stigmata gig, there’s even more anticipation because it is guaranteed that regardless of circumstances, the ‘Stigz’ will put on a good show. And that is exactly what they did the night the Psalms were unleashed, proving that talent and showmanship can overcome technical glitches.
There is no denial that the sound issues that blighted the performance that night had an anticlimactic effect on the audience after the many months of hype, but fans and naysayers would both be of unanimous agreement that Stigmata is one of the handful of bands that could recover from such difficulties with such élan.
Fifteen songs were performed that night which included the entire track list of the new album, a tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio through a cover of Black Sabbath’s classic ‘Children of the Sea’ and of course the recent crowd favorite, the Stigmata version of Tarzan Boy.
The spirit of camaraderie was palpable. No member of the audience uttered a noise of protest during the times the band halted performing in order to tackle the technical glitches. Frontman Suresh put his charisma to good use as he kept the crowd entertained, ensuring that neither they nor his fellow band members were discouraged.
As someone put it the next day, it was truly a resilient performance and by the time the last track March of the Saints was performed, all earlier troubles were forgotten. There were feet being stamped collectively and row after row of horns being waved.
A decade of martyrdom had paid off.