The heavy metal band Stigmata will be playing at the Asus Lanka Comic Con, on Saturday the 26th (August). "Everyone in the Band are colossal fans of all things that the Comic Con culture stands for," said Suresh de Silva, Stigmata's front man and co-founder. "We love it all man."
Sri Lankan Originality - Carving Away for 18 Years
Stigmata is an unusual band. Consider their run - many bands don't last that long. Outside pressures of work and life push against practicing and performing. Then there's internal dynamics: butting heads, working out what performing means to each other. Bands are expert specialists who have to learn to work together - and relearn when new members join.
Considering this, it's even more unusual that Stigmata won't do covers. Sri Lanka's frequently "I'll like it if someone else likes it" market, is punishing on creators. Covers mean gigs. Covers mean safety.
"In 1998-1999 the scene was rampant with bands that only played cover versions," said Suresh. "Save for the exception of Independent Square who inspired us in a big way."
Suresh, along with co-founders Tennyson Napolean and Andrew Obeyesekere, formed Stigmata specifically to play heavier and harder edged music than anyone else was playing. They played a few covers in the early 2000s, but quickly moved away. They left safety, to work on their own material - something they could be remembered for. "It was our prerogative and passion to conceive our own music," said Suresh. "There was no infrastructure for originality ... It was a tedious time where we had to learn the ropes and grow step by step."
Over the next two decades, Stigmata released 4 albums (Hollow Dreams 2003, Silent Chaos Serpentine 2006, Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom 2010, The Ascetic Paradox 2015) and numerous singles.
They've performed in India, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, the Maldives, Dubai, and Bangladesh. They headlined at the Southern Ultimate Explosion metal music festival in Malaysia, and at Rockstorm in the Maldives. In Bangladesh they played at the Dhaka Army Stadium for 40,000 people.
Their single "A Dead Rose Wails for Light" was on Out of Bounds on the Discovery Channel. In 2016 they were featured on the BBC's Daily Arts Show, presenting them to 50 million people.
It takes great skill and talent to play covers admits Suresh. "But ... anything revolutionary has always been original."
It's dedication that hasn't been without cost. Suresh doesn't go into details but he certainly tells it how it feels. "We have faced every unfathomable and inconceivable obstacle a band could face in a lifetime."
A feeling anyone who has truly had to struggle, knows well.
Why Comic Con?
Like most of us, Suresh and Tennyson became geeks early on. They grew up in the 80s: Transformers, He-Man, and Thundercats were on TV. Comics were DC and Marvel (how Archie survived that era, I'll never know). They played Super Mario and Mortal Kombat on their game consoles.
Comic Con speaks to them more than as a celebration of geek identity though. To Suresh, Comic Con is a crossover of creative media, a sanctuary that encourages people to create.
Hobbits Back from Mordor: "Sau-Who?"
Stigmata shares a problem with more than a few Sri Lankan brands - they are more recognized abroad, than in their own country. I asked Suresh what's it's like being like the hobbits, known in Middle Earth for their work, but under-reported in the Shire.
"It used to be annoying, I’ll give you that. But you grow and evolve." While Stigmata has a larger following abroad than at home, the band just focuses on making music. Their goal is a large and impressive body of work they can be proud of, and hopefully inspire others, especially those "tethered and tamed and fit into society’s little convenient boxes."
After two decades - their entire adult lives - Stigmata doesn't have anything nice to say about the painfully boring smugness of society here. "Fuck that, no really. If you believe in yourself and your art, if you are passionate and you have patience as a virtue and are willing to work relentlessly for a very long time before you see results ... The only thing limiting us, is ourselves."