During the 1990s, numerous Pakistani bands arose from the nascent democracy that followed the end of the Zia ul-Haq era. Dusk was one of them: a Pakistani metal band with a sound that has evolved with the miseries of daily life.
It began as Carcinogenic, and was fronted by Babar Shaikh, who became prominent as a bass player for the project Ganda Banda and the 3D Cats. Shaikh’s outfit has evolved from being a death metal band in earlier years, to doom metal, and eventually, a more progressive sound during the late 1990s. Eventually, it reverted to death metal, and is now once again regarded as a doom metal band.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that Dusk seems to switch genres alongside the increased combativeness of domestic politics. The failure of Pakistani democracy in Musharraf’s 1999 coup d’etat, and the surge of terrorism in the fifteen years since then, has deeply affected more musicians than Shaikh. It is worth speculating that Dusk is reacting to a wider socio-political climate with its roots in the War on Terror.
The most well-known examples are the apparent collapse of sufi rock outfit Junoon, and the fact that Vital Signs lead singer Junaid Jamshed renounced music altogether in 2004. It is clear in retrospect that many bands were riding off the optimism of an urban middle class that seemed ascendant, before facing widespread violence after the coup. Junoon’s case was particularly surprising, as it was one of the largest bands in the world, but Musharraf’s coup killed the excitement that it managed to articulate. Simply put, it didn’t have much to say in a military dictatorship.
Dusk is interesting because of how it didn’t fragment after the coup. It was highly acclaimed before 1999 as the originator of Pakistani metal as a distinct genre. It has continued to evolve since then, under the influence of both Shaikh, and its lead guitarist Faraz Anwar. During 2005, Shaikh worked with composer Ismail Sumroo to release the album Contrary Beliefs. Contrary Beliefs featured classical folk ragas blended with atmospheric metal. During 2006, Yusri Maha Durjana of Singaporean metal band Cardiac Necropsy took over on vocals, with a new ensemble that released a four song offering called Dead Heart Dawning.
Next week, Souciant will be printing an extended history of Pakistani metal, and it will answer several questions. Has metal continued to grow in Pakistan because of how the genre can speak to the deadliness of terrorism and military dictatorship? Did bands like Junoon and Vital Signs disappear because their music was simply unable to adapt to a post-Musharraf era, while Dusk was more than capable? Why? And does this dynamic change from city to city? The answers are crucial, since they will continue to shape Pakistani metal in the decades to come.
Photograph courtesy of Dusk.