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Gayang Kulintangan Revolt - Misangod Rondom

Since its inception, death metal has always been one of the more primal offshoots of metal. In my opinion, the best brutal death metal has always been the kind that has tapped into man's most animalistic urges; bloodlust, anger, and chaos. Some have referred to these traits as being "primitive" in nature. These people would call such emotions uncivilized, anarchic, or even self-destructive.

Enter Malaysia's Gayang Kulintangan Revolt. Roughly translating to "Bornean Orchestra Sword Revolt," the brutal death metal played by this stunning two-member collective is nothing short of a literal revolution. Born into a culture much more oppressed than our own, Gayang Kulingtangan Revolt have marked themselves as enemies of the state's ideals just by playing heavy metal in the first place. A recent Malaysian council decided that black metal (and by process of association, all other heavy metal subgenres) was unbefitting the Islamic ideals of the state, and now it is banned. Imagine hearing your country tell you that it is illegal to play the style of music you love. Imagine hearing them tell you that if you do play that kind of music, you are against your own nation, maybe even a traitor. This isn't fiction; GKR (as I will refer to them from now) face this everyday. In even doing this review (and a later interview), they are running the risk of being found out. So great is the country's persecution of metal that GKR couldn't even send me an actual album for review; postal officials have been confiscating them.

The irony of this is not how absurd it is to legislate music. The irony lies in GKR themselves. Rather than playing into the stereotype of anti-establishment set up by their own homeland, they are actually Malaysia's greatest defenders. Drawing on ancestral ties to the local Dusun tribe of headhunters, GKR has fused brutal death metal to a variety of Southeast Asian percussion and woodwind instruments. What emerges from this highly original pairing is less another brutal death metal album and more a cultural gem; GKR have spawned twenty-eight minutes of brutal death metal that not only showcases the unique and unparralleled culture of another race, but actually makes you respect it. To be blunt, I have no prior connection to a tribe of Malaysian headhunters, and no possible way of respecting them. Through what should only be a simple music review, I have learned about an entire culture worlds away from our own. GKR have shown me the level of devotion their music takes to create; each piece of Malay instrumentation has its place, as each instrument is used in a symbolic context based off Dusun culture. The band sings in English (frontman Henry Joplin Musiun was educated in Scotland), Malaysian, and native Dusun. GKR makes no mistake in letting you know where they come from. The end result is a band who has perhaps the greatest natural potential of any death metal band I've seen or heard in the last couple years. With further progression, solid distribution, and longer song-structures (or perhaps ala Pig Destroyer more fleshed out ones) I firmly believe Gayang Kulintangan Revolt can be in the upper-echelon of international brutal death metal.

Take the opener "Bataan Do Bangkavan." The song opens with the majestic-sounding Tobuii, which is the traditional Dusun war-horn. It is usually played amongst the Dusun when the Dusun warrirors return from battle victorious. Following these sounds, the song explodes with a manic shriek (the likes of which must really be heard, GKR has some amazing throat-shredding vocals on here) and violently stomping death metal. The band uses Western drums alongside dank, deep guitar grooves and the Kulintangan, which is a Bornean xylophone. The resulting music is fierce, lithe, and primal.

"Susumangod Mosundu" features a percussive intro comprised of Botibas, or Dusun gong music. Traditionally, the Botibas is the drums used for the Dusun war dance, and I feel it is very hypnotic and vaguely sinister. When the band mixes in a meaty groove, and then pummeling double-bass, you will get goosebumps. The song eventually turns into a mosh-ready fist-pumper, all before reverting to a new version of bloodstained groove and frighteningly inhuman howls.

"Surmunggup" is a cultural gem, as it opens with a linait recital by a Bobohizan. A Bobohizan is a Dusun shaman, and the linait is a spell. Following this incantation, the band goes into hyperblasting realms of slicing death metal, ending things with what can best be described as a sheer plunge off a cliff into a maelstrom of raging notes far, far below.

"Misangod Rondom" (or "War of Darkest Night") opens with slithering Botibas rhythms, as well as various Dusun chants. Fast and ferocious, the song is really just oldschool brutal death metal with different percussion. By now, I've come to realize that this album isn't strong simply because it features unique Malay instruments; rather, it features such musical additions while having excellent, massive death metal riffs alongside it anyways.

"Kinopposikan Do Mondou" has a very chilling, amibent feel to it as it starts. Another linait is buried beneath the frightening atmospherics, and the song soon worms into your skull like a burrowing monster. And what a monster it is! "Kinopposikan" has some very Nile worthy grooves to it, and in my book, that is always a great thing. Be it the chugging palm-mutes or the blistering notes, this song is very strong.

"Bankaak Rites" can best be described as a once in a lifetime experience. The deep, resounding opening percussion is that of the Tawak-Tawak, a dusun deep-gong played as a sign of respect for deceased ancestors and the spirits of the tribe. After this ritual, brutal death metal lacerates the proceedings, until a moment of surprisingly calm groove which shows us the Dunsai. The Dunsai is pivotal to Dusun culture and is played only in times of mourning. I learned that the band recorded this sample all the way back in 1995 during an elder Uncle's funeral. It really puts things in perspective and gives the song an intense spirit.

"Under a Bornean Moon" has a mystic chant that leads into utterly unhinged death metal. By now, listeners will have heard the Pangkis again and again; the Pangkis is the Dusun war cry (that awe-inspiring, wicked shriek) and it is all over "Bornean Moon." Actually, this is an incredibly muscular song in all aspects; the percussion/foreign instruments are very fluid and make sense in their structural placement, the song has moments of quiet reflection and violent destruction, and the death metal riffing is superb, top-quality stuff. It is a great way to end the Misangod Rondom album proper.

The band were also nice enough to give me two live tracks that haven't been put on any other tape yet. The first, "Palagasu," features plenty of botibas and grinding riffage, but at fifty-four seconds it is too short to truly make the impact this band is capable of. "Botibas Kg. Nampasan" sounds like it was recorded right on the spot, with a lively botibas rhythm getting mauled by some improvised chords. Both songs have real potential, and I'm assuming they will be added to other elements later on to make fully-fleshed out tracks for another album.

As stated earlier, Gayang Kulintangan Revolt have created their own niche in the brutal death metal world. What blares forth from your speakers with this CD is a one-of-a-kind experience that simply cannot be replicated. GKR's unusual pairing of Bornean instruments and classic-era, American death metal is something that a mere review cannot describe properly for you. I highly recommend that you check these guys out for yourselves, as the music makes sense and is not just a novelty act. Fluid, violent, and manic, Gayang Kulintangan Revolt have realized the only way to return death metal to its savage roots is to take it away from the urban, civilized world that made it so much more tame. Try this out and hear what death metal sounds like in its natural state. Four-and-a-half stars.

Track Listing
1. Bataan Do Bangkavan
2. Susumangod Mosundu
3. Surmunggup
4. Misangod Rondom
5. Kinopposikan Do Mondou
6. Bankaak Rites
7. Under a Bornean Moon

*As a sign of friendship, the band included two live recordings, entitled "Palagasu" and "Botibas N. Nampasan." They do not appear on normal copies of Misangod Rondom and were reviewed solely to further increase interest in the band's output, which is unfortunately rare due to the status of heavy metal in Malaysia.*

Rating:(a little more music might have meant five stars)


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