AZAAB “The Cataclysm Is Here”
By Dr. Abner Mality
Proving conclusively that metal has no borders, the band AZAAB has come thundering in from Islamabad, Pakistan. In my following conversation with guitarists Shahab Khan and Afraz Mamoon, I find out that perhaps Pakistan is not quite as unlikely a place for death metal as I thought. Still, I would guess that the amount of Pakistani death metal bands is not exactly astronomical.
Which makes AZAAB all the more impressive, because their new album “Summoning The Cataclysm” is a scorching disk that has not only tons of rage, but a level of technical achievement that most Western bands would find hard to match. Believe me, if you are into the likes of PESTILENCE, NILE, ABYSMAL DAWN and the like, this is a band you have to hear.
So thanks to Shahab and Afraz for not only taking time to speak to Wormwood, but also for unleashing sonic devastation on the world. RAGE ON!
WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Greetings to AZAAB! What was the spark that lit the metal fire in you? Was it a certain record, a particular band or live show? When did you know death metal would be your musical path?
SHAHAB KHAN: I was first exposed to metal at a very early age. I can recall jumping around to METALLICA videos in the early 90s that we had taped from a popular music chart show in the UK and as far as I can recall I had always wanted to play music. I think it wasn't just one moment or artist that got me into metal but it was a rather gradual process of exploration that got me there. But I believe it was when I first heard Chuck Schuldiner's DEATH that really got me interested in this style of music. I remember discovering DEATH through the old P2P sharing softwares that Lars Ulrich was really against but it was the only way for me to find this music in Pakistan.
WC: I understand the members of AZAAB had a strong musical background before forming the band. What were your musical histories like prior to being in AZAAB?
SK: Prior to being in AZAAB, me, Afraz and Waqar (bass) were in another band called DEPLETION which was formed sometime in 2009/2010 and only lasted a few years as me and Afraz had moved to the UK for university. I also played in a couple of metal bands around the Midlands area in England but nothing serious. Before DEPLETION I was in a number of local bands in my hometown of Islamabad. Some of these were just cover bands but I also made some original music with a few bands too. Since we all grew up around each other with a taste for similar music, it was only a matter of time before we would start making music together.
AFRAZ MAMOON: I used to play in a band in high school, we opened a few shows for some of the more popular Pakistani rock bands. Shahab has already mentioned DEPLETION, that happened sometime between my undergrad and postgrad studies. During, and after university, I was also working on another musical project with Shahab and another friend called OPHICRACY. We released a few songs, but it never really went much further than that.
WC: Tell us of the metal scene in Pakistan. Is it safe for you to perform and publicly declare your love of metal? Are there any venues to play?
SK: It is totally safe to play metal in Pakistan and there are plenty of venues to play at but there is nothing even close to a 'metal scene' here. There are only a couple of active bands at the moment and the only support we get is from each other and metal fans globally. As long as there is no obvious religious blasphemy, there are no problems.
WC: Are the songs on “Summoning the Cataclysm” all pretty recent or have you been working on them for a long time?
SK: All the music on the album was written in 2020 and 2021 except for a couple of riffs that might have been written as early as 2018. The only exception to this would be the track "The Infernal Citadel". A slightly different version of the song was actually written sometime between 2009 and 2010 by Afraz for our previous band DEPLETION.
WC: Are your families supportive of your metal career or do they have a hard time understanding the music?
AM: My family has always been very supportive. They do have a hard time digesting the more extreme forms of metal but nevertheless, have always supported me.
SK: I think it's the same for all of us where our families are supportive but I don't believe they enjoy the music all that much.
WC: Your drummer Adhytia is from Indonesia and the band SIKSAKUBUR. Being from a different country and having long experience with another band, what has it been like having him in AZAAB?
SK: Having Adhytia record the drums has been a great experience for us. Not only has it opened doors to a whole bunch of new fans but musically it turned out to be the right decision for us. The style and flavor he brought to the music has given the songs a certain unique identity. His approach was very mature and his experience made it very easy to work with him.
WC: AZAAB’s music tries to find a middle path between brutality and melody, or so it seems to me. The guitar solos are almost classically influenced. How important is it to keep some melody in the mayhem?
AM: I think you’re right. We listen to a lot of brutal stuff as well as melodic stuff. I personally listen to a lot of instrumental guitar as well, especially the guys from Shrapnel Records and the various modern virtuosos who’re carrying the torch these days. I think the classical influence might stem from that.
Melody is definitely important for us, but we’re also into dissonant, atonal, sometimes chromatic sounds. However, we’re not trying to consciously chase a certain style, everything happens organically, as long as it sounds good ,it's good.
WC: You had some guest players like Bobby Koelble (DEATH) and Phil Tougas (CHTHE’ILIST) on the new record. How did their participation come about and have you ever met them in person?
AM: So as we worked on the record, we thought it would be great to have some guest players contribute solos to some songs on the record. Shahab and I were discussing this one day and thinking of people we should reach out to. I remember Shahab mentioned Bobby’s name and I was like yes!
We’re all huge DEATH fans, it's one of our favorite bands and “Symbolic” is probably our favorite record by them. Bobby has a very unique approach to soloing, his choice of notes, the melodies, the phrasing, it’s mind blowing. Another reason we thought it would be great to have him play on the record was the fact that his approach is very different from any of the solos on the record.
Similarly, we were thinking about our 2nd guest. I suggested Phil and Shahab agreed that yeah, it would be amazing to have him contribute a solo. We love FIRST FRAGMENT and have been following many of Phil’s other projects as well so we knew Phil would bring something amazing to the table.
We were blown away by both solos and are very excited for people to hear them.
WC: I am guessing “Carbon Plague” is about mankind’s destruction of the environment, correct? Are most of AZAAB’s songs based in reality or is there some fantasy and sci fi stuff mixed in as well?
SK: Yes, “Carbon Plague” is about mankind being the ultimate plague. Most of what we write about is based on reality. You will find songs with scifi and horror themes but even those are used metaphorically to tackle very real issues.
WC: I would think “Preachers of Hate” is about religious extremists. This has got to be a touchy subject in Pakistan. Have you ever had any negative reaction or even threats over your music?
SK: This particular song is about certain people in Pakistan who frequently exploit the public's religious beliefs to further their own political agendas. It is something that has been plaguing our country for many decades. Since this song hasn't been released yet, we don't know what people's reaction would be but we know a lot of people will agree with us. So far we haven't had any negativity come our way but then again no one in Pakistan really knows we exist apart from the few metal fans.
WC: Has the traditional music of Pakistan influenced AZAAB’s songs at all?
SK: Not at all, but that's not to say that we won't incorporate eastern elements into our music in the future.
WC: Does the band have much live experience? If so, what was your most memorable gig?
SK: AZAAB has only played a couple of local shows in 2017 and 2018. At the time there were no plans for an album and we had no serious plans for the band either but the few shows we played were quite fun.
AM: We’re planning some shows in Pakistan after the album launch. Really looking forward to playing these songs live!
WC: Are there any other metal bands in Pakistan you can recommend to us?
SK: You can check out TABAHI which is a Thrash band from Karachi who have just released the first single from their second Album. You could also check out SLITHER who released their first EP in 2020.
WC: If you could ask any three people in history to dinner, who would they be?
SK: Moses, Friedrich Nietzsche & Chuck Schuldiner
WC: Has AZAAB ever had any “Spinal Tap” moments where things went crazy?
AM: Haha, no. We’re a new band and the current lineup hasn't played any shows together yet. Besides that, all of us have families and day jobs, so we’re pretty grounded.
WC: Any messages for fans in the West?
AM: Stay tuned for more music, and more content in general. Not sure if we’re gonna be able to play any shows in that region anytime soon, the logistics would be very tricky but you never know.