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Brazzil - Music - May 2004

Pagode Meets Death Metal in Brazil

Napalm Death? Brazilians, it would seem, are crazy for it.
Some 700 of them filled up Rio's Olimpo, a traditional pagode
venue, to listen and scream to the Brit metal rockers. Emotion
was not something in short supply amongst the crowd present
in Penha for 90 minutes of sheer hell or heaven. You choose.

Tom Phillips


Picture Rio de Janeiro—terra do samba e do pandeiro (land of samba and tambourine)—was dancing to a different beat on Sunday, when Brit rockers Napalm Death (or as the locals would have it `Nah-palme Detch') invaded the city's North Zone.

Penha's Olimpo had never seen anything quite like it. Traditionally a pagode venue, photos of previous performers to grace the stage adorn the entrance: Jorge Aragão, Xuxa and Belo, are all there as you might expect. The appearance of the notorious death metallers on the scene was somewhat more of a surprise.

Six walking adverts for Britain's fine tradition in body tattooing mooch up onto the stage, singing songs with names like "Unchallenged Hate" and "Emotional Suffocation". It's hardly your average Sunday night out in Rio's Zona Norte—definitely more ZZ Top than Zeca Pagodinho.

"For the first time on Carioca soil," the Jornal do Brasil had promised, "a show bringing together classic tracks from the albums Scum and Harmony Corruption."

Unfamiliar with these apparently seminal works, I seek guidance from those in the know. "It's basically just noise," says Rodrigo, a journalism student covering the event for a local radio show.

"I know it's music," he replies sarcastically when challenged. "[Just like] pagode is music and funk is music."

One member of Almeida Prado 46 (a Carioca metal band, named after a popular Brazilian laxative) puts it less tactfully: "[It's] basically a guy barking on stage."

Death metal, a quick investigation tells me, is basically short spurts of very loud noise complimented by a great deal of screaming, incomprehensible not just for the Brazilians in the audience.

Napalm Death, it is said, actually make up part of a sub-genre of death metal known rather fetchingly as `grindcore'. Though of late they have flirted with thrash metal, the band, one website assures me "still set standards for brutality in extreme music".

Brazilians, it would seem, are crazy for it. Some of them at least. The Porto Alegre date has been cancelled, due to poor ticket sales. But there shall be no such problems in Rio, the production team informs me.

"It happens to the best of us," insists one of the production team, tongue firmly lodged in cheek. Even Brazilian teenyboppers Sandy and Junior received a frosty reception in the US, he says, selling just 640 records compared to a massive 13 million in Brazil.

"Apparently they sold out a bookshop in Portugal. It must have been emotional."

Emotion is not something in short supply amongst the seven-hundred-strong crowd present in Penha. In front of the stage, some of the whitest Brazilians ever batter against one another in (or for that matter out of) time with the music. You can see the sweat pouring off the black clad bodies. Those brave enough to take on the hordes can certainly feel it.

Alongside emotion, irreverence is also placed fairly high on the menu: "Jesus is a cunt," exclaims one T-shirt in the crowd. "Grave robbing is not a crime," another.

It had all seemed so different that morning when news came through that the band's personal plane was delayed in Curitiba due to bad weather. The press conference at their five-star Copacabana hotel was cancelled. Outside, the production team—led by one of Rio's foremost rock personalities, Viva Rio radio presenter Jone Brabo—stalked the streets, scratching chins and furrowing brows.

Brabo was starting on his fourth cigar of the morning, quickly followed by his umpteenth phone call to São Paulo, where Napalm Death were at that moment stranded. Disaster it seemed was not far away.

Nine hours later when the band finally rolls up at the venue in Penha, things don't look much better.

"The microphone's broken," groans the soundman in the kind of West Midland monotone that betrays both his Birmingham upbringing and his jetlag. "It'll have to be a 58," he adds cryptically.

Not much is going right. "No. No. No," he snaps wearily. "Not instead of, as well. The speaker on the left."

Mitch Harris, the Las Vegas born, Birmingham based guitarist is doing anxious circuits of the stage. His legs—tucked into a pair of oversized skate shoes—are whiter than his actual socks.

For a band whose lyrical content tends to revolve around human pain and suffering, it's all very laid back and civilised. Lead singer Barney offers a polite English smile to the Brazilian stage crew and looks moderately embarrassed to be there at all. Perhaps, like the rest of the band, he's not quite sure why in fact they are.

"I guess the album's getting licensed down here," says bassist Shane Embury hesitantly. "But I'm not too sure to be honest."

Another band member—who obviously had time for shopping in São Paulo—sports a spanking new T-shirt, declaring the need for "Ação Direta" (`Direct Action'). At this point the band doesn't look capable of making a cup of tea, let alone any direct action.

Things quickly change. "I tend to wake up when I get on the stage," mumbles the amply figured Shane from his dressing room sofa.

Joking, he ain't. Suddenly, after a private `praying session' backstage, at which suspiciously little actual praying seems to be done, the action has become very direct indeed. The mosh pit in front of the stage erupts in a mixture of pheromones and `palavrão' (swearing); hundreds of invariably longhaired fans frantically catapult against each other.

Two fresh-faced security guards try to calm the hordes of Rio de Janeiro's great unwashed, to little effect.

It's Death. It's Metal. And the crowd loves it.

"Napalm Death—they really are an exceptionally good band," is the only polite translation of organizer Jone Brabo's reaction backstage, as he lights yet another charuto (cigar). "Smashing."

After ninety minutes of hell on earth or absolute paradise—depending on your musical taste—things are back to normal. The corridors backstage are cramped with Brazilian roqueiros eager to get an autograph on their copy of From Enslavement to Obliteration or snap a quick photo with the group.

The band is in more reflective mood. "I'm not too good with mountains, heights and all that," says Mark `Barney' Greenway, the lead singer who a half an hour earlier had been encouraging the audience to "fuck the queen".

"I wouldn't even get that far," he confesses on hearing that English DJ Fat Boy Slim had to be drugged before taking the cable car up Rio's Pão de Açúcar last month.

"I'm more of a culture man," explains the softly spoken front man, when a trip to Copacabana is suggested. "Someone told me Rio has the biggest urban forest in the world."

Offered the inevitable after-show baseado (joint) by a fan—who claims it will enable him to sing like João Gilberto—Barney seems unconvinced.

"The opposite. That stuff puts me on my arse," he says.

Bassist Shane isn't a great deal more animated. Does he like Brazil?

"I don't mind it."

Has the band been here before?

"Twice. We don't really get much of a chance to see it though," he replies curtly.

Of course it's all part of the image. Brits, unlike their Brazilian counterparts, are not known in these parts for lighting up parties.

And as Barney—perhaps not quite up to speed with his Portuguese grammar—had put it so eloquently on stage earlier that night: "Napalm Death. We're English."

Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. He writes for a variety of publications on politics and current affairs, as well as various aspects of the cultura brasileira. Tom can be reached on tominrio@yahoo.co.uk.

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