Pagode Meets Death Metal in Brazil

 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.
by: Tom Phillips


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

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

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

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

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

"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

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