It was 3.00 pm at Razz Ma Tazz nightclub, Kota Kinabalu. Outside was bright, inside was dark. U.S. heavy metal band As Blood Runs Black [ABRB] was due to play later.
Shockwave Entertainment crew set up sound equipment, DeeBee Studios sorted its video gear. Chris Pereira was doing sound, I was upstairs with him. Photographer Nasier Lee parked his cameras in my chair.
I was sitting in a cream-coloured leather loveseat, one of many. These chairs had seen better days; the years were etched into them like tobacco-stained wrinkles. It’s a seasoned venue.
Brothers Amos and Nuk Chee – founders of Shockwave – were pacing around. We had heard ABRB had a great time playing in Thailand on the first leg of their Asia tour, being entertained well afterwards, local style.
“Then in KL, apparently it was the VIP works,” said Chris Pereira. “Plush venue, salad bar, special backstage passes for guests…”
So. Under a bit of pressure, lads?
Amos was quite stoic. “We have something special for ABRB, plus food and drink for all the crew.”
I saw boxes of tah-bao [take-away] Nasi Lemak, a rice meal wrapped in banana leaf, folded into a pyramid shape; bottles of water, and crates of Budweiser.
“We have a TAJAU especially for ABRB.” The Tajau is a two-foot high Chinese-style ceramic jar filled with Tapai, the locally-brewed rice wine in Sabah. A big straw stood in the middle of it. The traditional welcome.
Nuk Chee had said previously, “We want to show As Blood Runs Black our beautiful Sabah, take them to the islands afterwards, things like that. But in some ways, it will be up to our fans to show their passion for the music, and hopefully ABRB will feel it and feel good about coming to Sabah to play.”
Would it be enough?
At 5.00pm the doors opened. Aylette launched the night’s entertainment. After a slow, heavy build, the two singers Zachary and Edwin beckoned the early crowd. They had three songs; Insidious [about a ghost], Dementia [commentary on the state of our lives] and Amicitia [about friendship]. Guitarists Vinoun and Dane, bassist Alvin and drummer Farourl completed the line-up.
Aylette said earlier the band wants the chance to play more gigs, and to begin work on an EP. Upstairs, Aphik of Vandalism Streetwear clothing [which designed an Aylette T-shirt] said this is a young band. “This is their first big gig,” he said.
Kuching’s Search And Destroy [SND] were next. Maurice (bass), Karlos (guitar) and Gilven (vocals) stepped up. Maurice announced this was the first time they were playing outside their home state of Sarawak. Gilven sang and the moshing started. Drummer Noel chopped and changed the rhythm. Open spacey chords hung in the air, and the crowd showed its recognition of their song.
The night before, SND guitarist Karlos had said, “Look, for example, I hate politics. If I want to sing about that, I don’t want to strum a guitar and sing nice lyrics. I want to shout and scream about it. It’s like that.”
Darkness came in the form of Befalls The Argosy [BTA]. The name is an old maritime phrase prophesising misfortune, ie. doom is coming.
“It’s our passion to make that sound,” said guitarist Ted Ramli. BTA was inspired by U.S. bands Chelsea Grin and Oceano.
A couple of BTA members were wearing earrings reminiscent of tribal Borneo. These stretched the holes in their earlobes to the size of large coins. Guitarist Giovanni had massive holes in his lobes. Ted Ramli wore buttons which made his lobes fat. Bass player Rudolpho just had big fat lobes, naturally.
BTA said they really trial and error their chords and notes to find the sound they want to produce – the darkness and the dissonance. Dark and sometimes even beautiful.
Now on stage Ted is exploring riffs, Jon the singer is in, growling, screaming, then the pace changes. Drummer Dony delivers that incessant pounding and unrelenting despair.
Their singer Jon said their lyrics are “quite satirical and slightly misanthropic.” Sometimes they sing about how religions in general don’t always do the good things they claim to do.
“But the words are metaphorical, not direct,” they agreed.
“We plan to make video clips, new writing, new materials. We don’t want to be like other Sabahan bands which just stop when they play some gigs. We want to grow and do more.”
Cousin of Death from Kuching followed. Chris Pereira said, “Even in rehearsal they take themselves very seriously. When they’re jamming they don’t play very loudly, it sounds good!”
Chris was right. They were tight and full of energy. Their lead singer drove the crowd on, the Chee brothers were now in the pit. This band had everyone leaping into the crowd, again and again. They were the perfect precursor to As Blood Runs Black.
The lights dimmed. It was almost time for As Blood Runs Black.
Backstage earlier, bass guitarist Nick Stewart said, “The band’s made up of me and ‘Lech’ [drummer Hector de Santiago]. We’re from Allegiance, we’re the older guys in the group. Two new guitarists, Dan [Dan Sugarman] who’s lead, Greg [Greg Kirkpatrick] who’s rhythm. Chris [Chris Bartholomew] is our fill-in singer right now because our singer Sonic couldn’t make it. Chris is doing an excellent job, he’s a good dude.
“We’ll be playing a pretty even mixture of our old album from 2006 and our newer album which was released in 2011. Dan wrote most of the lyrics in the new album, and past singers wrote the lyrics for the 2006 album.”
Dan said, “On one particular record that I worked on, the place where we’re all at, we’re essentially facing a mountain of challenge. We had all these new members come in, and a bunch of politics, a bunch of stuff that was kind of going against the grain. We really had to put a positive spin on it just to make it work, just to keep going, to find our drive and motivation.”
Nick continued, “We want to give the message to kids who are struggling to do what they want to do, because it might not be what is acceptable to older members of the family. Tell them to stay strong, and to do what you love to do because if you do something you hate, you’re going to hate your life. Love your life, whatever you do.”
Nick faced less opposition than some guys going into metal. “I was lucky, my uncle was signed to a band called Third Strike. They were on a major label in the States, Hollywood Records. I grew up going to Warped Tour and Ozzfest when I was a kid, so it was more acceptable to them. I was kinda bred into the game.”
Rhythm guitarist Greg had a different experience. “It’s difficult, but this is my passion and music’s a universal language. I can’t see myself doing anything else at this point.”
This is their first Asian tour.
“We want to have as much fun as possible,” said Nick. “Experience new things, test the waters so that when we come back we can play more places and kinda know what the norm is around here. Right now we’re very new to everything, so we’re trying all these foods and we’re trying to figure out what we like, what we don’t, what places are cool, what are not. So far it’s been all good.
“Our main message is – do what you want to do. Live life with no regrets, be on a semi-good path, you don’t want to be destructive. Just live life the way you wanna do it, and make sure you accomplish stuff along the way.
“…And that’s the bottom line, ‘cos Stonecold said so. Just a little wrestling terminology there…”
As Blood Runs Black walked on stage and the crowd roared.
Bassist Nick warmed up, right on the stage edge, but the crowd came in so close he had to back off. From a few feet back he played to them. Boy, can he play! The crowd was spellbound, wtih Nick beckoning them to come on.
Lead guitarist Dan Sugarman let fly some riffs to test sound.
Then the house killed the lights; the room reverberated with chants of: AS BLOOD RUNS BLACK! AS BLOOD RUNS BLACK!
The show was on.
Frontman Chris Bartholomew strode on stage and let rip on the crowd. “We are As Blood Runs Black from Los Angeles California. Everyone get the **** up here!”
The crowd went insane. Chris was in their faces, Nick too. This was a SHOW!
Chris said, “I don’t see enough movement in here…let’s turn this place up!”
Nick machine-gunned bass notes into the crowd, with drummer Lech doubling up on him.
Backstage, Chris had said that he used to be a regular singer. “But I love the passion. I came to metal because of the passion.”
Having a bartending job meant it was hard learning all the songs for the tour. “Metal songs don’t have normal choruses like usual songs. So you can’t learn the chorus and half the song is done.”
Right, and the lyrics don’t rhyme, the songs stop and start in the middle, the rhythm changes dramatically. Precision is key. You got to be tight. It’s not easy.
“Yeah, it’s really creative,” he said.
On stage, lead guitarist Dan got rid of his long ponytail, his hair was flying, while his fingers did the same across the fretboard, playing blinding solos in between the changing rhythms and tones.
Nick lurched, hulked, and stomped his way up and down that stage, eye-balling the crowd, this sea of frenzied people.
All the musicians came right to the edge. Chris took charge. They set up a Wall of Death. The sea of people parted … then collided.
ABRB were great instrumentalists, great entertainers. Their songs were short, keeping that high energy up. They never took their eyes off their audience, they were one with the crowd.
Their cameraman Jake Albrecht said, “They are hardcore metal, very heavy, and very inspiring. They write and sing about overcoming challenges, living your dreams and finding a way to do what you want. They’re very friendly and down to earth guys. They know how to have a good time. They know how to please their fans. They make sure their fans go away happy.”
He wasn’t kidding.
I asked him why they called themselves As Blood Runs Black?
He laughed. “Because they’re metal! They can’t call themselves Reach For Your Dreams!”
ABRB did three encores. Jake was so right. This crowd could not have been happier. Then the band came out to shake hands with all the audience, and threw their T-shirts to the crowd.
“Thank you so very much guys for coming out to see us! Have a great ****ing night!” So polite.
So, did Sabahans reach ABRB with their passion?
Jake said afterwards, “To be honest, the crowd in KL was bigger than tonight. But the guys that were here – they were pressed right up against the stage! There was one guy in the front, he was squashed flat against the stage! His eyes were closed and I thought he passed out! I said, ‘Hey dude, you alright?’ He opened his eyes real wide and did this [peace sign]! This Sabah crowd was awesome.”
As Blood Runs Black were killer entertainers and professionals to the last, with the biggest hearts in the business. They gave everything, and when we asked for more, they gave more. Sabah will remember them for all of that. Maybe they will remember us for the same.