VA - Brutal Africa - The Heavy Metal Cowboys of Botswan [Svart Records - 2019]Chronicling one of the world's smallest music scenes, Svart's Brutal Africa - The Heavy Metal Cowboys of Botswana hits at first like a very strange compilation. The styles are varied, the bands look very different from each other, and the music seems to span many periods. This is because the heavy metal scene in Botswana is very new (c. 2000), and there aren't very many active bands, so this is not only an overview of the entire scene, but basically a showcase of all the bands therein. Working alongside the makers of the documentary "Freedom in the Dark," Svart records put together an interesting snapshot of an interesting and growing scene.
Sticking out like a weed in the Kalahari Desert, Botswana's rock 'n roll scene was really just two bands for nearly 30 years (one of which is featured here), so having six bands on one compilation is pretty remarkable. Opening up Brutal Africa is Crackdust. Formed in 2006, this four piece death metal act feels the most traditional of the bunch. Starting with a European death vibe, Crackdust pummels forth a fun and harmonic death that pulls older elements from the past and mixes in a bit more modern styling. Their two tracks, "Deranged Psychopath" and "Desecrate" are an excellent opening, and arguably the two best on the album.
Formed in the early 90's, and one of Botswana's "grandfathers of rock," Metal Orizon follows up with the next pair of tracks, "Ungazetted Mortuary" and "We're Rolling." Sounding like two completely different bands, these two songs are actually from the same LP. Heavy and plodding, "Ungazetted Mortuary" sounds like a slower NYHC adjacent track from the early 90's, and "We're Rolling" is like it's stoned cousin at a party, sitting by the fire at the party, recounting the day's earlier rocking events.
The biggest band in the current scene, Overthrust chugs forth next with its fun brand of death metal. Built neither on speed nor brutality, "Psychosomatic Torture" plays more like a hard rock song with death elements than anything else. "Slay the Spectator" has a bouncy feel that channels early death's HC elements. Definitely unique, Overthrust put their own spin on what they're doing, and remain fairly unclassifiable.
The only band with one song on Brutal Africa, PMMA has the most fun entry of the bunch, "Imprisoned to Death." Proof that will and spirit can push past refined skill, PMMA's entry has an endearingly amateurish feel to it. Structurally sound, and decently played, the vocals are the real challenge here. However, it's heartwarming, honest, and make this song stand out.
Stane formed in 2005, and drop a brand of heavy metal that feels like a mix between Sepultura and Prong. Both "Dictator" and "Run For Your Life" are engaging pieces that would have done really well on Headbanger's Ball in the mid-90's. Solidly put together and fun, Stane offers up a different perspective on the Botswana scene, with many of their colleagues leaning more towards death metal.
Closing the compilation out, Wrust (2000), Botswana's first death band, present "God of the Insane" and "The Day of Sacrifice." Taking a more melodic approach, and even bringing in some traditional African elements on "Day," Wrust follows up well after Stane, and brings Brutal Africa to a close on a very high note.
Showcasing a small but fun scene, Brutal Africa - The Heavy Metal Cowboys of Botswana brings an unheard selection of metal to the world. Alongside "Freedom in the Dark," Svart's release intends to open eyes and bring awareness to this intriguing scene. While Overthrust has been tapped as a support act on large, South African tours, maybe this comp will open up more opportunities for other acts and encourage the scene to flourish.Darren Charles