African Metal #5: Uganda
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Al Bulmer’s African Metal series delves into the largely uncharted world of heavy metal from Cairo to Capetown, uncovering the varying styles, struggles and successes of metal’s final frontier. In part 5 of this recurring series Al takes a look at Uganda’s psychedelic doom scene.
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Uganda has suffered more than its fair share of conflict and negative press in the last 40 years; Idi Amin, Joseph Kony, and a poor human rights record are all synonymous with this small East African nation. Lesser known cultural ambassadors are Kampala’s psych-doom demons Vale of Amonition, whose vocalist, guitarist and frontman, Vickonomy, is undoubtedly one of African metal’s truest defenders of the faith.
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Vale of Amonition – “Rebirth Through Fire”
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Alongside his other projects, Satan is Lord and Hollowave, the only other brave souls forging the sounds of metal are the superb melo-heavy metallers Threatening.
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Threatening – “The Traveler”
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Even so, Vale of Amonition have amassed a sizeable string of releases, including the Infernal Supremacy 7” EP released to the international underground via Legion of Death.
“Major influences on the band have always been Black Sabbath and Mercyful Fate. Those two bands just embodied everything I wanted to do,” Vickonomy explains of his obvious love for the slower riff, citing the former’s downtuned dread and the latter’s theatrical antics as particular influences. “Pagan Altar also became a key influence for us because of the whole occultic and heathen angle. I’ve always naturally gravitated towards bands that are earthy and mythical in their approach to writing.”
Outside of Botswana and South Africa, heavy metal isn’t exactly familiar music in sub-Saharan Africa. It is encouraging to discover Vale of Amonition and their passion for the truest of traditional metal, despite the usual barriers faced by many of the continent’s noise-mongers. “We didn’t do it for the popularity obviously, because [metal] is pretty nonexistent here in Uganda,” Vickonomy concedes. The band has equally encountered difficulties in recruiting fellow metal-minded musicians. But like all defenders of the faith, they have no qualms in spreading the doom. “We as a band have managed to get a lot of people opened up to metal and interested in learning to play it. Most of the people who have played in Vale of Amonition were friends who had already been into this music and wanted to play.”
Vickonomy, however, is quick to highlight the predominant factor in Africa’s lack of metal: poverty. No matter how much significance we attach to our heavy metal subculture, it is easily reduced to nothing more than entertainment and recreation; a luxury unaffordable to the millions subsisting from one day to the next. “I have experienced poverty too, so I can tell you that when your life is spent worrying about what you’ll feed yourself and your family, you don’t care so much for entertainment.”
And whilst this remains the tragic reality for many, the recent economic growth, relative stability, and correlated prosperity is beginning to open up new opportunities — and with them, the resources necessary for metal.
“There’s an upward trend these days; more and more people are leaving the villages; the cities are getting bigger. More and more people have been educated, and as a result, more people are getting richer. So there’s more room now to be expressive and artistic in whatever fashion. Metal was uncommon here simply because it was unknown. It is just starting to come up. Gradually more and more people will get into the music.”
Vickonomy’s optimism for the future of African metal is no doubt related to being knowledgeable and well-read, which also allows for him to express his interest in mythology through Vale of Amonition. “There’s a deep well of African mythology and I am always exploring how best I can infuse my lyricism with it. Africa is a huge land, of course, and every tribe, not just country, has their own myths and tales and beliefs. But there are some common threads that run through, like the fact that we don’t believe in one God, one supreme being, but in several deities that have specific tasks. These go under different names with each tribe, but at the core they are pretty much the same.”
“These beliefs are very significant in my life and my art, and are the foundation for Vale of Amonition, which is my own mythical creation based around other mythology and history. I reference everything from the gods of Egypt to the enchanting demigods that were the Abatembuzi of Bunyoro, a kingdom that still exists in western Uganda, to Lord Asa of the Kamba in Kenya, and the pantheon of Orishas, about whom much is to be told.”
With his pan-African approach in mind, perhaps we are truly witnessing the dawn of African metal on a continental scale. Not deterred by the stalled recording of Vale of Amonition’s studio follow-up, Vickonomy is excited about the future of Africa’s heavy metal potential.
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