“And This Too Shall Pass”: Demonstealer’s Blistering Rage Confronts a Tattered Reality (EP Premiere + Interview)
And This Too Shall Pass, the new EP from death metal veteran Demonstealer, is a bit of a contradiction. On one hand, the four tracks on this release are directly driven by frustration and resentment -- a decrying of "the horrible side of humans, how we're almost regressing as a species," says Demonstealer, known more mundanely as Sahil Makhija. But as a response to the COVID pandemic and strict nationwide lockdown in Makhija's home country of India, the record might also present a glimmer of hope.
Things are bad -- of this, all of us are by now well aware -- but it's not going to last forever. "This too shall pass," says Demonstealer in the EP's fourth track "From Flesh to Ashes," and given the EP's themes of the ravages of religious fanaticism, capitalism and authoritarianism carried out to the extremes, and environmental abuse over generations, it'd be easy to mistake Makhija's rage as fatalistic. But it's quite the opposite. Alongside the anger, you'll find calls to action fueled by a vision of a world based in mutual fairness and respect:
We must rise above the system / We must create a new world / A world that's just and equal for all.
Shit sucks a lot right now, no matter where in the world you are. But for a few minutes -- roughly 21 of them -- put it all aside and give yourself over to the therapeutic fury of Demonstealer's new EP with our exclusive full-stream premiere.
In addition to his work in music for the past two decades, Makhija is also a YouTube chef and cookbook author focused on advocacy for the ketogenic ("keto") diet -- it's the one where you cut carbs and eat lots of protein and fat instead. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to get inside the head of someone who's achieved so much in two fields I also love -- metal and cooking -- and so as soon as you're done digesting that EP, pop down for an in-depth interview with the man himself.
It's been a while since you wrote and recorded an album (or EP, I guess) completely on your own. Was this a decision made out of COVID-necessity, or was it something you'd been wanting to do for a while either way?
Sahil Makhija: This was definitely a decision due to the pandemic. I've been fairly disillusioned with the music scene for the last few years, and the pandemic really put things into perspective for me. The situation in India over the last year has been horrible with a very right-wing, fascist government in place that has been breaking this country bit by bit. There have been lots of protests -- I was part of them too -- and it culminated in riots in the capital city. They have been arresting journalists, students, and other people fighting against them peacefully.
The pandemic hit right after this, and they enforced a lockdown that left thousands of workers stranded and helpless. Many of them died trying to walk home. It was chaos, and that really gave me a wake up call and showed me the privilege I had and how good my life was. I just said, I have the luxury and privilege to not only have a home, food and a good life, but I have a studio I can go to and write music. So I did just that.
I remember reading last year about the internet blackout in Kashmir and the update to the Citizenship Act -- and now, you've got a nationwide transportation lockdown without even a full day's notice.
I think there is just too much information to really put it all down, but it's similar to the global shift where you see strong right-wing forces, manipulated media, and it's just a shitshow, really. People who are privileged think themselves to be victims, there's hate-mongering, violence, and so on. Just absolute shit.
What's driving your disillusionment with the music scene? Do you mean that in a local sense, or globally? What sort of problems do you see, and how have these issues pushed you away?
I think for me, it's the combination of being in the business for 20 years and still just struggling. I've been unable to book a decent European tour with my band Demonic Resurrection over the last 10 years -- we've constantly been let down by booking agents, and despite playing some of the biggest festivals in Europe, that itself means nothing in the bigger picture. I think all of that really weighed on me, especially since I saw all my peers doing much better and being able to book tours and get shit done.
With the local scene, after 20 years, we still struggle to pack 150 people in a club, when five years ago we would pack 300 easily. It just seemed to me like no one cared, not the bands nor the fans, and I just wondered why I was even putting myself through this. Don't get me wrong, I didn't just sit and expect that because I've been doing this for 20 years, I should get something handed to me. I ran realistic comparisons and didn't expect crazy things to happen, I just wanted to not have to struggle so much, and with the same shit I was struggling with 10 years ago.
There's definitely a sort of barrier or double standard applied by western publications, organizers, and other industry figures to bands from other parts of the world. Do you think this will ever change? Is it even worth it for bands in Asia, for example, to try and cater to western audiences?
I don't know about double standards, but there are definitely issues and problems for bands that aren't living in Europe. I mean for starters, for me personally it comes down to having to work well in advance. Unlike bands in Europe that can book a festival in say April and then one in July and travel to both separately, we can't do that. For us, we've always had to pick a time frame -- for example, July–August -- and then hit up every festival and hopefully book something. Then, if you book them too far apart, you've got to figure out what to do in between, because we can't fly back to India. I mean, it takes a five-member band about €3,000 to just get to Europe.
Apart from that hurdle, so many booking agents have just let me down, and I've wasted years. In 2012, we got a tour offer from a band we really like, and despite being paid for each show, we were going to lose €8,000 because we had to split the cost of the nightliner, fuel, and expenses equally with the other three bands. We agreed, and as a band, we decided to take out a loan to do the tour. Sadly, the main band decided to do only festivals, so that tour never happened.
Every single tour offer after that with a reputable band is nothing short of a €10,000 to €30,000 cost to us depending on how many dates we play, and honestly, it's just not affordable, nor does it make any sense to be paying that much money to play shows. In the middle of all this, I trusted a booking agent who, in mid-2014, said he'd hook us up with 30 dates with his band in 2015. I literally waited until June 2015 before he dropped the ball saying he couldn't book any shows.
After that, we got signed to an agency where a similar incident happened. The agent kept me waiting for almost a year on the promise of a proper tour, only to quit the company on bad terms, thus resulting in us no longer being part of the company. I mean, basically all this has taken its toll on me. I've been ready to make things happen, but have just never been able to find the right people to work with.
Regarding your own development as a musician -- having handled vocals, guitars, bass, drums, and who knows what else on this record, which of these instruments would you say has taken you the most work, time, and dedication to become proficient with at a level where you can record your own music?
I definitely think that it's the drums that have been the hardest. I started making music 22 years ago simply because I could record myself at home. So I've been recording my singing and guitar playing for as long as I can remember. However, with drums I was always programming them because I had no other option. Then, I did one album where I used a keyboard to play drums, then moved to V-Drums before finally getting my own setup about eight years ago to track live drums. That has been the most challenging part because I'm not even the best drummer.
Is there one instrument that you identify most strongly with? Are you a guitarist who plays drums, a drummer who plays guitar and also sings, or something else entirely?
This has been a journey, really. When I started listening to metal, I wanted to be a singer, and that was my instrument of choice before picking up the guitar to write songs. That's what I've primarily been, but I feel more of a connection to the drums now. I guess maybe over the last five to six years, I've been focusing more on drumming. I guess I'm just a musician.
Are you completely self-taught?
I actually took proper drum lessons back in 1999 because I wanted to program parts correctly for my own songs. I had a decent drum teacher, and I got my basics down quite alright. With guitar, I had a terrible first teacher who taught me melodies on single strings and a few chords, but no real understanding of music or theory. My second teacher did an OK job of teaching me -- I guess I wanted to learn metal songs, and he taught me that along with some basic stuff.
After that I was on my own. In fact, I recently took some drum and guitar lessons, and now even singing lessons to kind of fix all the shit I wasn't doing properly.
Is YouTube your primary source of income? What were you doing to support yourself before you became a YouTuber?
For the last three years, I've been a full-time YouTuber and food/keto blogger. I dropped out of college when I was 19 and started working. I worked at a recording studio for about four years while I also worked on live concerts with the owner of the studio, who was also the promoter of India's longest-running rock festival at the time -- he brought bands like Jethro Tull to India.
I had a brief stint with a newspaper in their events department before realizing I hated wearing a shirt to work, and quit. I joined a company that imported musical instruments to India and also had retail stores. I worked with them for 11 years across various positions, from artist manager to social media, to equipment hire and rental. All these jobs were great because they understood my passion for my music and my band and allowed me to focus on that. I'll always be grateful to them.
Moving over to food -- do you pay much attention to the goings on in the wider culinary world? Are there any chefs working right now that you think are doing particularly exciting or inspirational things with their food?
I'm constantly watching food videos and different food-related YouTube channels. I just love food, so I really follow that and keep learning and trying new things. I'm not sure I follow individual chefs, or rather, the more real-world chefs, as much as I do the ones on YouTube.
I mean, every day you see someone doing incredible stuff with food -- but I'll say that one chef whose food I am dying to eat is Aaron Franklin. He has Franklin's BBQ in Texas where the line starts at about 5am and sells out before lunch, and it's just crazy!
How did you initially become interested in the keto lifestyle, and what led you to pursue keto cooking to the extent that you have?
It actually started with my bandmate Aditya Kadam, from my comedy rock band Workshop, who was quite overweight, and one day he told us about his new diet where he was eating fats and protein and no carbs. I immediately told him he'll get a heart attack and die, and he should be careful. I mean, our notion of what is healthy has been skewed for a long time now. Anyway he lost about 30 kg (66 lbs), and my wife was like, "Wow, I'm getting on this diet." So she did all the research, and understood the science behind it, and started it. I was still skeptical, but after seeing her lose 10 kg (22 lbs) and having the workings [of keto] explained to me, I was sold.
I started the keto diet at the end of 2015, and since I was making cool food, I started filming it. Those keto videos just started getting views, and soon, my channel was growing really fast. Despite putting up non-keto recipes, I was getting more and more requests for keto recipes since the earlier ones were so good. I just followed the voice of the audience and kept making keto videos, and here we are now.
From your channel and website, I get the feeling that you're focused more on creating a sustainable and exciting keto cuisine, as opposed to taking pre-existing dishes and "keto-izing" them. Can you describe your recipe creation process?
Makhija: I think with my channel, it was a mix of making keto versions of dishes that people loved and also being creative myself. I spent a good amount of time on the diet myself, so it worked well for me, since I had to eat all the food I cooked. It really pushed me to make the best food possible. I guess there is also the influence of my audience, who often request dishes or cuisines, and sometimes that pushes me as well.
Normally for savory dishes, it involves me just watching a lot of recipe videos. If I'm taking an existing dish, like chicken tikka masala for example, then I've got to kind of follow the original and tweak it to suit the keto parameters. Then there are times where I'm making my own lunch on the fly by throwing in stuff into the pan and making a dish like my Thai-style fried rice. And finally, there are the complex creations like breads and desserts, which actually require recipe development and multiple trials before perfecting it, and then I film it.
You cook a wide range of cuisines on your channel, but if you had to pick three dishes to best represent your approach to cooking, what would they be? Is there a signature Demonstealer dish?
I guess the Bacon Bomb is what I'm most known for from my pre-keto days. It's a dish I used to cook and sell over the weekends to make some extra money, and it's my most talked-about dish. Apart from that I'd say my butter chicken recipe is definitely da bomb, and my keto pork fried rice is a personal favourite.
The Bacon Bomb speaks for itself, but how do the latter two dishes complement it to represent your overall food philosophy?
I think the butter chicken kind of fits in with how I built a love for Indian food which I didn't have before, and the fried rice is just how I am as a cook -- throw everything in a pan and make it taste good. That's my real cooking style. Just go with the flow and not measure anything out properly.
In a COVID-less world, if you were able to open a restaurant tomorrow, what would the concept be? Where would you open it?
Honestly, I'd never want to open a restaurant, because the food business is brutal, and doing any kind of business in India is a nightmare due to the corruption, taxes and expenses. However, if those were all taken care of, I'd love to open a burger joint. I'd obviously call the restaurant Headbanger's Kitchen, and it would be very meat-centric -- burgers, bacon bombs, steaks, and lots of good meaty food. Maybe even throw in a wood-fired oven and have some sourdough pizza. As with my music, I guess, with food I like to have a variety of things.
Between music and cooking, do you view one or the other as a primary creative outlet? Or do they both hold equal weight in terms of how you express yourself?
I think if I had to choose one over the other, it would always be music first. I've spent 22 years of my life pursuing the musical dream. But cooking is also very creative, and you have to have the inspiration to keep doing it.
The And This Too Shall Pass EP releases December 11th via Demonstealer Records.