When I wrote Sound of the Beast almost ten years ago, I described the evolution of heavy metal as a kind of global game of catch. A heavy iron ball was forged in Birmingham, England, around 1970, thrown to the United States, passed back to Britain for the NWOBHM, and then back to the U.S. for the thrash metal wave, and eventually finding its way in succession to Japan, Brazil, Scandinavia, and farther and farther corners of the electrified world.

The new frontier, though I guess it's more like a collection of scattered outposts, is Africa. San Francisco thrash punks Conquest for Death toured South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and the Reunion Isles in 2007, and returned with photos of ecstatic African music fans, including a coterie of die-hard Botswanan headbangers dressed head to two in leather. These metal missionaries were followed by the corporate cameras of CNN and Vice, who have posted galleries online of intense African metal fashion, a cross between the The Road Warrior and Westworld.

Once again, as was the case everywhere else, isolation has shaped a unique new breed of metalhead, as these homegrown African bands demonstrate.


First off, a stop in Zambia in the ancient times of 1975 to check out a forerunner of African metal. Amanaz wrote heavily psychedelic songs both in English and their native Bemba. Shaped by fuzz guitars and African drums, "History of Man" is a sludgy romp that makes the Stooges and Cream sound sober.


Botswana death metal trio Overthrust have the same kind of raw charm as early Florida death metal bands like Mantas, Aggressor, and Dead. Dressed in leather tunics and gauntlets, they are definitely part of the advance guard of African metal, rounding up stray music fans and turning them into ferocious metal maniacs.


The relatively more polished Wrust, also from Botswana, look more directly to the pioneers of metal in the developing world, Brazil's Sepultura, combining chunks of death metal, groove, and heavy rock.


Botswana's Skinflint deliver heavy metal in the vein of classic Iron Maiden, without veering completely away from African musical tradition. Their songs are likewise based on African fantasy and mythology, thereby expanding the metal universe by a few more gods, kings, and demons.


Complete with guttural vocals and double-bass drumming, Crackdust play brutal death metal. Like many of their Botswana countrymen mentioned above, Crackdust formed in the mid-'00s and have worked since then to organize metal events wherever the opportunity awaits.


Hailing from the island nation of Madagascar, Sasamaso are something different: a female-fronted thrash metal band that writes songs in Malagasy language.


Numbering over four million people, the white population of South Africa equals the black population of New York City plus all of California. Not surprisingly, with stronger ties to Europe, these young ragers have bonded together and formed a high number of metal bands, notably the defunct grindcore act Groinchurn. More recently, the bearded trio Juggernaught have brewed a batch of sludgy Southern-sounding African bush metal that just wouldn't be the same if it came from Alabama or Georgia.

Check back next year to see how this handful of bands develops. With any luck, Africa will soon host hundreds more.


Ian Christe is the author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, and the publisher of Bazillion Points Books, home to Murder in the Front Row: Shots From the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, Swedish Death Metal, Only Death Is Real, Hellbent for Cooking, and What Are You Doing Here? A Black Woman's Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.

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