Kunal Choksi, has been involved with the metal community for nearly a decade now, first with his website Diabolical Conquest and later a record label. Recently, he started a sub label Transcending Obscurity India which is focused on bands from the Indian Subcontinent. I met up with Kunal earlier this month to find out more about how he he started his webzine, record label and his plans for Indian bands. Read my interview with him below
The Indian metal scene has changed dramatically over the past decade. International metal bands perform here regularly, while Indian bands are touring abroad – Kryptos successfully toured Europe in July while horror metal band Albatross are currently on a mini tour of Australia – at an increasing frequency. Things have been looking up for the metal scene in general, a fact we covered in our story ‘Metal Nation’ last year. The scene also has a few poster boys (this is a relative scale of course, and hey, they have all been involved in projects that have released posters) like Sahil Makhija aka the Demonstealer, Keshav Dhar of Skyharbor and producer Anupam Roy; people who are well known in Indian metal circles not just as musicians. Someone who prefers to stay in the shadows though is Kunal Choksi, the editor of metal webzine and record label Transcending Obscurity (previously Diabolical Conquest), who recently signed 13 up-and-coming Indian metal acts.
In 2004, Kunal launched a message board called Diabolical Conquest which was a tribute to the album of the same name by the band Incantation (which, incidentally, was the first CD he ever bought). Activity soon picked up on the board and Choksi decided to start a webzine that carried reviews of metal bands from around the world. “I contacted a few people who promised me that they would help me out but nothing happened. So, I learnt how to make a website on my own. Jill Girardi from Razorback Records gave me some tips on what software to use. I kept on experimenting and finally managed to have a website live on the seventh of March 2005,” says Choksi, remembering the initial struggle of handling the zine. “Initially, people did not take me seriously as they could not acknowledge that someone from India was writing about metal and they had to eat their words later as Diabolical Conquest later became one of the top ten sites in the world when it came to metal music.”
When the zine started out, it didn’t feature too many Indian bands, and Kunal explains why, “Bands were not releasing albums back then. Many bands showed potential but never got down to recording an album and releasing it. The bands that I covered on the website were the ones that appealed to me and took their sound forward. Here in India, there were many clones at that time that sounded a lot like Cannibal Corpse or Slayer.”
After years of running the webzine, keeping readers abreast of happenings around the world of metal, Kunal branched out in the year 2010 and started Transcending Obscurity Records. His first release on his record label was by an Australian death metal band, The Dead. “They were a band that did not know their potential. I really liked their sound and reviewed their discography on the site. After interviewing them, I decided I needed to do much more for the band and that’s when I decided to start my very own record label.” This was followed by releases by Polish death/black metal band Preludium in 2011 and Drug Honkey, a doom metal band from USA in 2012.
Last month, Choksi started an imprint of Diabolical Conquest Records that is focused on bands from the Indian subcontinent and signed 13 bands to it. Yes, you read that right. 13 bands. The bands on the label include thrash metal band Devoid and horror metal band Albatross and even death/doom metal band Dionysus from Pakistan. Read the complete list here. The first release from the label was Forever in the Realm by Bangalore doom metal act Djinn & Miskatonic. “The band is doing something of their own. Gautham’s vocals and their bass driven music make them really unique,” says Choksi.
It’s 2013 and in this age of music being available easily online via non-artist-approved sources, Choksi feels that a label is still relevant, not only give support to a band, but to give bands that are just starting out a stamp of credibility they might not get elsewhere. “I believe in promotion as it is a key element for the success of a band,” he says. “There are thousands of albums on Bandcamp and people are torn on which one to listen to first.” According to Choksi, another important element for a band is how it presents itself, “I feel things like artwork should be comparable to international standards. There are some bands that are doing a great job with their artwork like Bevar Sea (whose guitarist does their artwork). Gaurav Basu (of Inner Sanctum) is another great artist as well.”
Making it in metal isn’t easy, but Choksi’s Transcending Obscurity label seems to be headed in the right direction to make a mark in the global metal scene. The Djinnn & Miskatonic album is the only release from Transcending Obscurity this year, but the label’s gearing up for a lot more releases next year and possibly even a gig with label-only artists.