When Steppenwolf sang of “heavy metal thunder” on their 1968 hit Born to be Wild, little did they know just how much that ‘metal’ term would evolve. Its reach has extended through several decades, spawning countless related offshoot styles, each of them undisputedly in debt to a seminal sound whose roots can be traced back to the rock ’n’ roll revolution of the 1950s. Over the course of time, however, metal has been shaped, inspired and reshaped by other factors, most commonly by blending genres or pushing boundaries, the latter largely responsible for the more contemporary category referred to as extreme metal.
Yet despite being largely an underground movement, extreme metal seems to be attracting an ever-growing fanbase. The bigger festivals abroad now draw large audiences, with tickets often sold out months in advance.
This perhaps augurs well for Xtreme Metal Assault (XMA), one of the leading metal events in Malta, and the only one fielding an all-encompassing line-up of different metal genres. Locally, there are over 45 active metal bands. Their biggest problem is not, as has been misguidedly diagnosed by the authorities, finding a place to rehearse, but finding a place to perform. While this continues to hinder the growth of the local music scene in general, there are fortunately events like the XMA that provide that all-important stage for our bands to share their music with the rest of us. Michael Bugeja talks to XMA organiser Edward Tagliaferro about the local scene and this year’s event.
Given your experience in the metal scene, how much and in what ways do you feel it has changed over the years?
I remember my first gig at Rock Cafe. I was watching Beheaded and hearing metal for the first time, which drew me into the local and, eventually, international metal scene. Gigs back then were less frequent, and so attracted bigger crowds. The local scene has evolved and grown considerably. We currently have over 45 active metal bands, so there are more events for metal and rock music fans; between one and two a month, or three to four, if you count rock and alternative gigs. Each year we also have three metal festivals, the Rockestra concert, Xirka Rock events and several rock DJ events. Along with the odd punk and alternative festival, these make for a significant number of live music events, which contrast rather starkly with the less than a handful of festivals that used to be staged in the past.
The biggest obstacle has been a lack of venues for bands to perform in. This seems to be a recurring problem. With V-Gen closing down last year, bands have had to think long and hard about alternative venues, some of which may not always be ideal. In spite of this, the scene is thriving – rearing its ugly head some might say – with at least one gig per month and a regular stream of new recordings and releases. Metal has a somewhat limited audience in Malta, so the options for our bands are to focus locally and perform for fun, or take the bolder step of trying to build a name abroad, as several of our bands have successfully done.
What are the factors you strive to preserve to keep XMA’s integrity and popularity intact?
I have to be very cautious here, since I see things from an insider’s perspective. I suppose the factors would be to respect the performers first and foremost, and not to make drastic changes from one edition to the other.
The aim is to try and keep everyone happy while keeping one’s feet grounded, and this is why XMA strives to present a diverse line-up, which I believe keeps it interesting and akin to certain popular festivals abroad. I try to avoid making statements that start with ‘it would be nice to have…’ because these usually end up being logistical nightmares.
Each year I get at least one foreign band interested in playing at XMA, and people might think, why not? The thing is, even bands that are not so well-known and might not bring in many extra people require payment, sometimes substantial amounts, and that money would pay for a number of local bands. I have total respect for other organisers who prefer to stage that type of event – it is thanks to them that we get to see great foreign metal acts playing in Malta. As far as XMA is concerned, however, our focus has always been on home-grown talent. I suppose that is one reason why the festival has retained its popularity.
Each year your approach to organising the festival seems to bring something different to the event. This year it’s a new venue…
Let me, first of all, clearly state there are no issues with the venue we used before.
The Old Military Prison grounds in Corradino hosted one of the largest metal events on the island back in 2010 with Cannibal Corpse and Paradise Lost headlining. The venue was recently re-launched as an entertainment hub, with particular attention to rock and metal music. Basically, I decided to switch venue to help motivate the scene and support this new metal venue’s efforts.
Given this festival must be a headache to organise, what keeps you coming back each year?
I guess that would be the feedback from performers and attendees, as well as the tipsy smiles you see on people’s faces during the event because they are having a good time. There is one particular comment I get from time to time from different people: “It’s thanks to you and a few other people that such events take place.” You feel motivated to keep going with a comment like that.
A message to all the metalheads on why they shouldn’t miss this event…
XMA is the event that brings together all local metal genres – progressive, thrash, New Wave of American Metal (NWOAM), death, brutal death, melodic, female-fronted, doom and a few crossover acts – in the open air. It offers nine hours of non-stop live metal music, as well as the added buzz of being around people with similar musical tastes. I suppose it’s a must for anyone who claims to be a metalhead.
Extreme Metal Assault 2013 will be held at the Old Military Prison in Corradino on Saturday. The first band starts at 5pm. Tickets cost €15 and transport will be available to all locations after the event. For the full line-up and more information about the festival, look up the Xtreme Metal Assault 2013 event page on Facebook.
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (07 July 2013)
Photo by John Gauci