Somewhere beneath the surface of any city lies another world. Underbellies and countercultures emerge out of the most manicured places and times. New York’s Harlem Renaissance for instance, changed the city’s identity from a bustling metropolis in the 1920’s into a grungy hub of creativity. Out of the city’s mostly Black populated borough would come a burst of art and music and culture. What made it really interesting was that affluent white audiences would steal away from their polished lives and immerse themselves in the smoky hovels of Harlem to engage with queer black culture inside the smattering of blues and jazz clubs there.

Colombo in particular has many underbellies. Walk into the Pettah markets, and you’ll see one. Head to the byroads of Kotahena and another emerges. And I think, no matter who we are or how manicured we may seem, a subterranean mindset occupies us all from time to time. There is darkness in all of us, but this is also how we learn to see the light. Something rich, white New Yorkers realized some hundred-odd years ago.


My underbelly is an altogether different one. Wrapped in steel and distortion, packed with horns high up in the air. For decades now, Colombo has birthed and raised a rich rock and heavy metal counterculture. And not a lot of people even know it exists. It called to me 19 years ago when radio ga ga wasn’t quite making the cut. Even today, being at a gig is how I get my kicks and where just about all of my inspiration comes from. Everytime I pick up a camera or sit down to write, heavy metal is my soundtrack.


Despite a war, a tsunami and the many tragedies that seem to come our way, heavy metal has survived and thrived into a majestic beast of a thing. Since the advent of bands like Stigmata and Paranoid Earthling, many new bands have emerged and continued to keep this counterculture very much alive. It’s added to with great design, photography and a plethora of other art forms that have emerged around the scene. There are pocket movements for metal around the country from Kandy to Kurinegala and Negombo. But Colombo is ground zero. This is where it began and where it will continue to rise.


Why? Because metalheads have little tolerance for intolerance. People of all backgrounds, all walks of life come together. There is no racism here. We are united by something bigger. Something more meaningful and complex. Some travel from around the country to make it to or perform at a metal gig. A good lineup will bring in anything between 200 to 500 people: sometimes more. And fans around the country number in the many thousands.


Metalheads wear their identity with pride. Look around on the streets and you are bound to encounter names like Metallica and Opeth and Tool and Black Sabbath on black t-shirts worn by boys who wear their hair a little too long for society’s comfort. And a hellavalot more women in Colombo listen to heavy metal than you’d think. You know why? Because this music is release. We work out our frustrations inside mosh pits. We headbang our blues away. And then we come out calmer, nicer people for it. Mostly, our hearts are lighter, because we have heavy metal.