Way down, deep down inside the industrial area of Benoni on the Eastern side of Johannesburg where darkness brings a deafening silence and filmmakers would love a zombie on every corner, lies a haven of heavy metal, burning bright against the security floodlit night.
It is the home of The Burning, often billed as Johannesburg’s loudest band and – considering a Peavey PA system with 44 000 Watts of output and some eight tons of gear, not all that surprising. It is their workspace, headspace and refuge from fallen governments, litter strewn streets and all the other crap that makes up still being a living human in this sprawling city.
I’m in this almost pristinely tidy haven with lead vocalist Glenn ‘Scarthroat’ Unger, sipping a virginal bottle of cold water, to listen to the band’s second album with 10 new and original tracks penned by Scarthroat himself with the music a collaborative effort from the rest of the guys.
The Burning is not just a cute band name and the guys take it seriously – the fundamentals of the band lying in the undeniable power of rock and roll; a fire that first ignited in the 1990’s when guitarist and songwriter Steve Kay made, as Glen puts it: “… a choice to unleash some serious musical mayhem on the general public”.
The lineup has changed over the 20 year history of the group and currently comprises Steve Kay on lead and rhythm guitar (ex Ragnarok and Helter Skelter), Pete Brück on lead and rhythm guitar (ex Flying Circus), Kyle Shoesmith on drums (ex Hate Speech, Quamata and The Question), Derek Newman on bass (ex Metalmorphosis) and Unger on vocals (ex Sanctum, Chemically Sharpened and The Question).
“Although there have been changes in the lineup, the passion to present an uncompromising set of songs and create a captivating stage show has always been a main driver for the members,” says Unger, adding poetically, “Music is not a physical element, it is an entity that, if done right, will cut you like a knife; it cannot be seen or touched, but if you listen closely it will make you feel emotions that will change your life.”
It is a desperately sad truism South Africans tend to like local bands to sound like international acts so they can rubbish them when they do. Sure, The Burning, as individuals, have musical influences and some of this comes through in the tracks on ‘Headed To Hell’ but they are not a copy band; they are a South African band.
If this peturbs you, accept a middle-finger salute and go back to jerking off over Justin Bieber songs.
All the tracks on the album are both uniquely South African as well as carrying a global message from the opening track ‘Dirty Lil’ Bitch’ that talks about ‘that’ woman who preys on men in pubs, flaunting her offerings as a prelude to robbery.
The title track ‘Headed To Hell’ is about the agony of gambling addiction. “When he lost his last R200 it results in a psychological turmoil of keeping the secret from his family. The man cannot find solitude within himself, leading to the reality he is headed for hell’,” says Unger.
‘A Different Day’ is about the hardship of living far away from your loved ones and making the most of the time you do have with them; ‘Taking My Kindness’ talks about being taken for granted and the rising anger that follows; ‘Breaking The Chains’ speaks to one chance we have on this planet and the fact it is up to us to make it enjoyable; ‘Here I Am’ is about overcoming a life of poverty and turning bad into good; ‘Valentine’s Day’ is very South African specific yet carries a universal message about love turned to hate; ‘Blood For Freedom’ talks to the horror stories of atrocities against humanity and ‘The Call’ is about uniting us all and standing together against greed-driven corrupt politicians.
The passion-driven diverse themes in the lyrics are backed by an equal amount in the music that ebbs and flows through the full emotional range from whimsically sad to outright hell-and-damnation mad with an equally wide range of internal band interplay.
There is hard rock/heavy metal and then there is. . .well, just noise. Sadly the purview of all to many wannabee metalheads the fuzz box and reverb force fed into underpowered amplifiers generates a wall of noise that is wholly unintelligible and totally offensive to the genre.
Think Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Raven and other top flight metal bands. The secret is the music is very carefully crafted and properly structured and, The Burning do just that on ‘Headed To Hell’. Every single note can be clearly heard, every subtle timing change noted, every clever little riff an auditory delight and every single word sung by Unger clearly audible whatever the tempo or ferocity of the music behind it.
Listen carefully and you can easily fade out everything else just to listen to the frenetic bass lines being laid down by Derek Newman or the back and forth lead and rhythm interplay between Steve Kay and Peter Brück.
Make no mistake The Burning are on fire (Oh come on! You expected that now!) and the three years it took to put this album together have not been wasted.
It has been quite a strange interview session. On stage Unger is a fireball of feral energy teasing, taunting and tormenting audiences, the very oxygen in the air feeding the rage blazing inside of him yet, on this occasional he sits quietly as he plays each track for me – but it is not hard to see how hard he is struggling to keep emotion in check.
Justifiably proud of what the band has done, I get the feeling he would love to run around screaming with joy like a kid in a candy shop. Go do it Glen, go do it.
If there is any fire in your soul, go and get a copy of ‘Headed For Hell’ – releasing in the first week of December and available on Spotify, You Tube and all major electronic channels as well as CD from the band’ website.
Ignite the fire!