Straightforward, raw, abrasive and fast

Cambodian rock’n’roll can’t have seen anything like this for a while. August 2019 will see Doch Chkae play at Wacken Festival in Germany, the Kampot Playboys travel to be part of Darwin Festival in northern Australia, and Reign in Slumber are leaving for three dates in Malaysia. Vanntin ‘Tin’ Hoeurn (bass and vocals), Alan Ou (drums) and Nara Tsitra (guitar) sat down to talk with Leng Pleng ahead of their tour, and their weekend engagement at Oscar’s on the Corner supporting Indonesian bands Tiderays and AK47.

Reign in Slumber, they explain, play what is called Blackened Crust.   “It’s a mixture of Black Metal and Crust Punk,” Tin says. “The guitar riffs are very heavily black metal influenced, while the drum beat is more punk.”

Coming up in various line-ups, including Dirty Jack and the longer-lived Sliten6ix, the three are now, in their mid-twenties, veterans – almost grandfathers – of the nascent metal scene in Phnom Penh, a huge influence on up-and-comers like Doch Chkae and Silent. “I don’t think that metal will ever be mainstream music, especially not here. But if you take a look at the scenes around Asia – of course it doesn’t really go mainstream, but they’ve got decent following. Here in Cambodia we’ve got three or four metal bands probably, and of the all-Khmer ones probably only two that go really extreme, [rather than] just sort of alternative rock. It’s really small, it’s hard to set something up, it’s hard to get everyone involved, because not a lot of people are interested in this type of music.”

They found each other slowly. “At first I wanted to be a guitarist,” says Alan, “but when I met Tin I was already playing drums. I was interested in hiphop at that time. Then I started to know about the heavy music as well, like Metallica, Slayer, Iron Maiden, stuff like that. The sound of the drums, it’s cool, the anger, if you are stressed out you can release the stress out on the drums. After three or four years of practice I started a band.   I invited Tin, asked him to play guitar, and he said I’m not really good at guitar. But he can scream.”

“But he can scream.”  Vanntin Hoeurn, bass & vocals

Dirty Jack was formed over rehearsals at Oscar 51, after Nara answered a Facebook post from Tin looking for a guitar player. The band managed a couple of gigs at Sharky Bar, at Big Mike’s encouragement, before splitting up. Then in 2016, they were reunited when Nara was approached to join the reformed Sliten6ix. When Sliten6ix disbanded, Tin picked up the pieces and launched Reign in Slumber. British guitarist Ronan Kemp is also part of the band, and will tour with them before he heads back home later in the year, and the band will revert to a three piece.

“It’s easier with three people,” says Tin. “I just want it to be straightforward, raw, abrasive and fast. I made it very clear from the beginning of Reign in Slumber, I want to keep playing, keep producing music, as much as we can, and of course when you achieve those two things, then it’s easier to do tours.”

Although the local metal community remains small, in recent years a couple of well-connected promoters have succeeded in getting touring metal bands to stop in Phnom Penh on their way through the region. “It’s really awesome,” says Tin. “When we started out, no bands came over here. We’re pretty lucky that we’ve got people who are willing to get all these bands to come and play.”

Nara Tsitra, guitar

The band will play three gigs in Malaysia: in Batu Pahat, Melaka, and finishing off in Kuala Lumpur. “We’ve been on tour before with Sliten6ix, but we only went to Saigon for one night and played one show,” says Tin. “This is a proper linked up tour, pretty exciting. We’re pretty nervous as well, but it’s going to be fun.” In September there’s a return to Vietnam. “There’s a grindcore festival that some Vietnamese promoters are doing, seven bands, eight including us, from Taiwan, Japan, and one band from Slovakia. We’re going to do the show and then we’ll take the bus, all of us, back and play here in Phnom Penh the next night.”

“There’s not a lot of budget involved,” Tin admits. “The promoters, they’re really nice, they’re helping us out whatever they can, but these guys are punks, they are broke too. We are broke, they are broke, but I really love this sense of community, everyone is broke but everyone wants to help everyone else. And I guess we’re the first Cambodian metal band going to Malaysia, so I think there’s an element of the exotic there.”

Allan Ou, drums 

The band is heartened by the precedent set by Doch Chkae being invited to Wacken. “The ultimate goal would be to go and play at some festival,” says Tin. “It doesn’t have to be really big, but somewhere in Europe. Being able to break through that and actually play abroad. We want to go around Asia, but being able to break through the bureaucracy and whatever and actually, like, wow, we made it. That would be cool. But of course a lot of things have to be taken into consideration – money and visas. Money for the visa, money for the flights.”

“We just do it because we like the music,” says Tin. “Being the first one is just being the first one, but it’s a matter of being excited for what’s coming next: writing, new records, playing, practicing.” And now touring. “You do it for the passion,” says Alan. “You don’t take it as a career, but if it happens…”

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