Stigmata rides out the storm and comes back stronger, louder and heavier than ever!

Saturday, 14 October 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Vimukthi Karunaratne 

Over the decades, heavy metal in Sri Lanka has gone through many waves and progressively evolved. It has spread and seeped into vastly diverse dimensions of the genre and even given birth to music that defies boundaries and definitions. Numerous bands, along with ardent, loyal metal fans, have marked Sri Lanka’s presence in the global metal landscape.

As any music industry, the local rock n’ roll and heavy metal industry has also witnessed the rise and demise of multitudes of music ensembles. Every few years, new names eclipsed the bands that were in the limelight. However, despite the constantly changing tides, one band – one that was among the pioneering bands that introduced pure Sri Lankan metal to the island almost two decades back – seemed to stand their ground and stand the test of time.

After being in the local music scene for so long, releasing four albums and playing a countless number of monumental concerts, Stigmata need no introduction. With every diehard metalhead in the country having listened to at least a couple of their songs, it is a name that has become a rock n’ roll staple. 

However, the end of 2016 saw the band endure a devastating blow; one of the founding members and the lead guitarist of Stigmata for 16 years, Andrew Obeyesekere, left the band in pursuit of his ambitions outside of Stigmata. Soon after his departure, the drummer at the time, Taraka Senewiratne, and the bassist, Lakmal Wijayagunarathna, also left. 

While many were downhearted by the shocking news and some were cheery (Why you ask? Because you simply don’t get to be the top dog in rock n’ roll for as long as they have been without pissing off at least a few people), all were doubtful about the continuation of the band.

Suresh de Silva and Tennyson Napoleon, the other two founding members, were left at the crossroads. Even Suresh, who, after being in the music industry for so long, is rarely shaken or discouraged by a vast majority of things, was crestfallen and had lost almost all hope. 

It ought to have ended then, but the iron resolve and determination of Tennyson carried the band through this dark passage of time. With the support and encouragement of close friends and loyal fans as well, soon Stigmata was reinventing its rhythm and groove with three new members.

An axeman, skinsman and a bass-slinger

A marketing maven, Shafeek Shuail turned to heavy metal during his school years listening to the likes of Iron Maiden. He discovered his inner impulse to become a musician and play in a band after his very first experience at a local metal concert. Consequently, in 2009, he joined Killfeed – his first band, and has since played for several other bands including Sevexth and Nevi’im. 

Having witnessed his skillful playing and his dedication to the craft, the band decided to recruit him to fill the position of the rhythm guitarist. Despite initially being hesitant, the band’s music being intimate to him and having had Stigmata as one of his influences from the beginning, it was an offer he could not refuse.

The sphere of expertise of Udaya Wickramage lies in the tourism industry. An expressive individual with a penchant for drumming since his childhood days, he discovered rock n’ roll listening to tunes on TNL radio. He began playing drums for his church worship group as a young teenager and was later approached by his first band, Head on Collision. Then, with the introduction to Rock Company and TNL Onstage, he got to delve deeper into the world of metal, and along the way played with bands such as Ritual, Circus Cult and Salvage that have helped shape the local metal scene.

Udaya has been a part of Stigmata’s journey as both a fan and a close friend from as far back as 2003; the year ‘Hollow Dreams,’ Stigmata’s as well as the country’s debut heavy metal album, was released. At one point, he was even a drum tech for one of the drummers of the ensemble. Though he received the opportunity to audition for the band a couple of times previously, feeling he was not ready, he did not take up the challenge. This time however, after nearly passing out after being asked by the band, he stepped up to claim his place as the new skinsman.

Thisara Dhananjaya hails from Kandy and specialises in video editing, video mixing, vfx and animation. Drawn in by the music and the raw energy of the live performances of the thrash titans Metallica, he started exploring the genre of metal. It was the band’s lead guitarist Kirk Hammett’s unparalleled playing that inspired him to first pick up a guitar and become a musician, and in 2011 he joined his first band Cremetoria. As he had to move to Colombo in pursuit of his career, his involvement with Cremetoria was short-lived. Nonetheless, after moving to Colombo, he began learning other genres of music outside the contours of metal, expanding his horizons. 

Unlike the other two additions to the band, though he had listened to Stigmata and watched them perform, he had never known them personally. A couple of auditions and jam sessions later, owing to the exquisite intricacy of their music and the sense of fellowship and loyalty he found within the Stigmata family, he decided to take up the challenge of filling the role of the bassist, and the lineup was complete. 

A gig for the geeks and freaks – Lanka Comic Con

With new blood in the band, a new studio and an atmosphere, and a rekindled sense of passion and purpose, Stigmata began rehearsing again, but it was by no means going to be plain sailing under starry skies. 

Not only did they have to reach beyond their boundaries improving themselves individually as musicians, they also had to put in a gruelling amount of work finding and igniting that flame that connects and unifies them as a band. Furthermore, being a band that has been around for 16 years, having to discover a novel yet organic and authentic sound that can evoke and inspire the masses while remaining true to their roots rendered the task at hand even more difficult.

With each member displaying unprecedented commitment and dedication, the band was able to accumulate consistent hours of practice, and over the next couple of months, they made steady progress. By mid-year, the new line-up had tackled a formidable extent of their previous tunes (If you ask anyone who has ever tried to play a Stigmata song, they would tell you learning rocket science mayhap actually be easier!) and also embarked on composing new music.

Focused on rebuilding the band, since the beginning of 2017 Stigmata had not played any concerts; but excitement was lurking just around the corner. The Geek Club of Sri Lanka and the Lanka Comic Con Trust were preparing for the annual Lanka Comic Con – the only convention in the country that explores the depth and breadth of the myriad, eclectic facets of comic culture –and invited Stigmata to be part of the momentous occasion.

Stigmata members themselves being avid followers and enthusiasts of comics and everything related, they considered it and honour and a privilege, and it was the perfect event to announce the band’s return from the ashes with a nether-region-kicking performance.

Similar to metalheads in Sri Lanka, the comic fans and geeks had also experienced and been a part of a journey filled with obstacles. The deep-rooted passion of metalheads for their music, the geeks felt for the comic universe. Thus, though seemingly an odd combination, the metalheads and the geeks shared an unspoken connection, and it was made abundantly evident during Stigmata’s heartfelt performance.

Throughout the duration, the audience was completely immersed in the band’s performance and seemed electrified by what was unfolding on stage. Moreover, it seemed as though the band and the audience connected on a much deeper level than at a vast majority of conventional concerts, and the response Stigmata received from the metalheads and the geeks alike was truly astounding. At the end of the performance, the band had won over every individual present, but more importantly, Stigmata had brought together seamlessly these two crowds and helped forge a friendship that would change the way things are in the times to come.

Rays of a new dawn

A wise man once wrote, “Some storms can sink us. Some storms can intimidate us. Others can lure us into open jaws and seek to crush us. Others we encounter and somehow endure” (well, that was actually Suresh de Silva in one of the pieces of writing on his book, ‘From Chaos to Catharsis’). They had somehow ridden on the wings of the storm and endured, and come through stronger, in typical rock n’ roll fashion one might add. When they say they live and breathe rock n’ roll, they really do mean it!

With two seven-string guitars working their magic, a five-string bass interlacing them together with infectious grooves, the drums providing the foundation and an intricate backdrop and vocals painting a surreal and meaningful picture, Stigmata is louder and heavier than it has ever been.

While the band is tirelessly working towards refining its sound and perfecting its performance, it is in the process of composing new songs – a couple of them are already completed – and hopes to release an EP by the end of 2017. The band is also scheduled to start touring overseas from the beginning of next year. To follow the band’s latest updates and news, join the Stigmata family on Facebook ( As rays of a new dawn fall, many an intriguing thing may come our way.

Pix by Shehan Gunasekara