You can’t throw a rock in downtown San José without hitting a long-haired kid in an Anthrax T-shirt.
The number of Costa Rican metaleros, or metalheads, has grown in the past few years and continues to swell, meriting concerts in San José by some of the world’s most famous heavy metal bands. Iron Maiden, Metallica and Megadeth have all toured in Costa Rica in the past two years.
Metal enthusiasts here need not wait for music to come to them, however. Costa Rica’s metal scene is getting ever stronger and more defined. Once or twice a month, heavy metal rockers gather in hordes in clubs like San José’s Latino Rock Café to hear local gurus Sight of Emptiness, a five-man outfit that combines the melodic metal and death metal subgenres.
It’s quite a spectacle. A loyal rock army, uniformed in black T-shirts and smoking endless cigarettes, crowds around the front of Latino Rock Café’s stage, waiting for their heroes to appear. Suddenly, drummer Rodrigo Chaverri’s merciless blast beats fill the room, accompanied by singer Eduardo Chacón’s throaty yowl. The masses cheer, and hundreds of hands go up, pinkies and index fingers extended to form the famous heavy-metal devil horns.
The only word to describe the scene is “brutal.” The million-mile-per-hour music has the crowd whipped up into a frenzy. By the time the face-melting lead guitar kicks in, the band’s most energetic fans are already moshing, jumping and flailing in a primitive circle-pit tornado.
The members of Sight of Emptiness are all veterans of this particular species of rock. Since the time they were teenagers, they’ve been going to shows and listening religiously to metal institutions like Slayer, practicing their instruments and paying over a decade’s worth of dues to the scene.
The time they’ve invested is starting to pay off. Since the group’s inception in 2005, it’s become wildly popular in Costa Rica and has gained considerable international momentum. With no end to their growing fame in sight, Sight of Emptiness is riding the high of the success generated from “Absolution of Humanity,” its second full-length album.
Released in November 2009, “Absolution of Humanity” has gained significant national notoriety and earned the band the 2010 Association of Music Composers (ACAM) award – the Costa Rican version of the Grammys – for best metal album of the year. The album is available for purchase through iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby, and can be found in almost every record store in the country.
A major step forward from the band’s 2007 “Trust is a Disease,” now out of print, “Absolution of Humanity” was turned over to renowned Swedish metal producer Jens Bogren for his final, magic touch. Bogren has produced albums by bands such as Sweden’s Opeth and Katatonia and the United States’ Symphony X.
Although deserving of production by a world-famous heavy hitter like Bogren, “Absolution of Humanity” is independently released. After five and a half years together, Sight of Emptiness is still shopping for a label.
“The problem is that there hasn’t been a person or a label that has said, ‘We’re going to take advantage of this band from Costa Rica,’” Chacón says. “Because nobody ever talks about metal from Costa Rica.”
Despite the widespread popularity of metal music in Latin America, the region’s metal bands have been largely unknown to the rest of the world, with a few exceptions. Inspired by the notable international recognition of Brazilian metal pioneers Sepultura, Chacón is convinced this trend is changing.
“We’re going to see the day when a European group cites a Latin American influence, and this just doesn’t happen (now). It’s always the opposite,” he says.
Sight of Emptiness, which is currently negotiating distribution deals in Japan, Europe and South America, has certainly done its part to spread the good word. After the release of “Trust is a Disease,” the band was invited to play Bloodstock Open Air, a multiday festival of unsigned metal bands held annually in England. Every year, festival attendees vote for their favorite band. The winning group gets to play on the main stage the last night of the festival. To their astonishment, the previously unknown Costa Ricans won the vote.
Word of their success made its way back to Costa Rica, and Sight of Emptiness was decorated with the 2008 ACAM award for the Tico band with the most international influence.
Despite obvious musical and songwriting talent and a shameless dedication to self-promotion, the real secret behind Sight of Emptiness’ success seems to be the relationship the group maintains with its fans. Grinning from the stage, Chacón is often heard to ask the crowd, “You guys know you’re all part of the Sight of Emptiness family, right?”
The line between audience and band is blurred at their shows. People jump on and off the stage, and Chacón holds his microphone down for fans to sing along.
“There are five of us in the group, but really there are thousands, and everyone has something to say. Everyone has something to add,” he says.
The band’s next appearance will be Oct. 30 at Variedades theater in San José with Tico progressive-metal group Time’s Forgotten. The show’s format will be different from the usual. The bands will swap members and cover popular rock ’n’ roll standards by legendary groups like AC/DC and the Rolling Stones – all in their own style, of course.
To see videos of the band, go to www.sightofemptiness.com.