Malaysia…several things may come to mind when referring to this beautiful southeastern Asian country, however Hard Rock and Heavy Metal production for sure will not be one of them…despite not being broadly known, Malaysia did actually had an active Hard Rock scene emerging in the early 1980’s under the monicker of “Rock Kapak” (Rock axe). One of the most significant bands of that scene - being active till today, 30 years after their original formation- were Wings (not to be confused with Paul and Linda McCartney post Beatles band). In this post, we present Wings first two albums which in my humble opinion, could have easily won a place in the unofficial Hall of Fame of the unknown Hard Rock gems…
Formed back in 1985 by Awie, Jojet, Joe and Sham, Wings allegedly got their name from Awie’s muscular biceps which were resembling a pair of…wings! Soon, Jojet and Sham left the band but despite this Wings continued persistently to play local shows that gave them the necessary exposure which in 1987 convinced Antarctic Sound Productions to offer them a contract for their first record. Two new members were added for the recording process - Eddy and Black - and the result, debut album Belenggu Irama (Shake Rhythm) was a triumph. Having sold 180.000 copies, is until today the biggest selling debut record by any Malaysian band !
Belenggu Irama was a wonderful album of melodic Hard rock, maybe not the most original one as the references to bands like Scorpions (check out the ballads Intan Ku Kesepian, Biarkan Berlalu, Belengu Irama or the rocker Peronda Jaket Biru who sounds like a tribute to The Zoo) and Deep Purple (Kembalilah) were more than apparent however the exquisite guitar playing (just listen to the epic riffs of opener Inspirasi Tamingsari or the fantastic guitar solo in Sekeping Kertas Bermaruah) and the great vocals of Awie made it a record that had nothing to be jealous of the respective Hard Rock albums that were being released at the same time in the West. There was only one song that could be called a filler (Hapuskan Fitnah) but even this one had an outstanding guitar solo. The album closed perfectly with Dari Tuhan, a masterpiece and for me the album’s best song.
Despite the attention drawn and the subsequent commercial success, Wings were considered counter-cultural for the conservative muslim (even though moderate) country so eventually their songs were banned from appearing on national (government-controlled in reality) radio and TV and even their concerts were prohibited (Malaysia applied a general outdoor rock concert prohibition since 1986 which even stopped Chicago from performing in 1990 due to some of their members having long hair!). Despite these hurdles, Wings did not break up and one year later they released their second album Hukum Karma (Law Karma) which was an even bigger artistic and commercial success.
Hukum Karma sold 200,000 copies and produced several hits like the (again-Scorpions influenced) power ballads Misteri Mimpi Syakilla and Taman Rashidah Utama which managed (despite the previously imposed prohibitions) to become monthly champions on TV3’s Muzik Muzik show. This gave them the opportunity to appear on the prestigious Anugerah Juara Lagu (AJL) stage in 1989 where in front of an audience of millions they gave two memorable performances – one of which included a complete choir and the band playing in their suits. Even though they lost the Best Performance award to Search (another one of Malaysia’s great Hard Rock bands) finally having them earning the 2nd and 3rd position, these performances remain legendary within Malaysia until today.
The album,like its predecessor, contained some epic rock tracks like Opera Hidup, Sembunyi or the self titled Hukun Karma, some great guitar playing like in the Van Halen inspired Jerangkap Samar or in Orang Kita and of course even more power ballads like Anugerah which I can easily assume that were big hits in the teenager parties of that era. This time also the final result was sounding much more original than the previous record (well, excluding Fotostat whose main riff reminded Black Night a little too much) an indication that the band was finding and developing their own sound and personality.
Hukum Karma, according to my opinion stands a level higher than their first album a fact which I personally consider normal as part of the band’s artistic maturing process and I consider it easily as one of the gems of the global Hard Rock scene.
Wings after 30 years and nearly 2 million records sold, are still active and have managed to transform from an (allegedly) counter cultural band to an established one. Their songs have given them a legend status within Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore, with singer Awie being also a successful actor who has played in many popular Malaysian films.
Nowadays Malaysia’s rock scene maybe be more known for its underground Hardcore, Punk and Black Metal groups, however bands like Wings have proven that great Hard Rock and stadium rock can be produced in every corner of this planet. I am not sure how easily their albums can be bought outside Asia (or at least how cheap considering the postage costs) however if you are a Hard Rock lover and manage to ever visit this nice part of the world (for vacation or other reason) try to visit a local record store where you will find these gems in an affordable price. Otherwise (as this blog does not encourage illegal downloading) you can use the Spotify links included in this post.