I KEPT postponing my trip to Bacolod, unsure if I still had a reason to go back. When I find one, what awaits me? Painful memories? After all, I left a piece of my heart there fourteen years ago.
As life would have it, I now had a reason. Or so I thought. Filled with more doubts, I packed my bag.
No turning back anymore. It was time.
Members of Bandolon weren’t so difficult to spot at Felicia’s, a Bacolodnon favorite famous for its pastries and steaks. The internationally-signed band members were sporting black shirts and huge tattoos on their arms. A far cry from the dressier clients of the café who seemed to have gone there straight from Church.
The day before, Bandolon frontman, Leonard Ramos, almost caused me to choke as he surprised me while I was having my usual after lunch coffee at a mall. He, too, was wearing a black shirt sans tattoos. He was, however, sporting a beard.
“To look older,” he said. I was amused and had to remind myself it has been fourteen years since I last saw him. But there he was with the high-wattage smile I remember. How easily we fell into a conversation. Something we always shared. I think he was in disbelief as well. Several times he stopped, smiled and repeated, “Fourteen years.”
This time at Felicia’s he was late.
I was excited to meet Bandolon from the first time I heard their debut album, “War of Ages”.
Band leader and lead guitarist Justin Bandolon; his beautiful and spirited wife Kristie, who happens to be the band lyricist; and bassist and resident growler Nikko Mananap were less intimidating than their tattoos.
“We only recorded in our home studio,” Justin revealed when asked about the beginnings of their album, making my jaw drop. From the clean sound of it, one will think it was done in a heavily-equipped studio.
“We timed our recordings. There were instances when we listened back and hear the chickens in the backyard or the dogs,” Kristie related. “And the motorcycles,” Justin added.
After addressing these challenges, recording ended and the result isn’t short of remarkable.
When I first heard “War of Ages” I immediately wanted to share it with 3rd year University of the Philippines Diliman Mining Engineering student Krist Jan Separa, who I knew had an ear for good music.
I was right.
“Bandolon displays a wide range of skills and uniqueness; from their insane guitar riffs to their vocalist’s crisp rock-ballad voice. What I immediately noticed when I first had a run through on their album was how clean their heavy overdriven guitar fill-ins/beds sounded despite several instrumental overlap transitions (including Screamo’s – referring to Nikko) and effects transitions, from overdrive to clean delays,” Krist Jan, a self-taught guitarist, messaged me over Facebook.
“War of Ages carries a unique form of metal; soulful yet heavy. Probably a reflection of their western metal music influences without losing the classic OPM soulful and meaningful lyrics and vibe.
“Noteworthy songs are Antagonist, Fall – upbeat, best album starters. Kiss Goodbye, Rewind – a display of musical flexibility; from metal to mellow and vice versa. Valley of Death – a mixture of a ballad-written song and a semi-punk/metal core style instruments.
“Thank God I had ears,” he ended.
Toto was an early influence on Justin. Leonard, whose mom worked as a band manager, first learned to play the drums and moved on to learn the guitar.
Nikko, the quietest and the youngest of the group, was first into rap artists. Until he was challenged to take up a guitar, telling himself, “Kaya ko din yan.”
I turned to his tattoo and told him jokingly, “I do hope you end up marrying your girlfriend,” noticing a girl’s name.
Things turned more serious as Kristie related how Rewind is about a friend who passed. “He was there when the band was just beginning. He saw us through a lot,” Justin shared.
I told the band Kiss Goodbye is my favorite and Leonard sang my favorite lines: “Give me a ‘see you later’ kind of kiss. The kind that I know we can finish.”
According to the four, the band is not without its share of trials even as they are now preparing for their album launch on April 30 at Homegrown Bcd.
We agreed that fame and fortune don’t come easy. I did give a suggestion though for an easy way to fame and this amused Nikko no end. The banter that followed was just the best way to spend a lazy and humid Sunday afternoon.
After almost four hours of fun conversation, we concluded that one has got to put in the hard work and commit oneself to the craft and the people with whom they are pursuing a common dream.
“I’m sure we will pull through,” Kristie assured before we said our goodbyes.
With the kind of talent that pervades this band, it is difficult to think otherwise.
“You better get going if you want to catch the sunset at The Ruins,” Leonard said and with an embrace he sent me off.
I failed to catch the sunset but it did not take away the beauty of the place, considered the Taj Mahal of Bacolod, a mansion built in memory of the love shared between man and wife.
I reflected on the warm welcome of Ramon’s family despite my long absence in their lives after we buried him. Bandolon and their story. Leonard. My little brother JM Agreda. Capt. Vincent Ramon F. Ong.
So what did I find in Bacolod?
I found music. Food.
Friendship. Family. Love.
I found a place I always knew. Home.