Indonesian metal pioneer Irvan Sembiring of the band Rotor dies at 51

The guitarist has been hailed as a trailblazer for the country’s metal scene

Irvan Sembiring, lead singer and guitarist of Indonesian thrash metal band Rotor, has passed away.

As reported by The Jakarta Post, the musician was found unresponsive by his family on Tuesday (February 16), the morning after arriving at their home in Cinere, South Jakarta.

Irvan had been in contact with the newspaper on Monday talking about a religious trip to Pakistan. After leaving the music industry in the late 1990s, he had focused on Islam and preaching to fellow Muslims around the world.

In January, Irvan made an appearance at a release party for the band’s debut album, ‘Behind the 8th Ball’, which had been reissued on vinyl by Elevation Records.

“This album never had a proper release party – not even a press conference in 1993. So consider this a long-overdue introduction,” he had said at the event. The album was originally released a year after the band’s inception in 1991, during which the country’s strict censorship rules barred the band from promoting it widely.

Rotor made further headway for the country’s then-nascent scene when they clinched an opening slot on Metallica’s Jakarta stop on their Nowhere Else to Roam tour in 1993. The concert made international headlines after crowds rioted outside the venue of Lebak Bulus stadium, leaving over a hundred injured and a hundred others jailed.

Rotor went on to release two more albums and an EP, disbanding after the release of their 1998 album ‘Menang’.

Hip-hop artist Herry Sutresna told The Jakarta Post that Irvan had “pointed the way for boundless possibility in music.”

“He opened the gate for the most extreme innovation in local music,” Sutresna says. “And he succeeded in doing that considering the sorry state of the music industry in early-1990s Indonesia.” Under his moniker Morgue Vanguard, Sutresna name-checked Rotor’s most popular song ‘Peluit Phobia’ in his 2020 record ‘Demi Masa’.

Elevation Records, which reissued ‘Behind the 8th Ball’, paid tribute to Irvan on social media, as have prominent Indonesian metal acts Seringai, Burgerkill and Down for Life. Death metal band Forgotten, who formed only three years after Rotor, saluted the guitarist with the parting words “Rest in thrash”. See their tributes below.