Trekking: Metal of the Middle East
(by Metal Chris) This is my first post for Scene Trek and I hope it's not too long and drawn out, but I love talking about metal. Contrary to the popular belief of the mainstream, heavy metal is a very diverse genre and it's always interesting to me to hear how people in different locations put their own spin on this aggressive music. Recently I've spent a lot of time digging through various underground bands from all around the middle east. While the death metal band Nile has been playing ancient Egyptian inspired music for over 15 years and are probably the first metal band one thinks of in association with the middle east, the band is actually based in South Carolina and they don't really have any roots to Egypt. They did inspire me to see what metal bands actually from the area do sound like, and there's some really good metal coming from the region, though you have to dig a bit to find some of it. Orphaned Land is probably the most popular metal band from the middle east. They use their catchy music based on both Jewish and Muslim musical traditions to spread a message of peace between the religions in their homeland of Israel and beyond. Check out their song "Sapari" (below) to hear a perfect example of what I'm talking about.
Another band from Israel is the black metal act Melechesh. They are a lot faster than Orphaned Land but by seamlessly blending traditional middle eastern chord progressions and song structures within the style of Scandinavian black metal they've made a sound all their own. Their lyrics, if you can understand them, tend to involve the darker aspects of middle eastern mythology, such as ifrits and the evil side of kabbalah. Because of their unpopular subject matter to the people of their hometown of Jerusalem, the band was forced to relocate to the Netherlands. They still keep their middle eastern heritage strongly in their music, which is very apparent in their guitar work, as you can hear in their song "Grand Gathas Of Baal Sin".
Another middle eastern metal band of note is Acrassicauda from Baghdad, Iraq. They were featured in the documentary Heavy Metal In Baghdad and are working on their first full length album now. Because of their music they were forced to flee the war torn country and are now considered political refugees living in New York. They are a thrash band with heavy influences from the 80s San Francisco scene (think Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax) and like those bands they use heavy metal as a means of expressing their frustration with the world they live in. Their song "A Message From Baghdad", written when they still lived in Iraq, is a thought provoking piece from the point of view of the people whose homeland is still immersed in war, death and poverty.
Politics and religion have never been taboo subjects in the world of metal, and this is no different in the middle east. In countries where certain political and religious views can lead to persecution, or even death, there are still bands brave enough to speak out for what they believe in. Creative Waste is a band from Saudi Arabia that plays grindcore, a form of metal that takes the political anger and simple, raw aggression of hardcore punk and combines it with the ferociousness of death metal. Creative Waste use this extreme form of music to speak out against the wrongs they see in their corner of the world.
Speaking your mind in the middle east is a lot easier when you're a male though. Janaza is a one-woman black metal band from Iraq. Keeping her anonymity with the stage name Anahita, she uses metal to blasphemously speak out against the oppression of Islam. It's very raw, dark, and full of anger and frustration. Metal has given her the freedom and the voice to say what she cannot in public, exemplified by her song "Burn The Pages Of Quran." This is dangerous art that could lead to severe punishment if her identity is found out, but she's not alone. There is a loose grouping for Arabic anti-Islamic black metal that has been slowly making a name for itself, using their art as a weapon against the forces that oppress them.