Heavy metal became a prominent genre of modern music in the Middle East in the late 80’s and early 90’s, shortly after becoming popular in western countries. Oppressive governments and offended conservatives quickly quenched the movement, claiming that fans and bands were promoting ideals of Satanism through their angsty lyrics, aggressive guitar riffs, and strange garb.
More recently, metal has acted as a unifying media for the huge youth demographic present in the Middle East. One band in particular, Orphaned Land, has provided common ground to help assuage the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict. Formed in 1991 in Israel, the band blends sound elements of doom metal, Middle Eastern folk, and Arabic traditions into a subgenre described as “Oriental metal”. Orphaned Land incorporates lyrics that many cultures can relate to by directly quoting the holy books of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. They sing in Hebrew, Arabic, and English, and have collaborated with numerous Arab musicians over the years, making a point to illustrate their wholehearted lack of cultural prejudice. Live performances are filled with fans from nations all over the Middle East. These events might be one of the few opportunities for such a peaceful aggregation of cultures.
In 2001, a brave group of Iraqi friends founded the metal band Acrassicauda (Latin for “Black Scorpion”) in Baghdad. At the time, the bassist owned a computer store, and the drummer was an English teacher. The group was quickly discovered by fundamentalist haters who destroyed their jam spot with a missile. Eventually in 2006, the band was forced to flee Iraq. They spent several years hiding in Syria and Turkey, and eventually landed themselves in the United States, where they are still trying to make a name for themselves. Success in the States has been more difficult than they imagined, as there is no shortage of metal bands here. Unfortunately they now work several part-time jobs and barely have time to practice. In 2007 Spike Jonze produced a documentary titled Heavy Metal in Baghdad that tells their story in more detail.
To me there is something incredibly honorable about a metal band who has actually lived through the hell on their lyric sheet. From the opening song Message From Baghdad off the debut album Only The Dead See The End Of The War:
Is it god’s will or just a lie?
People live and others die
Never had the chance and they never will
Forever doomed as I wonder why
And from The Unknown off the same album:
Creeping inside my veins
Pacifies me in extra doses of pain
I can’t contain it
Living your world and enduring your
When US bands project this type of message (and they always do), they come off as melodramatic and ungrateful. Acrassicauda on the other hand feels so strongly about these words, they risked their lives daily in Baghdad for the opportunity to preach them. They may not be professional musicians anymore in the United States, but they are still professional badasses in my eyes. Iraq on!
p.s. The wikipedia link above is interesting. Note how about half of the cymbal manufacturers in the world are Turkish. You may have heard of Zildjian.