Archive for Nuclear Blast

Middle Eastern Metal: A Growing Force?

Posted in Al-namrood, Arallu, black metal, death metal, Dubai Desert Rock Festival, Global Metal, Heavy Metal Islam, Melechesh, Mesopotamian Metal, Middle Eastern Metal, Narjahanam, Nervecell, Nuclear Blast, Orphaned Land, Salem, Sandstorm Music Festival, Wacken with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2010 by GRAMPS Pantheon

For most of us, metal is more than just a collection of complex riffs, blast beats, and musical technicalities – it’s an atmosphere and a movement. While the true origin of today’s metal can be debated back and forth, what’s relevant is that it has become an incredibly global movement. Global, however, doesn’t mean homogenous. Every region to where Metal has spread incorporates unique elements of their own culture  and traditions into the music. Personally, one of my fascinations in the realm of Metal has been with its creative development in the far corners of the Earth – perhaps where one would least expect it. The Middle East – spanning the Arabian Peninsula, former Mesopotamia and parts of North Africa and the Mediterranean, is a land of great civilizations, cultural meccas, and powerful religions unique as the geography itself. Since the early 1990s, the region’s burgeoning metal scene has faced immense challenges but has nonetheless come a long way in spreading its remarkable philosophy and sound. I had some questions coming into this topic. Notably, in what countries does Middle Eastern metal dominate? What are the bands in this region influenced by and how original are they? What Middle Eastern elements are incorporated and how? What philosophies underpin the music and how is it spreading? Finally, how comfortable are these artists with a categorization like Middle Eastern? A term such as this is often a double-edged sword. On one hand this designation allows bands to differentiate themselves and embody the traditional elements they contain. For others, this term may not accurately describe the music – simply black or death metal may be more apt.

So who are the major players in Middle Eastern metal? The movement is largely underground due to cultural and political restrictions, yet a great number of bands are beginning to make a name for themselves. Many credit Orphaned Land, an Israeli group fusing death and doom metal with traditional Middle Eastern folk music, with starting the fire for this style of metal. Their style is very melodic, especially in the vocals.  Founded in 1991, they have been incredibly successful and distributed worldwide. Their concept albums aim to unite traditionally clashing cultures and religions, something they have been very successful with in a war-torn region. A US tour is planned in support of their 2010 release, The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR.

In 1993 Melechesh became one of the first signed black metal bands in Israel. Their debut demo As Jerusalem Burns combined traditional black metal with Arabic rhythms and drumming. Over the course of their four major releases, they have begun to fuse Middle Eastern melodies into the mix, taking on a more melodic style while remaining true to their black metal roots.  They call their own sound “Mesopotamian Metal”. Mysticism, occult themes and Arabic mythology riddle their lyrics. Lead guitarist Ashmedi is well-educated and is an outspoken and down-to-earth member of the Middle Eastern metal scene.  He cites influence from bands such as Slayer and Bathory, as well as Middle Eastern folk and meditation music. Melechesh is signed to Nuclear Blast Records, arguably the only band of its kind on the label.  They are playing larger festivals like Wacken Open Air, further expanding the genre. The band has in recent years relocated to Amsterdam, largely due to prejudice in Israel against their mixed nationalities.

This relocation appears to be a trend among artists in more resistant countries.  Many are in search of a larger fan base, touring, and some freedom from oppression. In Israel, death metal bands Arallu and Salem are also somewhat legendary and have a strong following within the country – Salem just played its first show outside Israel in 2007.

In Middle Eastern nations, especially where theocracies rule, metal is seen as revolutionary and threatening to the government and everyday life.  It is not considered as an outlet for aggression or an art form. Especially in very traditional religious nations such as Lebanon, Iran, and Egypt, practice or even support of metal is forbidden and punishable by law. Censorship of music is rampant, and seemingly simple acts such as having tattoos or long hair, wearing black, or even wearing your favorite band’s t-shirt could easily leave you ostracized and in jail for “pure satanic” acts. Strongly Satanist bands in the Middle East are not common – most simply rebel against the negative connotations of Christianity and organized religion. One of the few relatively safe refuges for metal in the region is the United Arab Emirates, particularly the state of Dubai. Recognized by many as being more open and tolerant of metal, UAE hosts some notable groups, such as the death/thrash metal band Nervecell. Dubai has also put itself on the map as an important touring location for not only Middle Eastern metal acts but also international bands. Events like the Dubai Desert Rock Festival and the Sandstorm Music Festival are held each summer and continue to grow.

Another element of Middle Eastern metal is language. It can be surprisingly difficult to find folk metal artists that create songs lyrically in their indigenous language. Alnamrood (Saudi Arabia) and Narjahanam (Bahrain), with names meaning ‘non-believer’ and ‘fire of hell’, respectively, are two black metal bands in the region known to incorporate Arabic lyrics telling stories of Middle Eastern history, war, and religion.

Many Middle Eastern metal bands have a philosophy and lyrical themes rooted in the mystical elements of the Middle East and its unique culture. The Double Harmonic, or Byzantine Scale, is a common melodic characteristic of many Middle Eastern metal songs, giving them that memorable ‘Arabian Nights’ sound. While authorities in the region often see metal simply as a Western threat to traditional religious culture, they do not comprehend the unifying power of metal for the Middle East. Metal has no political or religious boundaries. There are countless creative bands incorporating Middle Eastern melodies, rhythms, themes, and their own culture into the music.  Metal exists in nearly every country in the region, and with films like Global Metal and books such as Heavy Metal Islam, exposure and support is growing for metal in the Middle East. Go out, explore, and support these metal artists and this movement – I guarantee you will learn more than what you set out to find.

-Peter Ganzlin

Sources: Aljazeera English program hosted by Richard Gizbert: video from Bloody Roots of Middle Eastern Metal.

-Melechesh Interview on JorZine

-Decibel Magazine

-Band Webpages