Desert Demons - Part I
A look at African and Middle Eastern Metal
by: Quentin Kalis
This is the first in a monthly series of articles that will explore the nascent and oft-ignored African and Middle Eastern scenes. Each month, the metal scenes of one to three countries will be subject, and will be accompanied by a number of reviews from that country (or countries).

Bands from African and Middle Eastern countries who wish to be interviewed or submit CDs for review, or who can help in any way, are encouraged to get in touch with the author.

To whet the appetite, a few minuscule scenes -- in some cases limited to one band -- are described below.

[A comment about the title: an intriguing but unimportant and completely irrelevant connecting factor between all these diverse countries featured is that they all contain significant stretches of arid land.]

Introduction

Math is said to be a universal language; but that's utter bullshit, as any teenager struggling with calculus will tell you. No, the only truly universal language is music. Music is capable of being appreciated by virtually anyone on the planet. Even if a particular style is culture-specific, appreciation of it is certainly isn't: you need not be German or have an understanding of Norse mythology to be able to appreciate the bombastic beauty of Wagner; the qawali singing of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is an impressive display of vocal acrobatics, and again, one need not be Muslim or Egyptian to marvel at his versatility.

The same universality extends to the much maligned genre of metal. How else to explain the emergence of Sepultura, one of the biggest metal bands of the '90s, from Brazil? Or how the biggest underground metal genre of the late '90s, black metal, was started by a group of Norwegian teenagers? Significant underground bands have emerged from communities as diverse as Japan (Sigh) and Singapore (Impiety). (Note to black metallers: this may seem to directly contradict what I said in an earlier article, but without the catalytic influence of the second wave, black metal may well have died when Bathory recorded _Hammerheart_.)

This is in sharp contrast to the pop world, where if you are not from the UK or USA, forget it. Occasionally artists outside the Anglophone world get noticed, such as Icelandic weirdo pixie Bjork or Germany's Rammstein. But this is the exception, rather than the rule. But while Anglophone countries all contain considerable quality metal bands, they pale in comparison to their compatriots in Scandinavia, Germany -- even Russia, otherwise almost solely known musically for faux schoolgirl lesbian duo Tatu, gives British metal a considerable run for their money.

But not all countries are in the public's eye. Metal from Africa and the Middle East largely goes ignored, and thus I am led to the purpose of this article: to show that there is indeed a thriving metal community in this vast area. This scene is hardly homogenous, and circumstances differ widely.

This series of articles will look at bands from countries as diverse as Botswana, Israel and Iran, amongst many others.

Baluchistani Black Metal: Afghanistan

Although the Taliban (who have since become a byword for oppression and religious fanaticism) are no longer the de facto government in Afghanistan, the country is far from being an idyllic paradise. Nonetheless, Afghanistan has managed to give rise to one metal band: Taarma, who released their debut full-length _Remnants of a Tormenting Black Shadow_ earlier this year on Suffering Jesus Productions.

When asked about metal in Afghanistan, sole member Black Emperor Jogezai explains that there "are just a few individuals, including myself, who got into extreme metal since an early age."

Metal is not popular in Afghanistan, as "the general public tends to like local music or lighter genres, and there is a lack of awareness and interest in such extreme sounds, so it remains obscure like it was supposed to be."

"In Baluchistan, a few settler punjapees claim listening to some black metal without knowing what it is; that's because they have picked it up from here and there, television and Internet chatrooms, so they think it's the 'in' thing and a trend to impress others. I personally would like to inflict massacre upon such pestly human filths."

There is undoubtedly much truth in these words, but the same sentiments are often expressed by black metal bands in countries such as Finland or Germany, which hardly suffer from a lack of black metal. This isn't a wholly satisfactory explanation as to why there is only one metal band in a population of 22 million.

To my surprise, Black Emperor has not experienced much trouble from the authorities. However, he has difficulty distributing his material: "I cannot send CDs from here. The American Pakistani secret intelligence agencies have banned this service to the people, so no audio / video data can be sent through mail from Afghan / Baluchistan other than previewed and checked wedding videos. They claim that mail can be used for terrorism -- like come on, how retarded is that?"

Related review: Taarma - _Remnants of a Tormenting Black Shadow_

Bahrain

The author could only discover three bands from this tiny state who had released anything: Gravedom (who released a demo in 2005), Motor Militia (the first extreme Bahraini band) and Smouldering in Forgotten (whose debut full-length is due to be released in June 2007 by Old Cemetery Records). The scene doesn't appear to be too big, and Smouldering in Forgotten agree.

"There are only a handful of bands here that actually try to come up with original music, and most of them don't really last that long. Having said that, there are tons of cover bands here that only consider music as a trend and generally follow the mainstream. The biggest problem is that many local bands either don't have the dedication or the resources to produce their own music."

In Bahrain, metal faces other problems that the average European band doesn't have to deal with: "MP Mohammed Khalid, hailed as a religious leader by some, publicly accused kids at a local metal gig of being "Satan worshippers" that "drink the blood of cats" and "kidnap little children and eat them". This in turn started a media frenzy that rambled on for weeks about those noisy little devil worshippers running amok on our little island. One newspaper even published this topic on its front page and had a photograph of what a Satanist supposedly looks like -- it was a photo of Gene Simmons from Kiss, holding his bass high with his face painted and tongue sticking out. If that isn't ignorance, I don't know what is!"

They are quick to point out that anti-metal tendencies come from "individual fools pretending to be wise and religious while trying to gain the favour of the public so they can get elected into parliament."

"Take this guy, Mohammed Khalid, as an example. He worked so hard to show the public that their children were in danger of spiritual corruption, and that he could be their hero that can fight the good fight in the name of spiritual purity... if they gave him the power to do so. They did. Donkeys, all of them!"

To be continued...

(article submitted 15/4/2007)


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