Desert Demons - Part II
A look at African and Middle Eastern Metal
by: Quentin Kalis
Part II looks at the scenes in Botswana and Iran.

Botswana: Kalahari Knights

Located at the southern end of Africa, Botswana is a sparsely populated country which has given rise to a mere handful of bands. Foremost among them is Metal Orizon, who released several independent albums. Their hard rock tinged heavy metal could be heard on national radio stations in neighbouring South Africa, where they also performed at a number of rock festivals. No new material has been released since 2001, and it is presumed that they have now broken up. The flame of Botswani metal has now fallen to Wrust, who have just released their debut album in April 2007 through Witchdoctor Records.

The only other active metal band from Botswana appears to be Crackdust, a new band with just a single released last year to their discography. By any standards, the scene is minute; but Stux Daemon (vocalist, Wrust) remains unfazed.

"The population of Botswana is 1.7 million people. 50% have never heard anything about rock, let alone metal music. About 25% love music. Then cut that by half for the Gospel music lovers. Now we are looking at 12.5% of the population, which loves hip-hop, R&B, local genres and jazz. I will then say maybe less than 1% of the population is into rock, then 0.05% into extreme metal. I guess you get the idea."

That still leaves about 8000 people, but the point is made.

The lack of support also means it is not that easy to get gigs in their homeland, and Wrust frequently perform in South Africa, where there is a stronger metal community. Stux is enigmatic when asked about the status of Botswani metal: "I think that no other metal band has actually gone for the world domination or something like that!"

Iran: Mesopotamian Metal

"You can form a band and get a CD deal one week later, if you come from Scandinavia, for example, it is really easy! In places like the Middle-East, Asia or Latin America, you have to fight hard for your band. When we released 7" EPs by bands like Dying Embrace (India) or Anal Vomit (Peru), they had existed for ten years or so, and these vinyl records were their first official ones -- they just had demos out, while the most shitty European band can release several CDs each year! We can't stand this situation." (Shaxul, Legion of Death Records.)

Metal music faces many obstacles in the Persian land, but all can be traced back to one major problem summed up succinctly by Djinn (not his real or stage name): "ROCK MUSIC IS BANNED IN IRAN" (his emphasis). The music that you and I love with a passion is considered unIslamic, and hence illegal. Yet despite the oppressive nature, there is a nascent Iranian metal scene; a scene that is sufficiently strong that it puts to shame many others covered in this series.

While a number of bands were keen to contribute to this article, not all were prepared to have either their birth or stage names mentioned. "All rock and metal concerts are cancelled by government without any reason given. I've not been able to release my original CDs in Iran."

"As you know, metal is both music and ideology; in Iran or other Islamic country, it is so hard for you to do music like metal because both religious people and the government are against you. You are not allowed to do a live concert, and there are no record labels or studios for metal music."

When asked about why Iranian metal is not known to the wider world, Djinn did not mince their words.

"There is no way to make yourself heard. How can anybody know about Djinn when you can not talk about it? When you can not send your music? When you are a forbidden act? When you can not release? When you cannot perform? When you cannot record? How can you breathe? How could you let them know that you are alive?"

If a power metal act faces these kinds of problems, what about black metal -- a genre known for its unsubtle Satanic overtures? Paradoxically, they experience fewer problems. Tiamat (not his real or stage name) does not report having the same problems.

"I haven't any concerts, I haven't any meetings with my fans, I've not released my original CDs in Iran... but many metal or rock bands in here are faced with problems from the government because they want to have concerts or bigger actions."

More accurately, that should be "attempt to hold a concert". Tiamat echoes Djinn's concerns that "almost all rock and metal concerts will be cancelled by government without any acceptable reason given. Maybe the only reason is that they don't like this style or think that metal is a danger for them."

Nazhand, however, suggest that this is because in "Persian black metal we respect the underground bands more."

This has resulted in a strong DIY culture in Iran's metal community, more so than perhaps anywhere else, and due more to circumstances than choice. Farzad Golpayegani explains that the above problems mean that "producers don't intend to work in this genre, and usually we work on our own and we have to do different stuff for having a record or concert. For instance when I want to release an album, I do everything from writing the song to distributing the CD by myself! Because if I don't, I'll not have a record, and it made me learn about recording, mixing, mastering, how to print on CD..."

Raga are one band who tried to hold a concert. "In the summer we had a concert in one of the parks in Tehran. With many problems (they also asked us why did you wear black, why your hair is so long, and many more) we could go on stage, and after three tracks they canceled the live show and... anyway, these are our problems. We will continue and work so hard to do something good."

Surreally, the situation -- at least in Farzad Golpayegani's opinion -- has improved. "I remember the time that we couldn't carry or even own any musical instrument, and there wasn't any good music store in the whole town, it was kind of illicit. Of course we can carry our guitars at the moment! But the situation in these past two years has become harder."

Despite all this, there is a scene that puts most of their neighbours to shame. Most genres are represented, from power metal (Ahoora) through to the primacy of black metal (Sorg Inkallelse), death and thrash metal. One cannot help but wonder whether the allure of forbidden fruit is a factor.

"I think that banning something always has an effect", remarks Shaxul, former member of Hirilorn and founder of Legion of Death Records. "Censorship always leads some bands to do what is censored! In a way, this can be seen as positive for the creativity of some artists, but on the other hand it is ridiculous to see that there are still governments banning everything coming from the west."

No record labels. Concerts are illegal, and even if one is held, it is likely to be summarily cancelled. Quite frankly, the problems faced by a group of young adults who just want to make the music they love cause the "problems" faced by western metal bands to seem insignificant by comparison. It also makes me appreciate the freedom that we at Chronicles of Chaos take for granted -- the freedom to listen to music of our choice. Iranian metalheads, we humbly salute you.

(article submitted 25/5/2007)

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