Desert Demons - Part IV
A look at African and Middle Eastern Metal
by: Quentin Kalis
Part IV examines the scene in Israel.

Israel: Metal Up Your Tahat!

Out of all the countries that have and will be featured in this series, Israel has the most established and largest scene by a considerable margin. Melechesh, Orphaned Land and Salem are household names, whilst relative newcomers Betzefer are signed to Roadrunner -- hardly a minor independent! The scene is assisted by an environment that is not particularly hostile to metal, and unsavoury incidents involving a clash between government authorities and metal are limited.

"I can recall an actual governmental debate on one of Salem's songs, called "Ha'ayra Boe'ret" (Hebrew for "The Town Is on Fire")", state newcomers Abed. "That song is a traditional song, which is identified with the Holocaust. Salem covered that song in their then-doom-metal way, with no disrespect, and it upset some of the old farts in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) and even reached prime-time TV debate."

The proverbial storm in a teacup did little to harm Israeli metal and is more of an amusing anecdote, much like Bob Dole's (1996 US presidential candidate) comments on the evils of Cannibal Corpse, rather than the substantial problems faced by metal fans in many of Israel's neighbours.

This does not necessarily translate into widespread public acceptance. In Distorted's view, "Israel is still not very open minded about metal music; I mean, most of the people still thinks that metal is all about Satan's culture and killing animals, they don't see the music and the ideal behind the name." But Morgenrot of Winterhorde feels a bit differently: "Metal isn't a pariah -- it's a strong stream and getting stronger every moment." This difference in viewpoint could arise from the difference in styles: Winterhorde is a black metal band, whilst Distorted have a more accessible style and consequently cater to different markets.

The Israeli metal scene seems to have started in the late 1980s, with the arrival of Salem. "There were other bands in the late 80s (such as Acheron Gates and Amaxez) but they didn't make any impact to actually be remembered", explains Sitri, of Anura Dimentia. "Since the late 80s till the late 90s many other bands popped up", continues Sitri; "some of them are known and active till this day, others are forgotten."

Alex, of The Knell, expresses a similar sentiment: "I cannot know if it was one of the first metal acts around (probably they were not), but one can be sure it was the first innovative band. Their struggle actually opened the doors for more commercially oriented bands, and that is exactly what followed. One of the better examples of that time is Stella Maris."

The distantly related Israeli power electronics scene was galvanised by immigrants from ex-Soviet states, and I wondered whether the same could be said of Israeli metal. Sitri suggests that "the large number of immigrants in the 90s is what made the Israeli metal scene erupt and get some power. The reason for it is probably that metal music is more popular around [the ex-]USSR, and the immigrants are bringing this love of heavy music to the places they move to." The Knell's Alex simply states that "when you have a high percentage of people of some ethnic or national group in the country, you are bound to have them playing some role in the art as well."

Israel is a heavily militarised society, especially by comparison to Western society, and I wonder whether this has any impact on the metal scene. "I have noticed many good young bands are falling apart at the time some of the musicians are required to leave for the military service", states Sitri. "This is a problem, but it is how we live; bands of guys aged sixteen or seventeen are popping up every day, but they are quick to split up and fall apart when two or three members go to the army at eighteen."

"There is always an impact", contends Alex. "Israel is militarized, always threatening and threatened, dealing with economical, personal and political problems. Music is a channel for all these things. There are war themes, there are peace themes, there are surviving stories and personal messages. They are neither positive nor negative -- honest mistakes and revelations alike merely amplified."

Whilst the cities do not have different styles, Alec suggests that "Tel Aviv is more open towards everything, including metal. People are more open, more outgoing. Jerusalem, on the other hand, is self-involved and introvert. If there are concerts, they are obviously in Tel Aviv."

My limited exposure suggests that Israel has quite a varied scene, and this is confirmed by Abed. "90% of the metal bands in Israel are extreme metal bands. It's varied, from (brutal and melodic) death metal to black metal, doom metal and combinations."

But not all genres are well represented. "Thrash metal barely exists, and power metal is represented only by two or three bands." This seems like a rather unusual state of affairs, but Abed offers a tentative explanation. "We live in a metal scene that was raised on Death, Morbid Angel, Kreator and Mayhem rather than Judas Priest, Queensryche, Dio or Dokken. Most of the Israeli metal bands would rather stick to the regular guns, providing state-of-the-art metal in their own way."

This is not to say that Israeli metal is stuck in some sort of time warp, as more recent bands have also made their mark. "In the last two to three years, since Meshuggah, Mastodon, Lamb of God and The Dillinger Escape Plan made their influence on the metal scene, there is a new direction that flows in our lovely metal swamp", they proudly proclaim.

Indeed there is. Israel may be the size of a game park, but they do possess a strong cross selection of bands, and will surely go from strength to strength in the years to come.

(article submitted 11/5/2008)

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