On Syrian Metal: Times Of War
February 1, 2014
I’m a Syrian citizen, seventeen years of age, born and raised in Damascus, Syria. I am a free-thinker who believes in the human mind, secularism, and liberty on all aspects of life; whether religious beliefs, political affiliations, sexual orientations, musical preferences, or any other form of lifestyle variations, unlike your everyday middle eastern.
I have lived a life of oppression, whether at school, home, or the streets. I have lived a life of fear of the notorious torture methods that would ensue any person who has beliefs that don’t go hand-in-hand with society’s. The oppression I speak of here is anything from religious hatred, oppression of free thought, creative thinking, life choices, to the persecution against all sorts of private freedoms.
I tried to relate to my country, but I found it unwilling of taking me as one of its own, and I realized that even though I’ve lived all of my life in it, it never actually contained me. The land isn’t the matter, but the people who inhabit it, each and every last one of this society’s ingredients.
In 2011 came an uprising that called for freedom and anti-hatred, liberty from corruption and fascism, an uprising that divided the Syrian people to either pro-regime or anti-regime then split both sides to a few more sub-sides, bringing people to a state of chaos, and it wasn’t too late until this uprising was exploited by religious fanatics wanting to enforce Shari’a law on Syria. Thus I found myself and my rights put down to a minimum and left with an everlasting danger of death at any given moment, due to the outbreak of a civil war, followed by a proxy war and a spill-over that overtook the Levant by force.
So I hung on to a thread of hope in people who loosely believe in the same things I did, we are one big pro-peace, anti-firearms group of people, we believe in the power of words and the fertility of minds. No matter how big our differences were, we still found a middle ground in our interactions based on morality that is long lost in today’s society. However, what truly brought me hope is music, a certain glorious genre of music called Metal. The most oppressed, yet most liberating music of all time, which I have proudly been related to the subculture and community it globally formed for about four years now. My love for the music, fused with my opposition to society’s norms eventually overruled my longing to be socially acceptable, so I gathered with a few friends and started a band, only to be met with newer difficulties concerning the overall musical reproduction in Syria. Personally, I enrolled myself even farther into the metal community, I collaborated with several bands and artists, co-planned many projects for the future, tried to reshape the Syrian metal to be organized under a banner of metal brotherhood, and took it upon me to do anything in my power to bring Syrian metal to international acclaim, I dedicated my life to Syrian Metal and I even got beaten up and was subjected to arrest many times just because I was a metalhead. A price that most metalheads pay just for being who they are, for listening to the music they listen to, for frowning at the face of oppression.
Metal music’s existence in Syria isn’t new, it’s been here since the early 90’s, and many of my older metalhead friends witnessed a whole era of underground tape trading days, where they’d smuggle cassettes through Lebanon’s borders. It was never easy for metalheads in Syria, they have dealt with a lot of hatred, oppression, and neglect by society and the government alike, they were met with several arbitrary arrest sprees, the largest-scaled one being the 2006 which lead to the arrest of metalheads beyond my count, since the government thought of metal as a threat to the main idealism of Islam, the religion of the majority in Syria and the Middle East, and the common reputation of metalheads being “Satanists”.
Metalheads never had their subculture supported in Syria, meaning there were no shops to buy records or band T-shirts, all metal and rock concerts were banned, and instruments weren’t good enough for any decent music quality to be played or recorded for that matter. These were the early days of the Metal movement in Syria, where the first wave of metalheads emerged, along with a few bands like Nu.Clear.Dawn, Slumpark Correctional, Absentation, Orion, and Black Castle.
In the Syrian events, metalheads were stricken with a new Tartary spree of arrests in fear of them turning to a revolutionary force against the government, apart from the common reason which started the earlier sprees. The emergency state, or the given right for a policeman or an officer to arrest anyone by judging their looks, leading the lives of too many metalheads to waste, was claimed to be over. The Syrian metal scene before that was waning, people who were metalheads didn’t look the part nor did they speak out about their musical preferences or musicianship; but after the emergency state ended, it became somewhat liberating and refreshing. I am proud to say I was a contributor on a low scale in giving people my age the will to wear their self-printed metal shirts, ripped jeans and boots, and to flash the horns publicly, until the officers –after a few encounters- started getting used to our presence and embracing it, until it has eventually been settled that metalheads are back, and furiously for that matter. That being said, many bands emerged during the Syrian war, and the metal scene grew so quickly it was hard to be kept up with, bringing the birth of what we proudly call the New Wave of Syrian Metal.
Among the bands that emerged, Eulen was the first band to release a full-length album in the new wave, that being their debut album entitled “Mother Tree”, making them a highlight band in Syria, and being the first band to incorporate post-metal elements in their music, making them the first band to do that in the Middle East.
A band such as Anarchadia embraced the cause of Syrian events and let everyone know of their views towards it, their name says most about it; they became a highlight band through their modern-thrash metal sound and their collaboration with Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth.
Netherion, a death metal band from Damascus, gave its opinion in a philosophical way and expressed its hate towards everything that restrained metal and the poorer levels of society, reaching the highlight status by making the first official high quality music video in the new wave, and having a distinct sound through mixing many sub-genres of death metal into one.
Bands like Eulen and Psychiatric Delusions took a very different approach in spreading their word, coming in an indirect way by using expressions that can be interpreted in many ways around, addressing bad luck, lunacy, frustration, and the mental illnesses which the community has been unaware of finally appeared greatly in the music and the atmosphere. All together they combine the different sides of Syrian citizen and a metalhead’s personality and way of life, and gives them something to relate to. When bands like Abidetherein directly addresses the genocides and war crimes committed everyday on Syrian soil by both the Syrian army and the Islamist forces. Bands like Ecliptic Dawn focuses more on the terrain itself and writes songs about nature and so very little social and political influences, reaching highlight status by releasing the first gothic/doom metal album in Syria and the Middle East “Elysian Hypnosis”.
Then there are bands like Crescent Moon and Theoria, focusing on being morbidly depressive yet hope-giving to the point where you are unsure whether it’s a realistic reflection of reality unto music, or the other way around, coming to highlight status by being the two bands from Aleppo to release original material and full-lengths. Syrian Metal was met with enough respect and made it’s name in the international underground scenes, sometimes through solo work of bands, and sometimes through collaborations with well known metal artists from abroad, either way, it left its mark on the world, and it has been growing since its initiation with bands like Laxsid, Brotherhood, M-81, Viieden, Sumon, Clay Maze, Ascendant, Cosmic Despair, Innzmouth, Darkspell, Ezkhaton, and Orchid.
The more we spend time in this merciless war, the more we unveil truths that were hidden by both the government and people, seeing as corruption and chaos have become widely spread, and are now critical parts of a Syrian’s everyday life, exploits by marketers and salesmen has greatly affected everyone in the country, and even brought the Syrian scene to a temporary hibernating state after many band members have decided to flee the country, whether for escaping the mandatory military service, or simply for attempting to pursue music elsewhere in the world. As for those who remain in the country, it has become difficult to even maintain a living, let alone reaching the studios in such bad circumstances where you’d have to stop for two hours at roadblocks every now and then, and not having electricity for working the computers and mixers needed for recording and rehearsing. Between this and that, music in Syria has reached another hibernating state in 2013, but it will definitely be back in 2014.
As I write this article, I don’t know whether I will be arrested and restrained from my life even more, or be greeted with bravery by my fellow metalheads, either way, truth is due said, and the metal will always live, in us, in Syria, in the middle east, and in every metalheads’ heart, for a wise man once said “Metal is an identity, metal is freedom, and now, we are a global tribe” –Sam Dunn.
Enjoy yourselves in peace, for war is only a vile and a violent way of expression, when metal is the exact opposite.. let’s hope for understanding, and if it’s not granted, we shall take it, may we always keep our chins high and the horns higher, for we are metalheads, and we’ll never cease to be. From Damascus, with love!