In the deserts of Saudi Arabia, where ignorance reigns and religious doctrine is literally law, media is one of the things that was off the radar. It is quite a fortunate thing in some ways that the officials there are quite ignorant of Western music. If it were not for that fact, Metal never would have planted the desire for meaningful music within those seeking a rational world in the desolation of vacant minds that surround them. From these seeds sprang a sparse few amazing individuals that have thankfully managed to make contact with one another in-order to create the music they have come to love.
One would not expect Metal to meld so well with one raised in such harsh conditions, but Black Metal? Not a snowball’s chance in hell….right? Wrong. Once you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Black Metal is a division of the musical world that delves deeply in rejection and questioning of traditional religious and/or spiritual beliefs. Rather than expressing just sorrow, artists in this genre typically express their frustration, hate, and anger with the religious world around them. So contrary to popular belief, it’s not ALL about glorifying the many varied forms of Satanism (though that does play a large role in some of the most prominent bands of the genre). I suppose you can see where I’m going with this by now. Black Metal is the perfect genre for those seeking intellectual freedom in the highly oppressive world of Islam and Arab culture.
Inspired by older Darkthrone (as well as Dark Funeral, Marduk, Gorgoroth, and older Bathory), one man known as Mephisto set out on a journey to find like-minded individuals in Saudi Arabia. His tenacity paid off and he formed his first band called Mephisophilus with Mukadars doing vocals plus lyric writing and Darius on drums. Though not the focus of this particular review, this band helped with two important things: to further develop the musical skill and/or taste of Mephisto and it’s eventual demise led to the creation of Al-Namrood. The reason for disbanding Mephisophilus is not a strange one given the region they are from. The fact of the matter is, many Black Metal bands from the Middle East and North Africa have disbanded or have faded into obscurity due to pressure from their governments and society.
And so, it is with great pleasure that I report that Al-Namrood is quite active with the following new line-up: Mudamer (from the one man-band, Thamud) on vocals, Mephisto on Guitar/Bass/Percussion and Ostron on Oriental Keyboards/Percussion. The name Al-Namrood is derived from an ancient historical autocratic figure, King Nimrod, a despot who reigned with great evil. He slaughtered many and claimed, “I am the god of all creation”. The idea of making Arabian folk inspired metal was suggested by Mukadars. He discussed the idea with Ostron and they ended up making one demo track which they thought worked. However, they lacked the presence of guitar and bass. That’s when Mephisto joined them and suggested the idea of combining the Arabian aesthetics and music style with those of Black Metal. What you get musically, is some amazingly beautiful and brutal stuff. Lyrics are all in Arabic, but we’ll get more in-depth with that later on.
The beauty of the music is not in the classical Western sense. That is where the uniqueness and innovation of this band comes into play. Where a symphonic black metal band from Europe would use violins and violas, these guys use an Oud (an ancient Middle Eastern and North African guitar) and the Tabla (African hand drum whose form varies from country to country). It does not stop there though. No, they meld the traditional with the Western so well that sometimes I have trouble distinguishing which style inspired which in particular riffs and drum beats. For examples, I will be drawing from and featuring their latest release “Estorat Taghoot” (meaning “A Legend of Tyranny”), a full length album released in April 2010.
They mimic the basic melodies and rhythms of the Oud and downtuned Violins used in Middle Eastern music almost perfectly with the guitar and keyboards. Take the title song of the album, “Estorat Taghoot”. Starts out with the guitar playing an Oud melody and very fast paced drumming then the keyboards move in on small intervals enforcing the Arabian melody, during which, the drums crash in on the high points. Then the keyboards take center stage for a few seconds before the vocals kick in. The vocals are just raw and brutal on this album in general. Also, this track and album is really bassy. This is not something that is typical of Black Metal so I felt that it should be mentioned and emphasized. When the vocals break into this song, so does the bass and it stays for the entirety of the song complementing the guitar perfectly. At one point in the song, it has a short solo with the keyboards. The drumming remains solid and in-tune with the many changes in this song’s pace. The breakdown is classic Black Metal in style, but the presence of the bass makes it very doomy. The the keyboards layer on, but despite the higher notes that it offers to the mix, it still sounds so dark and creepy. That just sets the theme for the rest of the song because basically all the bass and guitar are doing is mimicking the melody set by the keyboards. No dark atmosphere is compromised as it ends with the keyboards having the last say.
This song generally sums up the general feel and atmosphere of the album. Variations come in with the type of Middle Eastern melody they want to showcase along with which Middle Eastern instrument they want to highlight most in a song. Also, moods tend to vary from their more brutal and vicious songs to their more dark, creepy and ancient sounding songs. Their title track was a good blend of both variations.
Let’s take “Ma’dabt Al Audhama” (meaning “The Magnificence’s Feast”), which also happens to be my favorite song by them and an instrumental, as an example of their more dark ancient songs. Song starts out with strong drums punching right into and dieing off at an Oud playing a dark melody whose inspiration could just as well be attributed to either classic Black Metal or Middle Eastern music interchangeably. To those unaccustomed to the sound of an Oud, the picking may sound out of tune but still fitting to the music. Keyboard mimics downtuned violins in the background then it has it’s solo which introduces the drums to the mix once more. Oud takes center stage again but with the drums and keyboards as more prominent partners in the background. All through-out the guitar is playing ambient fuzz, adding on to the harmony of the Oud and everything else going on. The drums are fast paced and a mix between Tabla beats and basic metal beats. The exchange between the Oud and keyboards continues for a few more cycles allowing the melody to progress into a more Middle Eastern sound before the breakdown comes in. In comes the bass, playing the persisting rhythm of this song and setting a doom element to the song. The guitar comes in more strongly now, playing the part of the Oud with another guitar that comes in doing some crazy classic Heavy Metal soloing overlaying it all. Just crazy and unexpected and it works so well because while it sounds like classical Heavy Metal, it’s the guitarist mimicing an Oud player (this also appears in other songs on the album, something that I will get to later). Oud comes in this time as the prominent player but the guitars and bass don’t die off this time. Instead they merely take an audible backseat for a bit. This exchange between the guitars and the Oud persists until the end of the song which is culminated by a very short classic guitar riff.
The progression of the album is very interesting with three instrumentals, each setting the mood and style for the songs that follow after them. The first track of the album, “Arousal At Nebuchadnezzar Fortress”, is purely a dark and ancient sounding Middle Eastern instrumental with no guitars or western drums. Only keyboards, Oud and Tabla are present. Songs that follow noticeably take influence from that mood with more interplay with the Middle Eastern instruments. The songs after that slowly progress into a more brutal and fast paced atmosphere using purely Western instruments to play out the Middle Eastern melodies. By the time you reach the fifth track, “Endma Tuqsaf Al Ru’os” (meaning “When the Heads are Minced”), the only clear Middle Eastern element that is present to the unaccustomed ear are the keyboards and the short solo plus backseat role that the Oud plays later in the song. That just sets the mood up perfectly for the second instrumental, “Ma’dabt Al Audhama” whose end heralds the crazy guitar soloing that is to be found in all the songs following it. By the time we get to “Wata’a Bakhtanasar” (meaning “Nebuchadnezzar March”), we are immersed in familiar doomy and dark Black Metal territory. Songs have a noticeable Middle Eastern slant in a way that is surely more authentic in sound than Nile and more reminiscent of older Melechesh. The album’s closing instrumental, “Ajal Babel” (meaning “Demise of Babylon”) sums up the pure evil that emanated from the latter portion of the album perfectly. Middle Eastern influence strongly intact without the use of any of their traditional instruments.
Since their lyrics are all in Arabic, I feel it necessary to transcribe the lyrical themes they set for each album here. These are brief summaries, but overall their inspirations are brutal warlike tactics:
Atba’a AlNamrood EP (2008): the main theme is about King Nimrod’s Era, the Nimrod legion and despotic age.
Asfhl Al-Tha’ar LP (2009): the main theme was vengeance. It was about warriors who got betrayed by their own people, how a strong desire for vengeance was fueling their souls as they made it at the end. Sub-themes were added like “Gog & Majooj”and Al-Jahiliyah (“Days of Ignorance,” Islamic concept referring to the condition Arabs found themselves in pre-Islamic Arabia).
Estorat Taghoot LP (2010): this release was initially built on Babylon’s ancient era. The main focus is “Nebuchadnezzar” who reigned in Babylon at 650 BC. The storyline also includes events of bloodshed that involved the ancient Arabs at that time.
This album is well worth the meager $12 you will pay for it’s purchase. Their releases can be found on Amazon as well as CDBaby. Check out their myspace page and their record label, Shayateen Productions located in Canada, for direct purchases. For further information on the bands mentioned here, check out these Encylopaedia Metallum links: Al-Namrood, Thamud, Narjahanam, Gravedom, Smouldering in Forgotten, and Mephisophilus.