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Different and therefore refreshing - 75%

oneyoudontknow, September 26th, 2009

Saudi-Arabia, is rarely found on the metal radar these days, but slowly and steadily musicians from Arabic/Islamic countries begin to spread their art. Astfhl Al Tha'r would be Al-Namrood's debut album and it continues where the band left off with the 3-way split Narcotized (Al-Namrood / Dhul-Qarnayn / Ayyur): black metal with clearly distinguishable Middle Eastern influences.

Actually, this description of their art might be misleading, as the compositions are different compared to what is generally offered in the bm scene. The song-writing is fresh in some respect and the impact of the guitars on the music is not always similar to a performance of a 'Western band'. At times, the impact of this instrument is rather small and nothing but a texture in the background. It supports the music, while other facets like drums or keyboards create the atmosphere and keep the song going; Ebadt Al Bashar for instance, especially towards the end. Rather calm and with a focus on tension and atmospheric elements can the art of this Saudi-Arabian band be described. This has of course also to do with the overall tempo of the music, which rarely reaches for the faster regions and seems to feel more comfortable in the slower respectively midtempo parts of the scale. This of course works better with the overall approach of the band, which is has something in common with those of ambient bands. Also Al-Namrood set a large focus in getting the atmosphere right and as the band has one basic approach, which is varied over the course of the album, they do not have much difficulties in getting this one right; negative perceptions of the art rather stem from the sound (production as well as instrumentation, i.e. drum-computer, certain samples) than from the band's concept.

Be it the guitars, the keyboards or the (occasional annoying) drum-computer, they all work together in some respect. Harshness and aggressiveness is here created rather through the vocals then by anything else; well, this has to do with the way the screams are performed of course, but other bands would not differer in this respect and their focus is shifted due to another overall set. Further, as the lyrics are rather something like texts sung by a person, than a typical chorus/rhyme scheme. Even after a good amount of spins there remains some form of ambivalence in the perception of them. This particular way of 'singing' works most certainly with the music and adds an important dominant facet to the concept. Nevertheless, due to the outré way on which the band proceeds here, the likeliness to reject this approach is given at a higher rate.

Some final words about the instruments. As already noted before wakes their play memories on the ambient genre and this has to do with the minimalism in the riffs and motives. The guitars play a melody line and have (occasional) also black metal riffs, but the play differs from what for example a band like Emperor would perform or Satyricon or Mütiilation. At times they are nothing but a texture in the background and have to share the room with the rest of the instruments. This increases the atmosphere, gives the art of Al-Namrood a identity, but is also an aspect the listener has to get used to. Accordingly might the first spin be a bit disappointing. An ambiguous aspect are also the drums. These offer on the one hand a not always optimal programmed as well as mixed drum-computer, while on the other one some neat percussion instruments from the Middle East help to support the atmosphere. Keyboards can be found in the background, but it is rare for them to play a dominant role.

Beyond the normal metal stuff, there are influences from the band's native cultural environment. These can be found in the rhythms, certain samples or sounds and they are the outstanding characteristic of this band. It is quite easy to distinguish the tracks on this release amongst other ones, as they have a special touch and atmosphere that has rarely (never?) found on Western music. Be it keyboards elements or percussion elements, any of these helps to increase the atmosphere as well as the fascination for this piece of art.

To criticize this album is by no means easy. Even though there are some flaws in the actual creation of the release, the perhaps gravest one might have to do with a matter of perception. Al-Namrood fail to create a consistent atmosphere and impression over the whole length of the release. Some compositions could be described as overtly plain and boring... especially the longer the release takes. Maybe this particular kind of music simply wears off a bit and the listener might find it difficult to appreciate the approach by this Saudi-Arabian band. Alright, there are too many vocals at times and less respectively better placed ones in the compositions would most certainly help the band to increase the fascination as well as to support the atmosphere. Further, a bit more variation in the tempo of the vocals would also be a neat thing to have, as the often monotonous but intense way in which the lyrics are 'sung' get a bit hard to endure the longer the release takes; see also the first point made in this paragraph. Finally, on some rare occasions there is some kind of crackling noise in the background -- Fe Zafrat Al Mout -- and even though it is not disturbing, it irritates though.

Final bits and bytes
Can influences from Islamic cultures help black metal to overcome its current short-comings? Might these new facets help to bring the music from this extreme genre on a new level as well as to move it out of its current stalemate? The potential which lies still barren in the country from the Middle East is immense; as well as in African countries. Metal bands from this region are given a hard time by their governments, so the likeliness to see a 'rise' or something similar soon is not very likely. Nevertheless, some of the nowadays bands already foreshadow what might be expected from these scene in the future. The art by Al-Namrood on Astfhl Al Tha'r is different from what the majority of the bands in the black metal scene perform. Even though the mixture on this release is not entirely convincing, it is still as such as to fascinate the listener and provide this person with an somewhat 'fresh' approach. Hopefully the band will overcome their current short-comings and bring their art on a new level with their next release. Real instruments, especially real drums or at least a better programming of the drum-computer, would help the band to increase the quality. Also more variation in the song-writing would be neat; the best moments on this release are those in which the instruments and the vocals found a neat balance and neither of them want to dominate the rest. Anyway, there are already some interesting moments on this debut album and it can be recommended to all those who wanted to give bands from the Middle East a try as well as those who search for something out of the ordinary routine.

Note: The releases comes with a professional printed booklet and CD. No lyrics were added, but an explanation on the topic of the compositions. Further, a more broader one can be found, too:
Al-Namrood present you these 10 tracks which mainly embody the archaic dark ages, the ages that were filled with tyrannical flames and evil mightiness. What are we see now as remains of a collapsed structure. This release comprises historical legends, like King Nimrod, Nebuchadnezzar, Mogul, Gog and Magog, also some archaic Eras like Al Jahiliyah (Pre-Arabs period of ignorance), merged with Black Metal atmosphere and extreme Misanthropic themes.

taken from the booklet.

Recommended tracks: Ebadt Al Bashar, Entesarat Al Ashawes, Fe Al Diajee Td'hudh Nafs Rakhisa, Ya'jooj Wa Ma'jool