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An epic journey thru fusion Oriental black metal - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, July 19th, 2014

You'd think living in the heartland of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam would deter most from forming anything other than short-lived solo online bedroom black metal projects yet here's a Saudi band that has already released several recordings including four albums. Al Namrood is the band's name and the album under review, the trio's fourth, came out early in 2014, demonstrating that this project is alive and certainly kicking!. And kicking - the percussion, that is - is what they do best!

The band's style is a mix of crunchy melodic black metal with maybe some death metal / thrash influences and native Arab / Oriental musical styles and instrumentation. Generally the beats and rhythms are provided by Western instruments including a drum machine and those instruments that take the place of lead guitar tend to be native Arabian ones. Even the main melodies are of native Arab derivation and the band also employs chords and melodic or riff motifs with quarter-tones that lend a demented air to the general proceedings. Opening track "Estalahat al Harb" is a fine instrumental demonstration of this East-West fusion and its air of surreal, slightly chaotic confusion prepares listeners for what's to come.

The sound is not as crisp as it could be to show off the richness of the sonic layers inherent in the music - I'd love to hear some of the jewelled tones of the oud and more of that resonant hand-drumming - but given the difficult conditions Al Namrood is performing under, the fact that this music even exists is a wonder so some technical imperfections in the recording are to be expected. What the musicians might lack in technical finesse, they more than compensate with energy, enthusiasm (maybe a little too much so: in some songs, the percussion is in danger of being punched right through), the most deliriously demented cartoon melodies and a choir of bloodcurdling guttural voices fighting for space in front of the mikes. The sense of humour these guys have is infectious and boisterous.

Some of the more memorable tracks include the brain-destroying, mind-melting "Youm Yakram al Jaban" and the more flowing if more chaotic "Bat Al Thaar Nar Muheja". "Um Al Qashaam" features the most thunderous beats and blast-beats along with almost laughably cartoony deranged quarter-tone melodies. Each succeeding song is crazier than the one before and I just wonder where and how the guys find the inspiration to think up the most batshit insane tunes and rhythms as each song wipes my brain clean of everything it thought it knew. I'm sure the musicians themselves can see the humour present in mashing together the most brutal metal rhythms and beats and Oriental tunes. For their part, Western listeners can experience something of the surrealism that folks in the Middle East have to live with, in societies at once ultra-modern and wealthy, yet still wrestling with an oppressive medieval political culture and the instability in nearby countries like Iraq and Syria.

As it progresses, the madness and the histrionics escalate further and the music threatens to drown under the sheer thunder and the almost-buffoonish melodies, rhythms and beats. Perhaps that chaos is part of what Al Namrood guys intend to say: that they live in an absurd world of unlikely pairings and polarities, and the only way to make sense of it all is to reflect some of that madness back at it.

The journey through the album is very exhausting and I'm not sure that I'd want to repeat it over and over. Maybe at least I'll visit once or twice a year. But like the hajj itself for devout Muslims, this is a visit that everyone should try to make at least once!

Addicting - 85%

hardturdbutthurt, May 17th, 2014

Playing in a black metal band in Saudi Arabia, in one of the world's most authoritarian states, means recording your music clandestinely, at home. It means not playing live shows and not being in touch with the local music scene, ordering your instruments from abroad and sending them abroad, secretly, to have them repaired. These are the conditions under which AlNamrood have recorded four albums so far, "Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq" being the fourth. If the band members' real names were to come out, they'd face prison sentences or worse. Apostasy and blasphemy can be punished by death in their country.

Black metal being all about rebellion, AlNamrood are closer to the spirit of the first wave of black metal than all the corpsepainted middle-class kids in Northern Europe pretending to worship Satan and to fight a Christianity that's almost disappeared from their lives. AlNamrood actually have something to fight against and put themselves in great danger by recording their music, although they don't even openly criticize the modern Saudi state and its religion. Instead, they work with parables. Their lyrics have always been about ancient Arabic history, king Nebuchadnezzar, Babylonian tyrants, and the hero Nimrod who defied Allah and inspired the band's name.

Calling AlNamrood's music black metal doesn't fully do it justice. Sure, the riffs are undeniably influenced by first and second wave Northern black metal, but the band has its own style that's almost closer to Arabic folk music than to black metal. Even some of the guitar leads and drum patterns sound oriental. But what really makes this unique is the major role that traditional instruments play in the band's distinctive sound. Just listen to the opening song, "Estahalat Al Harb", an instrumental track driven forward by a repetitive riff. At about 45 seconds in, an instrument that we Westeners can't even name sets in with a wild melody. It's so amazing that it makes you forget the poor sound of the album.

Given the difficult circumstances of recording this and the band's other albums, it's no wonder the production has deficits. Since the band has no drummer and finding one is probably pretty difficult when you have to work in secret, AlNamrood use a drum computer. The overall sound is messy and disharmonious, the guitar sounds scratchy and the vocals overdriven. However, once you get used to it, it adds a raw edge to the songs that fits them rather well and, as I've mentioned above, AlNamrood's music is so fascinating that you probably won't care much for these flaws.

Each song has plenty of great melodies and, except on two instrumental tracks, fantastic vocals by new band member Humbaba. Earlier albums featured the usual black metal shrieking, but on "Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq", Humbaba shouts and laughs in Arabic like a madman, which suits the music way better. Though I wouldn't call AlNamrood's music progressive, there's so much happening on so many different levels that it takes some time to get into the songs. You'll willingly take this time because "Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq" is addicting. Great, great stuff.