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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.