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Interesting but nevertheless a bit too sterile. - 71%

oneyoudontknow, May 5th, 2013

Metal from the Middle East is a curious thing. This type of music and the cultural environment are quite likely to clash in one way or another, which brings the musicians in a rather awkward position that, might even endanger their life in one way or another. For instance, a radical black metal band spreading music in Iran requires some amount of braveness (or insanity?) and awareness on how not to be caught by the authorities. In our days the Internet enables bands to distribute their art outside of their local realm and pseudonyms grant the musicians (the vague hope of) a second identity.

Estorat Taghoot, the second full-length album, differs from the preceding one due to a change in character. The 2009 one (استفحل الثأر) had the titles and lyrics printed in Arabic, which added a strange touch to the overall perception, because a listener from outside the cultural sphere had to deal with two issues: the Arabic language as well as the (for us indecipherable) typologies. The aspect of having to read from right to left is a minor obstacle in this regard. With “Estorat Taghoot” and continuing with “Kitab Al Awthan” none of the booklets contain any texts. Aside from a short description the listener is left in the dark about the actual background of the album. Whether this is good or bad can be debated.

Once the listener has passed the opening instrumental, the band from Saudi Arabia unleashes their distinct black metal brew. Even though the emphasis is put on this particular genre, the overall concept is much broader and relies on additional sounds and noises from this region. Sadly, these appear in a somewhat sterile and synthesized version, which takes away some of the fascination and atmosphere. The aspect of a drum-computer alone is a nuisance, which happens to appear throughout the entire discography of the band, but the overall aspect cuts deeper in this regard. With the use of electronic equipment instead of real instruments – in terms of certain traditional equipment –, facets of the music resemble in style a certain trend in the West: the merging of occidental and oriental ideas. Yet how this all plays out is rather from the perspective of the former region than the latter, which adds a strange touch to it all. A pseudo-reality is established, which, for numerous reasons, can be difficult to differentiate from another one. Maybe this line of reasoning sets the bar too high for bands from countries, whose socio-cultural environment makes it difficult on various levels to play, record and spread metal anyway. Nevertheless, this matter has become of some importance recently and should be discussed accordingly.

AlNamrood play black metal with a certain focus on speed and dynamics. Calm and quite moments are rather rare and it seems the band does not feel overtly impressed by such a counterpoint. Guitars and vocals create together a dominant alliance, whose lines are hardly ever penetrated. In concept it is somewhat conservative and does not attempt to be too progressive, which finds expression in the tendency to play one melody line with all instruments. The examples of bands, whose concept would be similar to this are legion, which brings the musicians from Saudi Arabia in good company. With some kind of variation in the instrumentation and the elements this aspect can be compensated a bit, but in case the drums are too dominant, it all feels a bit awkward and tiring. There is this air of a “safe approach” that hangs around this release. Reaching out to audiences outside of the own realm, because of rather obvious reasons, while trying to add just enough nuances to stand out in the interpretation of the black metal genre without leaving too much of a bitter taste. Distorted vocals, often with multiple layers, add a certain amount of aggressiveness to the performance, which comes with guitars on top of it.

It is an interesting though occasionally slightly sterile release. Also the air of the underground cannot be shaken off entirely; this can especially be felt in the drum-computer, whose programming is anything but optimal. Nevertheless, the second album from this band can be seen as an example that even under such severe cultural restrictions, like they are common the Saudi Arabia, extreme music like black metal can flourish to some extent. Purists might sniff at this performance, but those who happen to look beyond the immediate should give this release a try.

Based on a review originally written for ‘A dead spot of light (Number 22)’:

The Enigmatic Al-Namrood - 100%

saturnword, April 16th, 2011

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 olderBathory), 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 (from Narjahanam, Gravedom, and Smouldering in Forgotten) 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 the two prominent band members (Mephisto and Mukadars) 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.