Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Bleeding Ears, Heart
The 2007 Vice documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad made a deep enough impact on my social world that, without having seen the film, I've been peripherally aware of its subject, Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda, for some time. Now, after enduring persecution for playing metal in their homeland, war, and finally two years in refugee camps, the trio is living and gigging in New York, thanks to help from Vice. Vice has also just released their EP, Only the Dead See the End of the War, recorded with Alex Skolnik of Testament.
The mainstream press is all over the story, so I'll just pass you this New York Times piece,"One Band Moves Its Metal Out of Iraq." (Short version: They have been granted refugee status and got to meet Metallica!) The Star-Ledger has good piece too: "Acrassicauda: Iraqi heavy-metal band finds new home in NJ and NY."
The four-song EP is a short, fast ride through a gray landscape of disciplined chug-chug riffs and spiraling, er, arabesques. With its tinge of middle eastern rhythm and tonality and vocals that sound both outraged and mournful, "Garden of Stones" is definitely the single; while "Message from Baghdad" closes things out on a note of pure, driving, demonic fun. That is, if the word fun can really be applied to songs that are about destruction more lived than fanciful.
Acrassicauda's strengths include an ability to turn raw guitar and drumming power into terse, grinding songs without a hint of wank. But that's to be expected from a metal band that managed to stay together in spite of death threats from Islamic extremists and that time their practice space got bombed. It would be totally unforgivable if any part of the release was even slightly flabby. I'm happy to report that they are not fucking around.
In the sense that Acrassicauda sounds like any completely righteous metal band, they are not stylistically transforming the genre. That said, these guys recorded an EP that actually stands up to their brutal back story. It's an impressive accomplishment. In the Times article, drummer Marwan Riyadh expressed the hope that people will listen to his band for the music and not just because their one sheet mentions a lot of explosions and bloodshed. Nearly all musicians want their music to be heard on its own merits. And yet Acrassicauda's story really is a good reason to listen to them.
The lines "They stole my land / They stole my home / They ripped my flesh / They stripped my bone" in the song "Massacre" would be corny and predictable coming from a frontman born in, say, Orange County. On Only the Dead See the End of The War, those lines are genuinely jarring.
Music is more than a series of notes floating in the platonic vacuum of your iPod. It is always made by an artist who is bound to a place and time, whether that artist cares to admit it or not. Listening to a song and disregarding the person who made it is just obtuse. As long as music is made by people, a band's history, along with the history of their influences, will absolutely matter.