Heavy Metal Music Under Attack

Last week’s terror attacks in Paris left the entire world in shock, the number of deaths are up to 129, of which dozens are hospitalized and in critical condition. One of the attacks was at the Bataclan concert hall where the rock band Eagles of Death Metal from USA was playing, and where 89 innocent rockers have lost their lives that evening.
Friday night, DAESH (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The Paris attacks were not only against the French people, the terrorists specifically targeted the Bataclan knowing there was a metal concert being held there Friday evening, as per their claim in their statement that was released Friday. According to their beliefs, this type of music (or any other genre for that matter) is not acceptable by their deity.

The Bataclan crowd, minutes before the attacks
The Bataclan crowd, minutes before the attack

Easier Said Than Done

Let me first explain, why I think what I wrote above is true.
As you may or may not know, I am an Armenian born in Syria, where I started playing in my previous band Nu.Clear.Dawn along with my band-mates for around eight years, until I decided to leave the country at one point in 2005. It was a very tough decision for me to make, but something helped me decide. What was it?

Since the very first Nu.Clear.Dawn concert we played in Aleppo back in October 1997 we’ve been struggling as musicians, artists and metal-heads. You see, getting paperwork done to build a bridge in Canada or the U.S is probably easier than organizing and playing a rock show in Syria.

The amount of paperwork you need and the effort and time you need to have them signed by the authorities are extremely nerve wrecking, specially when they notice two words on the papers “Rock show”. Sometimes we had to travel far distances to the capital Damascus to get the permits; yes, it’s plural… One for advertisements, one from the mayor, one from financial services building, one from the secret agency, one from Humpty Dumpty and a quick little prayer to please the gods of mercy and the sorceress of the table of elements.

Basically the last few weeks before the show we pretty much run around kissing everybody’s asses to let us play music. Most of the time we were simply harassed because the employee didn’t feel like issuing the permit to us so we had to return the next day and try again. Other times, they ask us to acquire a permit from the mayor first, to which the mayor would respond with “No, you have to get a permission for this other thing first”, at one point it even boiled down to wordplay, simply changing “Rock Show” to “A musical evening”. I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty details, all in all a few weeks of madness and endless stress before we hit the stage.

But why all this?

A History of Violence

Once upon a time in a far away land called Lebanon, a teenager has committed suicide because of family problems, and upon investigation the authorities have found cassette tapes of Heavy Metal music in the kid’s room, very odd right? I mean who listens to heavy metal? surely SATANISTS.

Does the story sound familiar? Yes, similar stories can be found in the U.S. where the media brainwashes you with “video games promote violence”, but it’s only video games that do that, violent movies do not. End of sarcasm.

It goes without saying, that the governments of Lebanon and Syria and pretty much every neighbouring Arab country has related heavy metal music to Satanists since then. And the name got stuck, specially to us musicians who play Satan’s music. What a privilege!

At one point, I was even called for an interrogation during our studio sessions when we were recording Poem of a Knight back in 2002. Apparently they know of secret Satanic temples in the country where all these metal-heads go to every week to perform and be part of Satanic rituals while listening to metal and drinking cat and bat blood after sacrificing them to Lucifer. When this man finished questioning me, I was to remain with them until the general decides what to do with me and my friend who had a music store selling “illegal” music to these fans. Some of the artists that made it to the illegal list were: don’t laugh… Bon Jovi, Sum 41 and Nirvana. While Cradle of Filth, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse and other death metal bands were completely ignored.

At this point, the only thing crossing our minds is the endless imagery of torture. So a few hours later, I was finally called to the general’s office. The moment I entered the office and he saw my long hair, he was absolutely furious. I’ve been called lots of things I will not disclose here, but eventually when I calmed him down a little bit, he produced a copy of Iron Maiden‘s Brave New World CD from his drawer and proceeded to inserting it in his CD player, and now we’re all sitting angry at each other and started listening to Iron Maiden, it got real awkward. When Brucey started singing the general asked me to translate what he was saying, at this point I pretty much have two natural choices, either I translate it to him in Arabic literally, which would probably take a few hours, and he would not be very happy anyway, or I could just say “I don’t even know this band and I cannot understand what he is singing”. Which is what I did (sorry Bruce), after which I concluded my interview by saying “I am a graduate student from a well known music institute, do you think I have time for such idiocy?”. Luckily, he had enough of me then and sent me back to the other guy for more questions, and later around midnight that day we were both let go; under certain conditions.

In Protest

Nevertheless, we continued recording and eventually released our debut album in 2003, and we continued playing shows around the region; even though playing rock & metal shows started getting even harder year after year. All this has led me to make a decision and move out of the country if I wanted to make more music.

As a musician and a metal-head, I will continue making metal music in protest of everything that is happening in the world right now, but I promise that I’ll do my best to not drink any cat blood during our weekly Satanic rituals in my basement. Last time I checked, playing Satanic music is a lot less horrible thing to do than killing people in the name of a supernatural being.

Hail Satan.

P.s. To take part in the weekly Satanic ritual, and to be registered as an official member of the Unholy Empire of Lucifer, you need to purchase a copy of Solipsistic.

P.p.s. This post is not meant to attack Syria, Lebanon or any Arab country for that matter. I am merely telling you the events as they have happened to me.

Definition of Prog

One of my fans Andrew Grabowska is writing a speech about progressive rock and metal for his class, he chose me as his source and I’m quite honored.

He wanted answers to some of his questions:

  1. Why do you listen to/enjoy progressive metal and rock?
  2. Why did you chose to write and play it?
  3. Is there anything else you think is important about progressive rock and metal in comparison to other genres?

Well, below was my reply.

I started playing guitar when I was 15, and we played and covered a diversity of metal songs from different bands with my previous band Nu.Clear.Dawn.

At some point I was almost finding heavy metal sounding a bit boring to me, specially the standard song structures, verse chorus verse chorus solo chorus, also the regular guitar chords. I mean don’t get me wrong here, there are a lot of great metal bands out there that I enjoyed playing and listening to and still do sometimes, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Scorpions, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Zeppelin, Judas Priest, Iced Earth.. The is pretty much endless but still something was missing for me, perhaps the fun factor.

When I first got into prog, it was mostly Dream Theater and Rush that I listened to, and what got me into Dream Theater was Pink Floyd, when Dream Theater covered for Pink Floyd in A Change of Seasons, and how I got into Pink Floyd is quite the story.

Now why do I enjoy listening to prog? The song structures are different, sometimes there’s no chorus at all, sometimes very short lyrics, sometimes long intros, so there’s always the element of surprise, the music is diverse as well, different melodies, different moods, different builds in one track, odd time signatures, and of course some tracks are long which allows for instrumental sections, I just love how everyone in the band could get to solo at some point, in the end the band is not only the singer and then the rest of the band. It’s the singer, the guitarist, the drummer, the bassist, and everyone has their moment to shine.

It pretty much goes the same when it comes to writing and playing progressive music, plus, playing progressive rock is a lot of fun it’s almost like a video game, as a guitarist your left hand and fingers need to move around and hit the right notes on the fretboard while your brain is getting ready to play the next part in the song which is completely a new section, and it keeps progressing!
The chords sound a lot wider, jazzy, each position gives you a different mood, unlike the regular power chord that’s pretty much what every metal song is made of, why play the same four boring chords over and over and wait for the song to be over?

The same applies to everyone else in the band, the drummer has to remember all these odd time signatures and not mess up, and that’s where the fun is. Playing 4/4 time signature gets very old specially for a drummer. When you’re playing a progressive song you have to keep going, the band keeps going, the song keeps going and the melodies and harmonies unite to create an epic song. If you mess up you’re back to the last checkpoint, and keep practicing until you can play the whole thing in one shot, like a pro!

A lot of people think that playing prog is very hard. I almost thought the same, before I first picked up my guitar and tried to play a Dream Theater song, lucky for me I had the transcribed notes and guitar tabs for the song, so I started to learn the parts and I was surprised how extremely easy and fun some sections were to play, despite how difficult they sounded. (Check out guitar tabs and jam tracks from Solipsistic)

You don’t have to be a highly technical musician to play progressive rock or progressive metal, and all new prog bands are missing the point nowadays, they put everything they know in one song, like showing off their muscles.

Music is NOT a race, music is NOT a competition, music is art.

Now tell me why do YOU like prog?