Learn About the Saudi Arabian Black Metal Band That’s Risking Death to Rock
For most of us, the idea that any organized authority would ever attempt to make rock music illegal sounds like bad science fiction, or the plot of a horrible old Keel video. But in other parts of the world, it's a frightening reality.
Vice offers readers a glimpse of the struggles faced by the Saudi Arabian black metal band Al-Namrood (or "non-believer"), whose members face imprisonment or death simply for performing their music. In spite of the strict limitations imposed by sharia law, the group has persisted at the forefront of the regional underground metal scene, recording and releasing songs that stand in defiance of religious totalitarianism.
The band's bassist and guitarist, known only as Mephisto, agreed to an email interview with Vice, offering fascinating answers to questions ranging from Al-Namrood's origins to their methods for coping with an existence that requires them to keep their double musical lives hidden even from family members.
"We're fed up with religion. The fact is that everything that is connected to it makes us nauseous. I personally spoke to a shrink. He advised me that whenever I get inflamed I have to express," said Mephisto. "So here we are, expressing. What can be more motivating than living in a place where everything is controlled by religion?"
In Saudi Arabia, even learning about the existence of heavy metal isn't a given, to say nothing of getting one's hands on examples of the music or its various subgenres. "It happened gradually, of course," explained Mephisto. "We purchased CDs from neighboring countries and smuggled them in discreetly. We educated ourselves about the outside world by also purchasing smuggled books, thanks to some amazing crazy friends, and then the internet came to extend our knowledge massively."
According to Mephisto, the band's members find it easy to compartmentalize their lives — "we've been doing this from childhood" — because they've learned the hard way that questioning the system openly doesn't pay: "Some of us tried hard to fit in and share our thoughts, but ended up serving time in jail." What's far more difficult is getting access to instruments and recording equipment — never mind actually promoting their music.
"The obstacles are greater than colossal," he admitted. "It's like living in a cave and demanding electricity. In radical Islamic countries, this music is considered to be a crime by Islamic law. We are living our lives in isolation. Basically, our identity is hidden and our musical interests are kept top secret. It's risky, and the risk gets bigger if we want to publicize our band."
In spite of all this, Al-Namrood has managed to build an impressive discography whose latest addition, the EP Ana Al Tughian, was released earlier this year. But they realize theirs is just a small countercurrent in a religious tide that Mephisto predicts will go on for a thousand years, and he doesn't expect the band to have the freedom to ever perform in public.
"It's impossible, because it's illegal," he responded to the idea of Al-Namrood gigs. "We can be sentenced to death if we do them."
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