A drifting teenager, frustrated at the world and caught in the crossfire of political corruption and conflict, stumbles on a heavy metal CD and finds his entire life changed. “They were talking about war – like our situation.” Only this isn’t a frustrated American talking, but rather a twenty-something Iraqi musician reminiscing about discovering a whole new world of music via a friend’s Metallica record.
Murad Khalid is guitarist for Dark Phantom, one of the many grassroots heavy metal bands currently active in the Middle East. He spoke to Huck writer Campbell MacDiarmid for Issue 54 – The Defiance Issue. Heavy metal quickly began to dominate his teenage years, ripping pictures of Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth from magazines purchased in nearby Turkey and pasting them to his bedroom walls. Then inspiration struck. “Why not create a metal band here in our city?”
Based in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Dark Phantom practice and perform in an increasingly dangerous climate. Political leaders, the subject of many of their lyrics, seek to censor them, while they are regularly targeted by Islamic extremists who believe them to be satanists.
While they are sometimes forced to lay low, particularly when they receive death threats on social media, attempts to weaken their passion for the music have failed. “I play when I’m angry,” says bassist Sermet Jalal. “No smoking, no drinking, just metal.”
Dark Phantom are just one of the underground heavy metal acts combining music, rage and the sounds of defiance amidst conflict in the Middle East. Go head-bang to these.
Dark Phantom – ‘Nation of Dogs’
The band’s first official music video, Nation of Dogs is lifted from the album of the same name. “Our government is like a nation of dogs,” Murad told us in Issue 54. “They fuck us every day.”
Dark Phantom – ‘Treason’
Dark Phantom – ‘World Painted Blood’
The band regularly posts heavy metal covers on their YouTube channel, covering bands including Slayer, Black Sabbath, and Lamb of God.
Al-Namrood – ‘Hayat Al Khezea’
Based in Saudi Arabia, Al-Namrood perform anonymously to protect themselves from state authorities. Their provocative lyrics about religion and political corruption leave them vulnerable to arrest and potential execution.
Al-Namrood – ‘Bat Al Tha ar Nar Muheja’
Acrassicauda – ‘House of Dust’
The main subject of the must-see 2007 documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, Acrassicauda were forced to flee Baghdad following repeated attacks from extremists. They were later granted asylum in the USA, and are now based in New Jersey.
Orphaned Land – ‘Let the Truce Be Known’
The original Israeli heavy metal masters, Orphaned Land have been condemning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict throughout their career, often courting controversy for refusing to hold one country’s interests over the other.