Whilst the world is on lockdown, fans of live music are sorely missing the gigs and festivals that were once such a familiar and enjoyable part of everyday life. Over the past weeks and months we’ve become accustomed to watching our favourite bands live-streaming from the comfort of their own homes, whilst looking forward to a time when things will eventually return to normal. But imagine if that weren’t the case. Imagine what it would be like if we knew that things would never be ‘normal’ again – bands would never perform together on stage in front of an audience and never be able to appear in person in a new music video – not because of a deadly virus, but because of religious laws that could see them put to death for apostasy. This dystopian scenario is in fact a very stark reality for some…
Meet Saudi Arabian Black Metal mavericks AL-NAMROOD – the band in permanent lockdown.
How and when did Al-Namrood form and what is the meaning behind the band’s name?
Al-Namrood was formed in January 2008 when Mephisto met Ostron at a private party and suggested the idea of combining Black Metal with the Arabic scale and Arabic vocals. He then brought in our former vocalist, Mukadars, and the three minds put together the concept of an album with the debut song ‘Atba’a AlNamrood’. The meaning of our name is ‘Rebellion’ (which comes from ‘Nimrod’, a Babylonian king).
How did your tastes for Black Metal music develop?
We had a deep interest in Metal, and researching genres and concepts led us to Black Metal. That development stemmed from our defiance towards religious servitude and Black Metal filled that. The first and second waves of Black Metal were the most influential to our work. Listening to ‘80s Black Metal was phenomenal and inspiring.
How difficult has it been to keep your identities concealed?
It is indeed difficult, knowing that you must stay in the shadows and never speak your true thoughts, never trust anyone – when you have to pretend that you are a regular person in an ultra-religious and conservative society, but with time we got used to it.
Do you envision moving to a different country in order to be able to pursue your musical ambitions freely?
We tried this option, but bureaucracy, laws and rigidity were not on our side. Xenophobia is another challenge, the world is becoming very conservative now and it is not easy to blend in. The risks we face exist everywhere – if not from the extreme religious, then from the nationalists or extreme ideologists in other places. We don’t really think freedom is for everyone – it is a privilege for certain classes of society.
You’ve just released your eighth full-length album, ‘Wala’at’ – what are the songs about and what themes do you cover with your music?
The new album translates as ‘Loyalties’. It describes the utter loyalty to ideology, people or places. We have been researching the roots of such loyalty, the psychology, the human drive, or need, so we thought let’s write an album about this phenomenon. The songs are written about real world scenarios that illustrate the concept of blind loyalty.
How do you manage to rehearse and record your albums and music videos without being discovered by the authorities?
Simply in our home, which is very discreet and from the outside it looks like any other place. Nothing public, the rooms are sound insulated and we are very careful.
Given your understandable need for anonymity, are you able to appear personally in any of your music videos or band photos?
No, and that will never ever happen.
Do your friends, families and neighbours know about your band?
No they don’t, only extremely close friends that we trust know.
What would happen to you if you were caught?
Jail, or possibly execution if it’s deemed to be apostasy.
Given the consequences of being found out, have you ever considered stopping for your own safety?
No – our music means something to us, we do it for our self-actualisation, even though NO publicity is wanted, we just feel satisfied producing our work.
What are you hoping to achieve in the future and what are your ultimate goals?
Making music is like mind healing for us, so our goal is simply to keep it going. Of course we dream of hitting the stage one day, but we have to be reasonable with our goals, we cannot put our friends or family at risk, so the long term future is very vague. We live for now and now we will continue making music.
Is there a Heavy Metal scene in Saudi Arabia? How big is the underground Black Metal scene over there?
There’s nothing that I’m aware of. I think there is a hidden underground scene, but I understand no one trusts anyone in case it’s discovered.
Apart from the language difference, how does Saudia Arabian Black Metal compare to Western Black Metal?
It basically consists of the same components, we just added some Arabian instruments, aligned our guitar tuning to the Arabian scale and that’s pretty much it. Also, Arabic drums (Darbuka) add a strong sound to the drumming in our music.
As you can’t play gigs, how do people find out about you and your music?
It’s mainly thanks to the Internet – it is our window to the world – and also thanks to the people who trusted us without even meeting us, endorsed our work and supported us. We wouldn’t have become known without the support of open-minded people who championed our work and spread our name.
What drives you to keep going?
The passion for freedom, the passion for music and art and a defiance against the oppression that became a norm in this world.
If you could say anything to the authorities without fear of repercussion and also to your fans and the wider world, what would it be?
Live and let live.
Watch the official music video for ‘Hayat Al Khezea’, here:
‘Wala’at’ by Al-Namrood:
Mudamer – Vocals
Mephisto – Guitars, Bass & Percussion
Ostron – Keyboards & Percussion
Written By: Anne Estella