Black metal. The most controversial of all the metal subgenres. Be it arson, national-socialistic views, suicide and even murder—black metal has seen it all. Yet amidst the craziness of the 90s and the (largely) Norwegian 2nd wave scene, there has been a certain staleness that has crept into the music. Satan just isn’t as cool, nor as much of a figure of defiance as he used to be. In that sense, black metal is having a bit of an identity crisis and it’s perhaps a fitting time to ask ourselves what black metal really is—from a more philosophical point of view. In this introduction/interview series we’ll be taking a look at some bands that are taking the idea of black metal and doing something fresh with it. At the end we may find some conclusions, but experience suggests we’ll just end up with more questions.
First in our list of bands isn’t particularly unknown to any underground (black) metal fan. It is, however, a must-inclusion on this list. For those that may be unaware, Al Namrood is a Saudi Arabian band that functions solely underground as the penalty for playing metal in their locale could be death. How does that make them feel, you might wonder. It doesn’t take long to realize there’s a lot of anger in their sound; towards the system, religion, the corruption and society in general. But it’s not a juvenile sort of anger that we might find in some other genres, which I will not name, but we all know what I mean. Unless you mean that other one, in which case I agree with you. The word that would sum up their stance best is defiance—and that’s something that seems to be very common in black metal overall. But how much has the reasoning for being defiant changed since the 90s?
Well, in the case of Al Namrood it has—but it also hasn’t. While western bands would use Satan to antagonise the masses and fight Christianity (which isn’t really threatening any of us seriously), the Saudis are fighting a very real oppressive system, which in turn makes the other bands seem like a bit of a joke. Musically, Al Namrood projects a certain type of chaos unique to the band. The vocals are, especially on later releases like 2020’s Wala’at, growled wildly, a style that has been described as “babbling madman.” Meanwhile the instrumentals follow the seemingly chaotic nature, but when examined closer they actually make perfect sense, especially when combined with the lovely, and often very dance-y, Arabic folky rhythms. Without going further into this band it’s worth mentioning that their name (supposedly) means non-believer and that’s an idea that probably spreads beyond religion. It’s more about the defiance that I mentioned earlier—and if we combine that with the passion for music and the fight for free expression these men face we get Al Namrood. While you ponder the meaning of black metal, which will only further everyone’s confusion you may also see for yourself what the founding member of the band, Mephisto, has had to say in the interview part of the article down below.
Thank you for taking the time for this interview. You’ve released Wala’at about half a year ago and it has received mostly positive reviews. Are you satisfied with its reception?
Highly satisfied. We enjoyed making this album.
You seem to be moving away from a traditional black metal sound, especially vocally. What do you try to convey with that and how would you describe it?
Our goal is to make every album sound different than the other, making each one stand out of its own characteristics. We think doing something traditional is less interesting to the ears, and therefore demotivating. We want something that acts as Al Namrood signature, so we try to come up with different elements, different vocal laments, and such.
How purposefully do you add folky sounds to your music and do you think that’s just something Arabic metal can’t exist without?
We compose the music as metal then we can assess if this part can use oud or qanun. Sometimes we do the opposite, create Arabic instrument lines, then build the song on it. Typically, when we compose, we focus more on making metal and then add the Arabic instruments to perfect the song. But we don’t think it is necessary, it is possible to create the theme of Arabic sound with guitars and drums alone. Playing drums with an Arabic beat and doing more guitar lead that matches the Arabic scale, but it is more interesting and challenging.
Metal Archives lists “Arabic instruments” as being used on Wala’at, can you tell us exactly what you’ve been using to create that special Al Namrood feeling?
We always favor qanun and oud along with Arabic drum darbuka.
What can you tell us about the lyrical content?
Our main focus is tyranny, religion as a political tool, slavery, social injustice, limitation of freedom, classism, exploitation, which are all happening in our area of the world.
What do you think of the state of today’s black metal overall?
Black metal is always a representation of defiance of religion, it is a special trait of black metal, the existence of black metal is important but as of today, black metal remains more isolated comparing to other genres, society of black metal suffers from a very insane area which is nationalism or NSBM, this makes black metal flawed in some particular ways.
Given your unique situation in KSA, do you even have dreams of ever performing live?
Of course, but never in our area.
If so, are there any particular songs you’d love to play in concert?
Many songs, starting from “Al Jajliyah,” “Atba’a Alnamrood,” “Zamjara Alat,” “Hayat al Khezea.”
Have you ever actually encountered any legal problems related to the music? Or does no one really know what you do?
Yes, we have. And we won’t disclose that at the time being. Our strategy now is to be anonymous, keeping the lowest possible profile.
Are you perhaps in touch with any other metal musicians from the Arabic scene?
We are not in touch with anyone in the Arabic metal scene, in fact they despised us for what we stand for (when we tried to approach them when the band started) which is completely understandable.
What do you think the future holds for Al Namrood, musically and otherwise?
Surely to leave this place, Al Namrood will never be able to progress with such shackles. Realistically, we keep doing what we do in private for now. Making meaningful music and shout out the freedom all deserve.
Thanks again for answering my questions. Is there anything else you’d perhaps want to say to our readers.
Thank you for the support. Viva freedom!
Many thanks to Mephisto for his time!
– Didrik Mešiček