I am far from the only one on staff here with this opinion, but I will echo it nonetheless, because from time to time it bears repeating: black metal is at its most interesting when it becomes bastardized, cross-bred and shuffled in with a wide variety of other cultural and musical influences. Al-Namrood is one of the groups that dares to take the cold, northern traditional black metal and mix it with the least traditional (or cold, for that matter) influences: traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and harmonics. On their astonishing 8th release, Worship the Degenerate, this signature blend of far-off influences and more traditional black metal is honed to a razor’s edge.
I feel like there was a point not too long ago when Al-Namrood was a name on quite a lot of people’s tongues. Not that they aren’t relevant or that they’ve dropped off in any way, shape or form; rather, when they blew up, they blew up big, and for good reason. Black Metal Fans™ love black metal that is savage, raw, and relatively unprocessed, and Al-Namrood fits that to a T, but more important to their success is the story: here are people who remain completely anonymous, which is not a new gimmick in the black metal scene, except that their anonymity is to protect their life. Recording sacrilegious, openly blasphemous music (or even heavy metal at all) in Saudi Arabia carries a potential death sentence with it, so recording locations and the identities of all parties involved must be kept secret so that no one involved in the project is arrested or worse. As such, there is a sense of urgency to Al-Namrood’s music that carries with it both a frantic energy and the fire of open rebellion, both towards the system that seeks their compliance and with black metal at large. Obviously, purists can get…upsetty spaghetti, shall we say, that *trve kvlt black metal* is being corrupted by Middle Eastern influences (good, let them stay mad forever about it), but the signature blend of old-school philosophical and aesthetic ideals with diverse influences is one that has never been more focused or necessary to move the genre forward, even compared to 2020’s superb Wala’at.
Two things immediately strike me when I first put on Worship the Degenerate: how beautiful and interesting the traditional Middle Eastern adornments are and how savage and unrelenting the black metal is. This is an album that is no-holds-barred aggressive, with only brief moments to bring one’s head up to the proverbial surface, but when those moments hit, they are, if you’ll forgive the layup of an analogy, like an oasis in the desert of furious metal. The way that opening track “Protector of the Herd” interweaves between Mephisto’s throat-shredding roar, searing guitars and middle eastern percussion is wholly unique in the black metal scene. Tracks like the title cut and “Sun of Liberation” rampage their way through thrashy black metal with a touch of death metal sprinkled in, but also showcase the unique scales and modes that draw from the band’s Saudi Arabian culture. Make no mistake though, this is an album that is very much against the religious traditions of the aforementioned culture, and thematically Worship the Degenerate continues the outfit’s exploration of blasphemy and sacrilege in open defiance of the law. The execution on Worship the Degenerate is superb, and each cut gets in and out without overstaying its welcome while still making its presence felt.
Al-Namrood have successfully carved out their own space in the black metal world, and even though bands like Melechesh or even Behemoth draw from or flirt with Eastern scales and influences, no one quite does it like Al-Namrood. I love black metal when it is unique, interesting and when it does what black metal is supposed to do: go against the norm and forge new creative paths. Like it or not, Al-Namrood are part of what makes modern black metal great.