The members of Egyptian band Massive Scar Era talk about making it in the world of metal music and convincing their parents it was a good idea.
Girl mettle: Egyptian band Massive Scar Era
One of the standout indie films to emerge from the Middle East last year was undoubtedly Microphone, the second feature from rising Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla. A satirical and often hilarious docu-drama littered with musical performances, the film creates a fictional framework around the thriving underground scene in Alexandria and the constant struggle of its artists to create within strict authoritarian guidelines.
If you watched Microphone at the Dubai International Film Festival last December, then you've probably already had a glimpse of the band Massive Scar Era, who play in Dubai tomorrow night. The formerly all-girl metal group star in some of the film's most memorable scenes, although you might not have known it was them at the time.
"We never appeared with our faces," says lead vocalist Sherine Amr. "We had them covered with masks all the time." Although comical to watch, the reasoning wasn't one of amusement, but simply because the band's families had disapproved of them appearing in the film.
As it turns out, it was parental concerns that first saw Amr take the unusual route of forming Egypt's first all-girl metal band back in 2005. "They were too strict to let us play in a band with guys."
So Amr - who plays lead guitar and does much of the singing - and her friend Nancy Mounir, who adds the distinctly "un-metal" sound of the violin, went it alone as Mascara (an abbreviation of Massive Scar Era), facing the struggle of a shortage of instruments and an abundance of excessively flirtatious music teachers.
In a relatively short span of time, they carved out a name for themselves in Egypt, creating a sound that is a distinct blend of hardcore metal and more acoustic rock, with Mounir's violins adding a uniquely eerie classical touch over the top. In their heavier moments there are splashes of Kittie, the female Canadian heavy metal band, while the poppier elements are reminiscent of Evanescence.
Amr - who is the main composer - says the songs' subject matter depends heavily on her mood. "There was a period where I used to study law, so many songs had political topics. Then there was a time where I had a few social problems with people around me, so I used my songs to let my frustrations out," she says. "Lately, I find myself writing about God."
Today, Massive Scar Era no longer boast the "all girl" aspect that was their unique selling point for so long. In 2009, Youssef Altay joined on drums and this year Perry Moataz brought along his bass guitar.
"I was 19 when we started," says Amr, now 26. "My parents didn't want me in a band with boys, but over time, things have got more stable and I have learnt how to choose the right people. My parents gradually began to understand what I do and have realised that the scene isn't quite as nasty as it looks."
It was actually Amr's performance in Microphone that helped change her family's mind. In the film, Massive Scar Era are forced to tone down their music and play a softer song in Arabic in order to get a licence to perform live. The song they do eventually sing - Aba'ad Makan (The Furthest Place) - made it on to the soundtrack of the film. Amr's sister - who had previously disapproved of her sibling's choice of musical direction - got in touch with her to say how much she had liked it.
Such was the popularity of Aba'ad Makan that the group now have a side project called The Other Side of Mascara, in which they focus on more acoustic tracks.
Although her family might prefer Amr to turn off the amp and switch solely to her "other side", it's not likely to happen soon, with Massive Scar Era having just returned from a US tour that saw them play at the famous Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles, alongside performances at the Swedish Rock Festival and the Cornerstone Festival in Chicago over the past couple of years. They've also just released the EP Precautionary Measure, and currently sit proudly at the number one spot on the ReverbNation metal charts in Egypt.
But despite her band's growing stature around the world, will her parents ever do Amr the honour of coming to hear her play?
"No, I don't think so - they're so old fashioned."
Massive Scar Era will play tomorrow during Metal Asylum at Cheers Bar in Dubai's The Lodge at 9pm, with support from local bands Nightmare Overdose and Xceed. Tickets are Dh50. For more information, visit www.metalityuae.com