x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Music of the Arab World: Rock and heavy metal

In the seventh of our eight-part series, we take a look at the region's loudest of scenes, and it's bigger than you might expect.

The Dubai band Nervecell supported Metallica at their Abu Dhabi concert last year. Lee Hoagland / The National
The Dubai band Nervecell supported Metallica at their Abu Dhabi concert last year. Lee Hoagland / The National

After years spent in the underground, rock and heavy metal emerged in the wake of the internet. In the seventh of our eight-part series, we take a look at the region's loudest of scenes, and it's bigger than you might expect.

What's all that noise?

That's the heavy and sometimes melodic sound of globalisation. As far back as the 1970s and 1980s, hard rock and heavy metal were rarely found in cassette shops in the region. Without satellite television, the stocks of most music businesses were at the mercy of the popular radio. Hence, Chris de Burgh and groups such as the Gypsy Kings were laughably placed under the rock category in some stores. Those looking for the likes of Twisted Sister, Metallica or Anthrax had to go to specialty shops and pay a little extra for imported copies. However, such musical souls constituted some of the first metal and rock communities in their respective countries. As in the case of the GCC, some even went on to form their own bands. With the eventual satellite and internet explosion, bands finally found an avenue to release their music online to a global audience, without any worries of censorship.

The slow arrival of live venues

With venues and governments suspicious of such loud genres, it took longer for groups, particularly those in Egypt, Jordan and the GCC, to find a place to perform. With the arrival of expats to the GCC, however, bars, pubs and nightclubs began to spring up which were receptive to such tunes. The UAE has its own dedicated rock and heavy metal night with Dubai's Metal Asylum and local groups now have the chance to tour both nationally and internationally, all the while waving the flag for their own country's scene.

Lebanon

Easily the most sophisticated of the region's rock and metal scenes. With Europe at its doorstep, not to mention the city's reputation for being a cultural trendsetter for the region, Beirut is home to some of the Arab world's most interesting groups. Leading the pack is the controversial indie electropop duo The Soap Kills. Using a groove box, a nifty contraption able to store multiple tracks and play additional beats, the duo thus far have created three albums of evocative yet dense sounds using electronic and acoustic instruments. Kimaera is a doom/death metal band renowned for its graceful yet suffocatingly dark landscapes. They have supported the likes of Manowar and Behemoth. Those after some tunes that are lighter yet still slightly off-field should look to Lazzy Lung. The indie group were winners of the inaugural Rolling Stone Middle East Battle of the Bands competition last year.

Egypt

Even before the Arab Spring, Egyptian artists flirted with rock and the current pop king, Mohammed Mounir, uses some choice guitar riffs in tracks such as the protest anthem Izzay. Presently, the young rockers Cairokee are making waves with their brand of live-wire performances. Their latest single, Ya El Meidan, meaning "Oh You the Square", is a fine, reflective take on the Egyptian revolution. On the death metal front, the pulverising Scarab are worth looking out for - they are essentially the Egyptian stalwarts Hate Suffocation, renamed.

UAE

The scene here is growing at a rapid pace courtesy of musical expats, festivals and live tours by the likes of the metal behemoths Metallica and Iron Maiden, as well as the rockers Kings of Leon and Linkin Park. Waving the UAE metal flag is undoubtedly Dubai's Nervecell. Those who saw them bring the fury while supporting Metallica last year will appreciate why they are now in demand internationally. When it comes to rock, the hard work payed off for the Dubai group Juliana Down. They are the first local band to sign to an international music label and, last year, their second album Empires attracted interest from overseas markets.

Saudi Arabia

Yes, that's right. The kingdom is home to a small bunch of groups and their content is making a blistering racket. The young grindcore trio Creative Waste have played in metal festivals in the US and had a slot supporting America's Hate Eternal in Dubai earlier this year. Sound of Ruby are worth checking out for their sound which blends the aggressive riffage of punk with tasty stoner-rock grooves.

Next week, in our final edition of this series, we take a look at the Arab world's best crooners and songbirds.

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