Acrassicauda - Only the Dead See the End of War
Vice Records
Thrash Metal
4 songs (20:09)
Release year: 2010
Reviewed by Tony

Metal is not an easy genre to make money in. With no radio time aside from a few select bands on horrible FM radios, significant Metalcore trash being blasted on satellite, and censorship running a scourge through metal with multiple political campaigns throughout the years, metal is a tough way to make ones livelyhood.

However, if musicians here think illegal downloading, censorship, and tour fees make life miserable in the Western World, try having an entire legion of psychotic religious zealots, armed to the hilt, taking aim at your art. Try having your practice space and all of your equipment that you worked so hard for blown to pieces by a Hellfire missile, try having your refugee status denied by Syria, and try having to duck and cover to play a simple live show at a run down venue. This is the life of Acrassicauda, the only Heavy Metal band in the history of war torn Iraq. They are a symbol that metal is important enough to those who worship the music that they will die for it.

I learned about Acrassicauda, which means "The Black Scorpion" in Latin, by writing one of my many correlating research projects on Heavy Metal for my History Major. I wrote an essay about the struggle of the youth in the Islamicate world (which are a huge majority in that region) against their elder cleric types who resort to violence in their quest to squelch any and all art forms that they view as outlandish.

I guess I've always loved scouring the globe for metal from strange locations, even searching the Encyclopedia Metallum by nation just to see if there is actually metal in The Maldives (there is). My Islamic History teacher had never heard Acrassicauda but recommended the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad at about the same time I found out about it. The documentary follows the history and the tribulations of the band as they play a show at a well guarded hotel, surrounded by the din of explosions, frequently losing power, yet capturing the crowd. Just to see the faces, the outfits, and the mirth that the band and the fans felt when this show went on made the pit of my stomach turn. As I watched the fans catch their last glimpse of Acrassicauda, I nearly shed a tear, knowing how much metal means to these young men and women, and how the war and the psycho religionists of Iraq would warrant another show to be too risky.

Acrassicauda eventually fled to Syria, where Iraqi refugees can apply for refugee status at the border. The bus ride across the desert is a harrowing one, the road laden with IED's and marauders of Islam who would kill without thinking. The four piece finally made it to Damascus (a city and nation high on the UN terror list) and were able to play a show at a Damascus hotel basement which, based on the vibe of the crowd, would determine the fate of Acrassicauda. The concert was a huge success. Good reception to the Metallica covers they played gave way to Acrassicauda unveiling their own sound to the Syrians, making the show one to remember.

Unfortunately, Syria revoked its law statute and forced all Iraqi refugees to apply in Baghdad, therefore destroying the visa granted to Acrassicauda. The documentary, the article in Vice Magazine, the struggle, and the passion did wonders for the band, eventually earning them a fundraiser to help them escape to Turkey, and later the USA. Three members, Faisal, Firas, and Marwan, manning the vocals, bass, and drums, made it to New Jersey, with Tony on lead guitars, moving in with his family in the heavily Iraqi and Arab neighborhood of Dearborn Michigan, a suburb of Detroit.

Much of the conversation during the documentary centers around Firas, the bassist. He is an extremely intelligent individual, well spoken, and well versed. He is not the image of a third world barbarian that many westerners feel the Arabic world is akin to.

I'm not sure how four young Iraqi's playing a taboo music somehow were able to practice hard and get their gear back after their first set being blown to smithereens, but Acrassicauda are a testament to the spirit of metal, and the fire in all of our hearts. These guys are talented, sounding like a mid-paced amalgam of Sepultura and Metallica. With their refugee status granted, their funds being bolstered by many concerned in the metal community, and the wind in their sails, they release Only the Dead See the End of War, a 4 track EP barely clocking in at 20 minutes, yet providing more than an ample look at the horrors of war and tyranny.

The first track is probably the fastest and heaviest, and starts off the EP on an upbeat and very heavy note. That track is Message From Baghdad and features some groovy drumming, Cavaleraesque vox, and some nifty guitar work including some interesting leads and a great solo. What is most interesting about Acrassicauda is what is highlighted in their very creative and saddening lyrics. Acrassicauda want to embrace Islam. They still take Allah as their savior, and still maintain their faith in their God. To live in such a difficult conundrum where at one side the hand of Allah is trying to rip your head off yet at the other they are trying to believe that their lord has a greater purpose for them must be trying. I may not be religious, but to observe their faith in reverence in what they believe in versus Europeans torching churches because their ancestors converted 1000 years ago says something about their hearts and their willpower.

The second track is Garden of Stones and isn't nearly as heavy as the previous, but has some interesting time signatures and is certainly very progressive. The riffery once again is simplistic but here on Garden of Stones there really is some great guitar work and some top quality vocals. The highlights of this song are the interweaving leads in the choruses and pre-choruses and of course the Arabic modes in which they are played. The finale of the song is fantastic, with some Arabic sounding choirs ending around some tribal sounding tom work that is reminiscent of Sepultura on Chaos AD. Arabic and Middle Eastern bands tend to really do well in incorporating their local sounds into their metal.

During the essay I spoke through Email with a few bands from the region such as Israel's Melechesh and Jordan's Bilocate. Both of these bands explained how important it was to them to have their regional modes and instruments incorporated into their music. Ashmedi of Melechesh specifically highlighted his approach on Emissaries, an album that I adore, an album where the first riff on Rebirth of the Nemesis tells you exactly where this band is from. If it weren't Scandinavian Folk Metal and their deliberate (but awesome) need to put their native sounds like joiking, certain percussion instruments (like the boingy thing) or flutes and fiddles and whatnot, Middle Eastern metal could be known as the most native and authentic sounding metal to its home region.

Massacre is the third song, and is truly a sad one. If the song title didn't give it away, it's obviously about the countless lives lost and the blood shed at the hands of those claiming a devout likeness to Allah and the reapers of their religion. It is a slow, gloomy piece with a nice atmosphere and a solid length to it. I'm not crazy about really slow, long, songs but Massacre keeps me glued to the player long enough to hear the fourth and final excellent song: The Unknown. The Unknown has a longer and slower intro featuring some of Faisal's harshest vocals, where he exhibits a good couple of screams. The song eventually picks up where Message From Baghdad left off, closing the EP on a high note.

Overall it's a beautiful story, which warms my heart each time I read and listen to the determination for this band to lead a better existence and do what they love. The one detractor of the album is that it doesn't have a fast song. The riffs are great, the songs are constructed nicely, and the talent is there, but let's be real here. Slayer can't open a set without speed like Discipe and couldn't close without a rocketing rip your head off beast like Angel of Death.

I haven't heard much from the Acrassicauda camp since their migration to my home country but I do know that if they make music with this skill level, write songs the way they do, and put a couple shredders in there they can make an excellent full length. They represent the very toughest of the metal community, the essence of what makes metal and its fans unique. We should all tip our caps to Acrassicauda, four devoted (maybe crazy) metalheads who put their life on the line to bring us good music.

Killing Songs :
Message From Baghdad, Garden of Stones
Tony quoted no quote
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