Baghdad metallers ‘my favorite band,’ says Ministry’s Al Jourgensen
By Daniel J. Gerstle
July 08, 2012, Original Article Link
Having opened for industrial metal pioneers Ministry on June 23rd at the Best Buy Theater in New York’s Times Square, Iraqi thrash band Acrassicauda believe they have finally made the leap from performing as a leading Middle East or ‘war-zone’ metal act to being rookies in the global metal field. As pioneers of the ‘shrapnel rock’ phenomenon, it’s been relatively easy for Acrassicauda to grab press attention, but they feel their music is now strong enough to stand on its own. That newfound confidence comes partly from the friendship and guidance offered to the band by Ministry founder and frontman Al Jourgensen.
“Al has been amazing for us,” Mo Al Ansari, Acrassicauda’s lead guitarist, tells Rolling Stone at the after-party. “Whenever we needed advice, he was ready to give it. You know, ever since leaving Baghdad we wanted to find that life of rock & roll, and now we have finally reached it.”
Opening the night with their new song, “Sinbad” – a thrash jam with a soft intro building to a power-chord-filled chorus – the band arrived on stage with their faces covered in black cloth. Three dancers in black hijabs and silver masks rose slowly to their feet before the power chords erupted, then they dropped their hijabs to reveal bare stomachs, their swaying turning into a belly dance. Those in the front rows were suddenly torn between banging their heads and staring at the dancers. The reaction from Ministry fans seeing the band for the first time was a positive one. “They were really tight,” said one couple – who had driven all the way from Halifax, Canada – after the show. “It was a good mix of Middle East and metal. But too brief.”
Named after a kind of scorpion, Acrassicauda – founded by singer Faisal Talal, drummer Marwan Hussein, and bassist Firas Allateef – got together before the 2003 coalition air strikes, performing covers of Metallica and Megadeth tracks, as well as a few original tunes attacking everything but Saddam Hussein. It was VICE Media’s documentary, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, and their support in putting on a live show at the Al Fanar Hotel inside war-torn Baghdad, that helped the band bring their thrash metal to the world outside the Middle East.
Most of their early rehearsals took place in their bedrooms, their instruments unplugged, following threats from religious extremists. When they did eventually find their first rehearsal studio, the room and gear were destroyed, blown up by fundamentalists.
The band has now spent five years touring in America, unable to return home to see their family – concerned that, if they did, they may be targeted by either the same gang who destroyed their rehearsal space or by those responsible for killing youths in Iraq’s alternative community over the past 18 months. But their 2011-2012 North American tour – leading up to the Ministry show – took in many small towns where their gigs were packed with a surprising number of metal fans eager to hear some Iraqi metal. They’re starting to feel that life in the U.S. might work out.
During their first years in America, Acrassicauda attracted the attention of Testament guitarist Alex Skolnick, who mastered their debut EP, Only the Dead See the End of the War, after which the band began writing the songs they are now testing on the road for their coming album. One way in which they have sought to build a reputation beyond the Middle East is by becoming a more interactive band. They’re currently crowd-producing their new songs. This winter, with the guidance of their manager, Rachel Martinez, Acrassicauda had a contest in which they invited some of the group’s most ardent fans to squeeze into their Brooklyn rehearsal studio and give feedback on the new material.
Martinez, who previously managed American thrash band Pissing Razors, introduced Acrassicauda to Jourgensen about a year ago. Having spent several years raging against the Iraq war, he was overjoyed to get to know some metalheads from Baghdad.
“My favorite metal band in the world,” Jourgensen says of the group. “The influx of Middle Eastern and metal is a perfect partnership. I cannot wait to explore it more. True professionals, truly talented musicians and awesome dudes.”
Acrassicauda, including recently acquired guitarist Tony Yaqoo, are hoping to collaborate with Jourgensen on a record, and both sides want to perform together again in the future.
“After all we’ve gone through to get here,” bassist Allateef says, “it has all been so worth it.”