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  • Jake Freeman

…And Justice for All: Amplifying Change in Middle Eastern Metal

 Metallica in Riyadh 12/14 courtesy of Brett Murray

Metallica made history as the second international metal band to play in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, December 14th at the Soundstorm festival in Riyadh, shedding light on a changing landscape for metal in the Middle East. While glimpses of metal bands have emerged from strict Islamic-centric countries, Metallica's global presence indicates a potential shift in the acceptance of metal music within these communities. 

In extreme Islamic-centric countries, restrictions often discourage certain actions and behaviors, ranging from extreme measures such as banning homosexuality and suppressing women’s rights to more nuanced limitations, including the prohibition of certain music styles, notably metal bands. 

A long history between Middle Eastern countries and metal bands dates back all the way to 1997 when 100 metal/rock fans were arrested following extreme allegations of a small show in Egypt. Since then and still now, a story has been forming on the contextual natures of music vs master.

Saudi Arabia itself has a complex history with metal bands. Their metal scene has always been underground due to its controversy and danger for publicity. However, this inspired bands all the more such as the native black metal band Al-Namrood;” Who came to light in 2015 being outspoken against the strict Islamic principles in their home country and risking their well-being while doing so. In a surprising turn of events however, underground grindcore band "Creative Waste" made history by hosting the country's first public metal show in 2019. This truly put a stamp on the future of metal in the country, as it was a showing if not anything else that times are changing. Metallica’s recent performance in Saudi Arabia only furthers what will hopefully be a newly kindled metal scene.

Iranian Metal Band Confess courtesy of Camilla Norvoll 

While Saudi Arabia is making progress, other Middle Eastern countries aren’t as fortunate. In the neighboring country of Iran, metal bands like "Confess" have to flee their own country because of their music. Band members Nikan Khosravi and Arash Ilkhani paid $30,000 each in bail following their arrest. Unfortunately, the band members faced a harrowing sentence of over 14 years in prison & 74 lashes forcing them to flee where they are now in Norway. Not long after, ARSAMES, another Iranian (death) metal band, would follow suit after being sentenced to 15 years in 2020 for crimes of “being in a satanic metal band and being against the Islamic government.” Like Confess did, the band is awaiting further trial after paying bail, and hopefully won’t have to flee their country accordingly.  

However, not all is bleak for the Middle Eastern metal scene. Slaves to Sirens, an all-female thrash metal band from Lebanon, have been overcoming boundaries not just for the metal scene, but for women as well. The band, known to be Lebanon's first all-female metal group, has used their music as an outlet for spreading awareness towards political issues. Their success did not go unnoticed, as they were picked up for a documentary about their incredible story. Yet, that documentary can’t even be released in their home country due to LGBT+ themes that would endanger them to backlash upon its release. Nevertheless, the group is still going strong with their recent single “Extinguish the Sun'' released this past November.

 Slaves to Sirens courtesy of Richard Sammour

The connotation of banning metal music is not new, as many looked upon the genre negatively in its past. Even in the US, artists like Marylin Manson and Ozzy Osbourne created stereotypes of devil worship and drug use for those in the metal scene. However that very push created the counterculture metal incites today, and gave a space for metal music to flourish. As fellow counterculture punk rocker John Lydon from the Sex Pistols once said, “If you are pissing people off, you know you are doing something right.” The emergence of the metal scene in the Middle East is truly starting to take place, and only so much can be done to stop it. Metallica’s recent performance only solidifies the fact that times are changing, and soon metal will be recognized worldwide for the voice, music, and impact it provides. 


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