Al-Namrood
Atba'a Al-Namrood EP

As I’ve voiced in a number of reviews recently, the whole Middle Eastern thing has become so overused, in everything from symphonic black metal to progressive metal to death metal, that it no longer feels daring or surprising. Melodies that are supposed to come off as mysterious and exotic frequently read as romantic caricature, or worse, an excerpt from the Aladdin score. (Talk about beating a dead camel.) So what happens when you get a bunch of guys who are actually from the region – in this case, Saudi Arabia – playing black metal?

Now there’s a country I bet you don’t have in your ever-expanding global black metal collection – and not surprising either, given the sociopolitical/religious climate. Enter Al-Namrood, a new act who’s set out to create, in their own words, “a blend of fiendish black metal with archaic Arabian culture.” True to the genre, they take their name (“the non-believer”) from an ancient king of Babylon who challenged the prophet Ibrahim and claimed to be God. The songs are sung entirely in Arabic, so I’m not sure of the lyrical content, but it’d be interesting to read one day, as it’s sure to be a welcome change from the usual Satanic nonsense that passes as anti-religious thought in most black metal.

At first, Al-Namrood comes off as not too different from the kind of melodies you’d hear on a Nile or Melechesh album – slithery, hushed and generically Arabic/Egyptian. Plinky keyboards and a martial beat of plastic-can drumming on the title track complete what sounds a lot like early Summoning, if they’d decided to focus on the Middle East instead of Middle Earth. It’s the vocals, though – a raw gargle made worse by the harsh edges of the Arabic language – that bring the whole experience into a strange space all its own. It’s as if you’re lost in a far-off city, listening to a particularly demonic call-to-prayer echo across the sunset.

Things get more interesting – and disturbing – with the second track, “Fe Zafrat Almout.” Rawer and more typically underground in sound, it features multiple layers of wandering black metal lines over steady, frantic drumming and that awful, jackal-snarl voice. Sounds like early 90s black metal, except for the melodies – like the first track, they sound recognizably Arabic, but purposely less so. Notes are rendered flat in some places, melodies are made dissonant, and the entire experience winds up being just… off.

This willfully discordant treatment of Arabic melody is pushed even further on “Nagoos Alkhatar”, creating something as unsettling and peculiar as something from Les Legions Noire or more recently, Blut Aus Nord. Only a more traditional Arabic melody on the keyboard brings this back from the edge, which almost makes the whole experience that much more conflicted and bizarre. The final track, “Youm Tusaar Nar Aljaheem,” isn’t quite as abrasive – a shimmering dark melody on an unidentified plucked instrument softens things somewhat, but only barely, since the monstrous vocals continue their mad Alhazred dungeon rant throughout.

After more than a decade’s worth of hearing some variation on your typical frosty black or Viking melody, hearing Arabic melodies – and oddly distorted Arabic melodies, at that – is both refreshing and unfamiliar. In a genre that’s supposed to be all about the foreign and the other but frequently piggybacks and strikes poses, here’s an act that delivers something new. Although Atba’a Al-Namrood only clocks in at around 20 minutes (it’s their debut EP and is limited to 1000 signed copies), it’s worth tracking down for those of you with an ear for the exotic and the unusual.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jordan Itkowitz
August 19th, 2008

Comments

  1. Commented by: Desperado

    I’ll have to check them out.Another good (egyptian if I recall)black metal band to check out is Odious.Not to be a dick but I actually love the near east,far east etc. scales and whathaveyou thrown into my music.There’s some killer acts from India,Sri Lanks,Indonesia and all over that kick ass,and Nile y Akercocke are some of my favorite bands.


  2. Commented by: gabaghoul

    no don’t get me wrong, I love Nile and Akercocke too, I guess I started to get annoyed when Behemoth jumped on that bandwagon as well. there’s a lot of it in Hollenthon’s new one too (although that makes me a hypocrite ’cause I really liked all the Middle Eastern melodies in the new Stormlord).

    but by and large, it seems like any time a band wants to do something mysterious and exotic, that’s the first low-hanging figs they go for.


  3. Commented by: Unease

    Al-Namrood is awesome. I would love to know the meaning of their lyrics though.


  4. Commented by: gabaghoul

    no luck w Google? or Google + Babelfish?


  5. Commented by: Apollyon

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