Heavy Metal in Baghdad
Directed by Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi
VBS.TV and Vice Films
Franklin D. Roosevelt once spoke of the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom from want, freedom from fear, and freedom to bang your head. These freedoms are particularly rare in Iraq, despite the best efforts of the U.S. Military. But that didn’t stop five idealists from learning English from Metallica and Slayer, scraping up some equipment, and becoming the only heavy metal band in the Middle East. They picked a creepy and nearly unpronounceable name — Acrassicauda — the Latin name for a deadly black scorpion commonly found in the desert.
We see into the heart of the band through lead singer Faisal Talal. Metal speaks to him and resonates through the repression of Saddam Hussein, strict Islam, the steady rain of mortar shells, and dead bodies that formed his life in the war zone. Along with the usual suspicion about weird-looking kids playing noisy music, the act of head-banging looks suspiciously like Jewish prayer. It isn’t easy playing metal, and the group has only played seven times over six years, with each show a struggle against wartime security, lack of electricity, and incoming mortar rounds. These guys literally risked their lives every time they played.
While the band had its trials, so did Director and Narrator Suroosh Alvi. He’s Canadian but looks Arabic and seems to lack any fear of death or kidnapping as he repeatedly returns to Baghdad’s vicious civil war. His dedication to supporting and documenting this band make this film a labor of love, and gives us a gripping civilian’s eye view of the battle that you won’t find anywhere in Western media. You’ll also see bits of Iraqi culture — the 60’s-looking buildings, the love/hate relationship with Islam and its strict interpretation, and the struggle to escape the war at the cost of leaving home and friends you may never see again. Curiously, no women are ever shown, although Faisal repeatedly refers to his wife and child.
You can read this film as “music bridging the cultures” or “outsiders trying to find their place in the world,” but this is really about surviving in a war that you want no part of. The damage these young men experience is repeated a million fold as Iraq spirals into a hell worse than the lyrics of any metal song. When all hope is gone, sometimes the only thing you can do is write a song about it.
Heavy Metal in Baghdad: www.heavymetalinbaghdad.com