By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
While LeVine’s book is an academic study of a little-known, foreign subculture, the four kids in Heavy Metal in Baghdad put a face on the true meaning of metal. Counterculture artists in the West consider themselves revolutionaries if they smoke pot and wear a keffiyeh scarf. The film’s aspiring quartet are not only trying to keep their music but also themselves alive.
After a 2003 Vice magazine article, Moretti and Vice co-founder Alvi traveled to Iraq in 2005 in search of the only heavy-metal band in Baghdad, Acrassicauda (that’s unpronounceable Latin for “black scorpion native to Iraq”). What unfolds is a story of living in displacement across three countries, bookended by American troops and terrorists on one side, and immigration bureaucrats on the other. Armed with flak jackets, a bulletproof SUV and a small army of gun-toting security forces, the filmmakers followed the band, all affable, early 20somethings: singer Faisal, guitarist Tony, bassist Firas and drummer Marwan. They learned English by watching American movies and listening to bootleg copies of Metallica, Slayer and Mayhem. “If you wanna know where’s the attraction,” Marwan explains, “look around. We are living in a heavy-metal world.”
They carried guns to their practice space and powered their amps with gas generators. Goatees get you harassed as well, and headbanging is frowned upon because it too closely mimics Jewish prayer. The band only played a handful of shows during its entire existence, including one Vice-sponsored gig in front of a small, all-male audience in a hotel banquet hall, where the electricity kept cutting off, and the band had to pack up before the 7 p.m. curfew. Both the hotel and their practice were eventually bombed, and their instruments were destroyed.
The story gets worse: Without their families, the four relocated to Damascus, Syria, which borders Iraq and is home to more than a million Iraqi refugees. The band manages to make it into a studio to record a few tracks, which are available on their MySpace page (www.myspace.com/wwwacrassicaudas5com). But due to their refugee status, they live as second-class citizens, are unable to work legally and forced to sell their equipment.
After the Syrian government threatened to deport them, the band relocated again, in 2007, this time to Istanbul, where they are allowed to perform. After reading about the documentary, Metallica contacted the filmmakers in hopes of having Acrassicauda open for them at this year's Ozzfest. The Turkish government denied them their Visas. Despite more setbacks, the band carries on; the film’s Web site continues to take donations.
As for LeVine, his work is not finished. In 2009, EMI will release his compilation of Arab metal bands, called, Flowers in the Desert. An accompanying documentary will feature interviews with Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Anthrax’s Scott Ian.
Heavy Metal Islam |Mark LeVine | Three Rivers Press
Heavy Metal in Baghdad | Vice Films
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