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Rock Like an Egyptian

Part One: The Resurgence of Nile-ism

The day after the planes hit the towers four years ago, Bush shoulda converted to Islam. Same God, what’s the problem?

Instead, just like in one of those reelybad cinémas d’horreur, George blew the lid off hell, releasing all the Mideast’s demons and undamming a Euphrates of blood that’s soaked into the very pores of our collective unconscious. By 2005, the myths of the Fertile Crescent were even hijacking our music.

Normally we prefer to take our pharaonic river spirits with a dash of musical comedy, like Duke’s “Caravan” or Sam the Sham or the Bangles or even Sun Ra. But when Bush Sr.’s 1991 Gulf War got cranking, things turned ugly. That year, the Swedish black-metal band Marduk (gore-drenched chief god of Babylon) introduced itself to the world with Fuck Me Jesus, whose cover depicted a nude woman pleasuring herself with a crucifix. South Carolina death-metalers Nile raised up their Egyptian-inspired fist in 1995. East Coast metal impalers Mastodon broke through in 2004 with a combination of Moby Dick theme, iconic graphics and an album titled Leviathan (Phoenicia’s and Isaiah’s dread sea serpent). In the past 12 months, though, the musical counterconquest of the West hit high gear. As in:

1. Nile, Annihilation of the Wicked (Relapse). Between twangly pseudo-Ionian Karl Sanders instros, George Kollias’ double-kick fury tosses you into the turbine and spits you out like hamburger. Typically klassy Relapse cover art.

2. Behemoth, Demigod (Olympic). Formed in 1991 (!), our Polish allies Behemoth (the landgoing Phoenician mythic equivalent to Leviathan) spew surging black metal so fusionistically proficient as to rival Tony Williams at his most insane. Guest spot by Karl Sanders! Love this record.

3. Sothis EP (www.sothis.us). Our local black-metal rippers, named after an Egyptian astral goddess, take infinite care with their tools, from their cunningly balanced song structures to their leather & steel regalia. You want spikes? They got spikes.

4. Isis, Oceanic: Remixes & Reinterpretations (Hydra Head). Though the midtempo meditation of the original 2002 texture slab laid down by these L.A.-via-Boston rockers was masterful, last year’s two-CD abstraction thereof (a repackaging of four vinyl EPs on Robotic Empire) makes you want to drop your rifle and smoke kif till doomsday.

5. Dub Gabriel, Bass Jihad (Azra). Keep smokin’. Good title, too. Nobody spins Middle Eastern loop music quite as hypnotically as this East Coast DJ.

6. Jon Hassell, Maarifa Street: Magic Realism 2 (Nyen). Except maybe, y’know, the guy who virtually invented the form. Loops and samples made out of old loops and samples, yet different in all the details. Kind of like humans.

7. Éthiopiques 19: Mahmoud Ahmed 1974, Alèmyé (Buda Musique). Film albino Jim Jarmusch tapped the amazing Éthiopiques reissue series for the soundtrack to last year’s Broken Flowers. His choice was “Mulatu Astatqe,” from way back at Éthiopiques 4, but this latest Mahmoud Ahmed nugget, with its cyclic thud, woozy horns and droning Vox organ, is just as good: North Africans imitating us imitating them at a time when OPEC’s embargo against nations that supported Israel against Egypt in the 1973 Yom Kippur War caused mile-long lines for 55-cent-a-gallon gas. Those were the days.

Part Two: I Want To Break Free

The old Queen did not rock. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t great, just that it didn’t have any Little Richard or Muddy Waters or even Buddy Holly in it. Like David Bowie (a fiend for mime and Anthony Newley), the Persian-parented Freddie Mercury was a theatrical warbler who figured the 1970s way to do The King and I was with about a jillion watts of guitar and drums. Tight and white.

Not till Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Co.) replaced the late Freddie, and Queen released 2005’s much-cringed-over Return of the Champions (live CD and DVD), did the light dawn about how much tooth-grinding Brian May and Roger Taylor must’ve suffered long ago as ministers to their exceedingly talented monarch. With Rodgers exhaling the stanky smoke of whorehouse blues, suddenly the remaining original Queensmen relocated their guitar and drum gonads and let their love tumble. “Tie Your Mother Down” replaced swish with slosh. “Fat Bottomed Girls” got some real butt in it. The 57-year-old May generated so much noise, he sounded like he just got his ax for Axmas. And when they smashed into Free’s “Wishing Well” and “All Right Now” — damn, this rock & roll shit is fun.

Congratulations to all for pulling this thing together against all prudence, just for the thrill of it. God knows you don’t need the money.

Part Three: Stay Outta the Kitchen!

Diana Krall, Norah Jones, fine. Call it jazz if you want; I’ve done worse. Only problem is what you might call the Songbird Reflex: women spotting an aperture in “jazz,” and thinking they can realize their showbiz dreams by scatting along to hits from 1936. There are thousands of such performers now.

Please don’t do this. If you’re over 50 and can thus claim some vague connection to what in 1965 we used to call “standards” — well, what harm? But from now on, no woman under 40 is allowed to mount a club stage and shoobity-bop more than one “Falling in Love With Love” or “Embraceable You” or “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Mary Lou Williams, Melba Liston, Abbey Lincoln, Carla Bley, Cassandra Wilson, Geri Allen and a lot more have just worked too damn hard to get away from that.

So you can’t do it. No matter who’s president.

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