Released: 2009, MTV Books
Preface. This is Part I of a two-part review. You can search for an read Part II of the review of the companion DVD, HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD in our reviews database.
This is a very interesting book, one sure to go down in the annals of metal history. In case you are not familiar with the story I’ll give you a quick recap. Back in 2003 or so some young dudes living in Baghdad decided to form a Heavy Metal band called Acrassicauda, which means ‘Black Scorpion’. Because of the political climate in Iraq, creating a Metal band was quite an unusual move and the story caught the eye of a journalist writing for Vice magazine. The magazine article appeared in January of 2004. The band established a relationship with the magazine and the story eventually evolved into a three-part TV series that aired on VBS in 2007. The editors felt there was enough original material to warrant a full-length feature film. The footage was re-cut, edited and released at the Toronto Film Festival in September of 2007. The story kept growing and eventually it was released on DVD in 2008 with bonus footage and eventually the book came out in 2009. This story became a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster and the band became minor celebrities in the eyes of the international media despite having virtually no recorded output of any kind other than two demos. At one point one of the members expressed annoyance at the media for asking questions about their personal circumstances and nothing about the music!
The book essentially reaps the story of the band through a series of interviews spanning 36 hours conducted by Caper in 2008. It’s a nice looking book, just over 287 pages with lots and lots of black and white photos. HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD is not a book in the traditional sense, but rather a large scale collection of interviews with many people involved with the band from journalists, ex-members, immigration people, the movie producer and of course the band. The story itself covers the first 200 pages and then added on the end like a ‘bonus’ feature is the transcription of the film. Since I own the DVD I didn’t really see the need to read the screenplay but I suppose it could be interesting from a technical point of view.
The story of the band is the key point of interest although not really from a purely Heavy Metal perspective. The story follows the band from some early childhood recollections and up into the early days of 2003 when they formed the band. The war broke out in and the band eventually scattered in order to survive. They ended up in Syria and eventually reunited in Turkey and eventually arrived as refugees in the United States. The band never really recorded anything except a demo and they played perhaps a dozen concerts in their entire career. In terms of originality and output the band didn’t really accomplish much in their first six years. However, that’s not really the point. The story of their struggle to survive a hostile environment playing western music is the compelling part of the tale. The fact that they are a Metal band is secondary, they could have been a country band or a jazz band for that matter. The fact that they ARE Metal makes it that much cooler. If the band was playing another form of music I wouldn’t have bothered watching the movie or reading the book. It’s like a little success story for the power of Metal, I doubt other forms of music would have provided such dedication and willpower to overcome the odds. Most other bands would have simply given up.
The heart of the tale is the friendship and the drive to play Metal that helped the band endure some extremely arduous times and hardships that most (probably all!) western musicians cannot really comprehend, such as having your practice space being hit by a Scud missile or receiving death threats because you have long hair and wear a Black T-shirt. It’s a compelling tale that is inspiring and helps many of us realize how truly lucky we are to be able to be free to listen to, enjoy and create Metal without fear of violent retribution or vicious oppression. HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD nicely encapsulates the history of the band from creation to oppression and eventually to freedom. It is a great companion piece to the DVD. Please feel free to click here to read my review of the DVD.