There’s an automatic weight associated with Acrassicauda’s music. Were someone to listen to their newest EP, Only the Dead See the End of the War, without knowing any of the band’s history, the listener would assume they were listening to a run-of-the-mill metal outfit doing thoroughly competent work. However, the truth about the band would likely change a lot of minds, and in so doing, infuriate those who prefer to disassociate the art from the artist. Acrassicauda formed in Baghdad in 2001.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that a metal band could find any number of more welcoming environments than Baghdad circa 2001. Between the impending war in Iraq, which counted Baghdad as one of its main stages, and the scads of religious extremists in the region who view metal as the devil’s music, Acrassicauda were practically destined to have an interesting band biography. And wouldn’t you know it? They do. Acrassicauda escaped the mounting violence in Iraq after the invasion and wound up seeking refuge in both Syria and Turkey. After years of toiling in bureaucratic purgatory, the band was finally granted refugee status from the United States government. As if this wasn’t enough, the band was on the receiving end of any number of death threats from fundamentalists for their Americanized musical genre of choice.
Obviously, a thousand kudos to them for following their muse, even when it could have potentially cost them and their loved ones their lives. Acrassicauda could not have possibly risked more to play the music they love, so they deserve all of the attention and write-ups they’ve received (including one in the New York Times). There’s even a documentary about them (2008’s Heavy Metal in Baghdad). That’s a lot of attention directed at a back story. So now there’s the question that is generally pretty important in an album review but almost seems like an afterthought here: how’s the music?
The short answer is that it’s totally fine. The members of Acrassicauda are all skilled metal musicians. This means that there’s plenty of double-kick drumming, plenty of harmonized guitar solos interrupted by bouts of low-end riffing, plenty of howling and growling about destruction, souls, carnage and chaos. The problem is, you hear the term “Iraq metal band,” and you sort of expect a little of their country in the music. Only the Dead Live to See the End of the War is thoroughly westernized, save for brief Arabic wailing in the middle of “Garden of Stones”. The most interesting thing about Acrassicauda is the way their lyrics perfectly double as both legitimate anger directed at the occupying American forces and boilerplate metal sentiments: “Dead bodies walking coffins…Fearless zombies walk among the living.” Maybe Acrassicauda is mad about the Iraq war, or maybe they’re rehashing metal tropes; the likely answer is that it’s a combination of the two.
Then again, Acrassicauda are not obligated to satisfy my interpretation of what an Iraqi metal band should be. If they grew up loving metal and metal alone, then more power to them. I’m of the opinion that incorporating some Middle Eastern influences into their sound would go a long way to making their music stand out more than their story, but Acrassicauda never claimed to be the future of metal; they just came to play.
Generally, I prefer metal bands that are simultaneously ferocious virtuosos and aware of the inherent absurdities that exist within large portions of the genre. A friend of mine says that he doesn’t care for metal because he has a hard time believing that anyone is that angry, but given all that Acrassicauda have been through, they’ve certainly earned the right to unironically rage in the most overwrought musical and lyrical terminology they can muster. It just would have been nice if the music alone made the case for the band.