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Acrassicauda

Bagdad. Daar verwacht je moslim-fundamentalisten, benzine die per liter goedkoper is dan water, veel gesluierde vrouwen, patrouillerende Amerikanen, zo nu en dan een bomaanslag en de laatste resten van het regime van Saddam Hoessein. Wat je daar niet verwacht is metal. Als moslim-gevangenen gemarteld konden worden met het luisteren naar 'Enter Sandman' van Metallica, dan zou je niet denken dat er vette metal geproduceerd werd die je doet denken aan Metallica, Slayer en Anthrax, gelardeerd met invloeden uit hun eigen cultuur, maar volgens eigen zeggen is Acrassicauda de enige metalband uit Irak. Ik had al van bands uit Iran gehoord, maar ook die zijn op de vingers van één hand te tellen. En al had deze band een waanzinnig slecht product uitgebracht, dan zou ik ze nog interviewen uit het oogpunt van cultuurconfrontatie en cultuurverschil. Een unieke kijk in landen waar metal nog wordt gezien als een uitwas van het kwaad (goed, in Rijssen zien ze dat ook nog als zodanig, maar dat is slechts een vlek op de landkaart…). Gelukkig is de EP 'Only The Dead See The End Of The War' een fijne luisterervaring. En bekijk gelijk even het YouTube filmpje waarbij de gitarist van Acrassicauda een gitaar gesigneerd en al krijgt van James Hetfield van Metallica. Die gezichtsuitdrukking is onbetaalbaar… Lords of Metal spreekt met drummer Marwan Hussein (hopelijk geen familie van) en Faisal Talal Mustafa, de zanger/gitarist van de band.

Door: Wilmar | Archiveer onder speed / thrash metal

For us western Europeans metal is a musical form that has been with us for the past forty years. Sometimes popular, most of the times it existed in the margins of music, certainly here in The Netherlands. We do have a great underground and lots of venues to play at. This must be quite a difference with Baghdad, Iraq where you guys originally come from. Could you tell us something about the scene in Baghdad, about being a headbanger in a country that seems hostile towards everything from the west?
Marwan: The hostile part is what the media propaganda creates on TV. It's what they want you to believe in order to sell more views of creating this negative tension between the east and the west. That said, being new for this type of music as a western culture had it's own positive and negative reaction/feedback. Hearing a new style was such an eye-opener for newer generations to get out of this stereotype/routine of listening to the false stories/fantasies, there's not much of a wide range of perspectives in the type of music we listen to all the time. While rock and roll, and more specifically, heavy metal was that type of music that leads you to the path of a wide range/realistic world.

Did you experience the start of the war in 2003 as a liberation, or do you have different views towards that?
Marwan: Everybody does. And you can experience our point of views through our songs and lyrics.

You were featured in the documentary 'Heavy Metal In Baghdad' by Vice Films. How did you get in contact with Vice and what did the exposure in the documentary eventually mean to you?
Marwan: This is actually mentioned in the movie. But, to give more details about it, an article made about us by Gideon Yago back in 2003 and this is how VICE knew about us. And the rest is history.

I watched the YouTube film where you are backstage at a Metallica concert and James giving you one of his guitars and signing it. The expression on the face of Faisal was priceless. It must have been a dream coming true for getting such a gift. How do you look back on this experience and has the guitar already produced some great riffs?
Faisal: Any guitar has a simple, spiritual way of expressing itself and it's not just the quality or special features that the guitar has, it's more of it giving you the power from the hands that it came from. As much as I love that shape of guitar and to shred it, I still hold back because I know I'll tear it to pieces because it's way too cool to play it. It's the same thing as wishing for a Lamborghini and suddenly being given one by someone you really admire. And for those who wonder about my situation after that experience, I'm still in shock from it happening!

You recently released your EP 'Only The Dead See The End Of The War'. The title is quite pessimistic. Are you convinced that the war in Iraq will never end?
Faisal: Man has created war. (Last weekend I viewed a documentary in which chimpanzees also went to war. It is suggested that Man and their kin are both capable of doing horrendous deeds. Ed. Wilmar) And man is the only one who can stop it. If we can't hold ourselves back from being aware of this, then, of course, war will continue. And I'm not only talking about what's going on in Iraq, even in the simple things in life, you can find that war always surrounds you. We're not like politicians, but we're more sensible to what's surrounding us to realize that the basics of life are not easy to understand. But, you have to keep the faith and keep going, no matter what.

One of the songs is called 'Message From Baghdad'. Could you tell us something more about that song?
Faisal: Death, Destruction, resolve points, and old times. We've always composed music that can speak generally about everything. But, we've never delivered a message from our hometown. So, we wanted to do something we appreciated and would be easy to deliver from east to west. It required nothing complicated to get the track out so we wanted to seize that opportunity. We wanted to resolve these problems for those that want to follow us. Who knows, maybe one in a billion will discover the message we want to send in our music. I believe this number is increasing and now there are more people that believe in a thing called “Baghdad”.

The second song is called 'Garden Of Stones', which seems a metaphor for a graveyard. In your time in Iraq you should have seen more death than the average headbanger around the world. How influential is your time in Iraq and the refugee camps in Syria and Turkey for your music and lyrics?
Faisal: The influence is obvious. We lived in a heavy metal world, as we mentioned in the movie. So, basically, that's what got us onto this road. It keeps up motivated to continue the thing we call “life”. Being a refugee is not easy. But, being a musician fighting for your own music is the toughest. We've been inspired by every country we visit. We've learned so much and have been inspired by plenty of Middle Eastern bands/music. We've found our goal for this journey and we finally discovered that this is what we should write about. Lyrically, we choose to write about life experiences like our problems, explanations for those problems, and hopes for some resolutions. As for the music, we try to stick to our homeland because nothing is more important that sticking to your roots.

So the EP is out, what is coming up next? Are you guys going to tour? If so is Europe also in the plans? The recording of a debut album perhaps? Tell us something more about the future.
Faisal: The EP will be coming out on March 9th. We are hoping to tour later this year and the reason we released the EP is because we needed something fast to let people know that we are alive and still chasing our dream. But, hoping in the near future that there will be a new album filled with more songs and that's our main goal.

Final question: you can open for Slayer on their next world tour, but to do so you have to trade in the guitar James Hetfield has given you. Would you consider it for the world tour, or do you say 'fuck it, I stay at home!'
Faisal: No offense to Slayer AT ALL because I would be honoured to open for them some day. But, I'd rather say, “Fuck it, I'll stay at home!” because I had the most extreme experience when I first laid my hands on that guitar and I still do every time I touch it. It's a big inspiration to both my music and me to have a legend's guitar. I followed him growing up and I will never forget his generosity. Him giving me that precious piece was motivation for me to continue to pursue music.
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Iraq is a country where the main religion is Islam. You stated on your website that Acrassicauda was regularly targeted by fundamentalist Muslims, from which I gather that you guys are no Muslims. Could you tell us something more about your confrontations with the Islam?
Marwan: Nothing for certain since we chose to be musicians and not something else because these kinds of topics we avoid speaking of in conversation. So, we use our songs to deliver the way we think about it.

How did you get your music out in Iraq? Did you record any demos? Did you have access to the internet? How could you promote Acrassicauda in a country where metal was seemingly outlawed?
Marwan: We put our music out through the black market using smuggled cassettes outside of Iraq. We had an unreleased demo in 2002 and it was passed among friends. But, it was a good experience to have recorded a demo. We had no access to the Internet until 2003. It was only accessible through public libraries and big corporations so nothing could be done digitally. We still promoted by posting fliers in the streets but mainly relied on word of mouth.

After a while you guys fled Iraq and went to Syria. There you spent time in refugee-camps, but you also managed to play two shows over there. How did you go to Syria? Did you simply load all your stuff into a van and started driving, or did you have to do it more in secret?
Marwan: We just jumped on the bus. There weren't a whole lot of security issues getting over to Syria.

Life in a refugee camp is something I cannot imagine. Could you tell us something more about your time in such camps and how did it affect your musical career? Was the time there inspiring to write music, or is it a period in your life you want to forget as soon as possible?
Marwan: We didn't stay in a refugee camp in Syria. But, our music is all about our life experiences.

After Syria you went to Turkey, and even managed to play a show there. But you stated on your MySpace that life in Turkey was hard to get used to. We have the impression in The Netherlands that Turkey is a country that is modelled after the western civilization, but what was the difficulty with living in Turkey?
Marwan: Turkey was a country that was stuck in between eastern and western civilization. They have influences of both worlds so it was also kind of interesting and educational to be there and not have a major jump from one world to another.

After that you guys came to live in New York. How the Hell did you get to New York and what is the difference with living in Turkey, Syria and Bagdad now that you have settled down in the Big Apple?
Marwan: It was definitely different but there are also similarities for the two countries, especially the two were involved and still probably at war. It's good to be in the States and it was needed in order to continue the band we started ten years ago.

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I watched the YouTube film where you are backstage at a Metallica concert and James giving you one of his guitars and signing it. The expression on the face of Faisal was priceless. It must have been a dream coming true for getting such a gift. How do you look back on this experience and has the guitar already produced some great riffs?
Faisal: Any guitar has a simple, spiritual way of expressing itself and it's not just the quality or special features that the guitar has, it's more of it giving you the power from the hands that it came from. As much as I love that shape of guitar and to shred it, I still hold back because I know I'll tear it to pieces because it's way too cool to play it. It's the same thing as wishing for a Lamborghini and suddenly being given one by someone you really admire. And for those who wonder about my situation after that experience, I'm still in shock from it happening!

You recently released your EP 'Only The Dead See The End Of The War'. The title is quite pessimistic. Are you convinced that the war in Iraq will never end?
Faisal: Man has created war. (Last weekend I viewed a documentary in which chimpanzees also went to war. It is suggested that Man and their kin are both capable of doing horrendous deeds. Ed. Wilmar) And man is the only one who can stop it. If we can't hold ourselves back from being aware of this, then, of course, war will continue. And I'm not only talking about what's going on in Iraq, even in the simple things in life, you can find that war always surrounds you. We're not like politicians, but we're more sensible to what's surrounding us to realize that the basics of life are not easy to understand. But, you have to keep the faith and keep going, no matter what.

One of the songs is called 'Message From Baghdad'. Could you tell us something more about that song?
Faisal: Death, Destruction, resolve points, and old times. We've always composed music that can speak generally about everything. But, we've never delivered a message from our hometown. So, we wanted to do something we appreciated and would be easy to deliver from east to west. It required nothing complicated to get the track out so we wanted to seize that opportunity. We wanted to resolve these problems for those that want to follow us. Who knows, maybe one in a billion will discover the message we want to send in our music. I believe this number is increasing and now there are more people that believe in a thing called “Baghdad”.

The second song is called 'Garden Of Stones', which seems a metaphor for a graveyard. In your time in Iraq you should have seen more death than the average headbanger around the world. How influential is your time in Iraq and the refugee camps in Syria and Turkey for your music and lyrics?
Faisal: The influence is obvious. We lived in a heavy metal world, as we mentioned in the movie. So, basically, that's what got us onto this road. It keeps up motivated to continue the thing we call “life”. Being a refugee is not easy. But, being a musician fighting for your own music is the toughest. We've been inspired by every country we visit. We've learned so much and have been inspired by plenty of Middle Eastern bands/music. We've found our goal for this journey and we finally discovered that this is what we should write about. Lyrically, we choose to write about life experiences like our problems, explanations for those problems, and hopes for some resolutions. As for the music, we try to stick to our homeland because nothing is more important that sticking to your roots.

So the EP is out, what is coming up next? Are you guys going to tour? If so is Europe also in the plans? The recording of a debut album perhaps? Tell us something more about the future.
Faisal: The EP will be coming out on March 9th. We are hoping to tour later this year and the reason we released the EP is because we needed something fast to let people know that we are alive and still chasing our dream. But, hoping in the near future that there will be a new album filled with more songs and that's our main goal.

Final question: you can open for Slayer on their next world tour, but to do so you have to trade in the guitar James Hetfield has given you. Would you consider it for the world tour, or do you say 'fuck it, I stay at home!'
Faisal: No offense to Slayer AT ALL because I would be honoured to open for them some day. But, I'd rather say, “Fuck it, I'll stay at home!” because I had the most extreme experience when I first laid my hands on that guitar and I still do every time I touch it. It's a big inspiration to both my music and me to have a legend's guitar. I followed him growing up and I will never forget his generosity. Him giving me that precious piece was motivation for me to continue to pursue music.

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