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Rocking against the tide: a showcase of Egypt’s metal mania

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Egypt’s metal scene is still small but here to stay.

The band pose for the camera after a set. (Courtesy of Anarchy)

The band pose for the camera after a set. (Courtesy of Anarchy)

Music is an integral part of every culture that has come to be since the dawn of time. Within every society that has managed to survive to our modern age music has also thrived, branching out in as many directions as there are people within those societies to create it. As these societies began connecting and growing, their unique experiences and histories bring with them their own artistic expressions.

In Egypt music is a varied as it is treasured. From Quranic recitals that are sung across the city in mosques, to the gritty and often telling tales found in rap, all forms of music are available to those who search for it. Perhaps one of the most unexpected and yet increasingly present forms of music in Egypt is the metal genre, whose artists and fans find themselves living in parallel with a society that is largely ignorant and at the same time apprehensive of the fast riffs, aggressive drum style and often coarse tone of voice that the genre presents.

Metal is an umbrella term which does the gnere little justice. It is a label applied without knowledge of content or context of the music itself. This erroneous interpretation of an art form, which constantly changes, has not succeeded in eliminating its existence but has bred a subculture that is now part of the very fabric of Egypt.

Anarchy – order within the chaos

One band that has delved into the metal genre is Anarchy, a group of five Egyptian men whose upcoming (and as of yet unnamed) debut album tells tales of mythology. Their songs go through different periods of mythological history from around the world. “We like to think of our music as having a certain artistic quality which allows you to enjoy it in several different moods,” lead singer Adham Kafafy explained.

To the group, being identified as a certain genre of metal could be misleading. “Every genre in metal has in turn its own subgenre which in turn has its own subgenres,” Kafafy explained. The most common type of music in Egypt is oriental, which finds its way into every other genre. It is because of this that many bands have such strong oriental influences in their songs. To Kafafy, what makes a band ultimately good is the ability to drift from one genre to another in order to find their influences and their own style. For an artist, the most precious part of it all is the ability to enjoy and express yourself to the fullest of your abilities.

This is how Kafafy spoke of his music, referring to songs such as The Battle Within, a song, which delves into the internal struggle between good and evil. It is about that voice inside of you which always warns you when you go astray. “When you are faced with the choice; do you listen to it or do you turn your back to it?” Kafafy asked. The band is associated with what is known as progressive metal, a genre filled with storytelling.

Peter Ayman. (Courtesy of Anarchy)

Once their first album is released, Anarchy will be working on their second album, which will feature more modern stories. “Perhaps it would be something political or something inside your own mind. It could be a location or an event,” but at this point they want to leave it a mystery.

“We have been playing the line-up of our first album for the past two years,” lead guitarist Ahmed Raouf said. It has given them the opportunity to fine-tune their music, producing a polished album the members can be proud of. “We only managed to start recording this year, so it is not a new release as much as it is bringing the show to the people through electronic and hard-copy distribution.” Raouf said the group had chosen to use a six-string guitar for this album but will be focusing on the seven-string guitar for their next album.

Completing the band alongside Kafafy and Raouf are Peter Ayman on rhythm guitar, Hazem Sherif on bass and Naeyr Ossama on drums. What makes this line-up so unique is their refusal to recycle riffs, making every segment of the song a unique part of the music. These segments act like markers within the song, allowing you to place where along the track you are solely by listening to the melody.

By definition, anarchy is not the presence of chaos, but the absence of order. The word stems from the ancient Greek words of an and archos meaning to have no ruler. By disregarding the common rule of rhythm and repetition, Anarchy was born.

Glory, fame and fortune are certainly part of what makes being a musician attractive, yet Anarchy has remained level-headed over the years. Granted there is a severe shortage in rolling red carpets on the Hollywood-scale of things in Egypt, their fans nevertheless recognise them on the streets.

“You won’t find large groups of metalheads gathered together outside of a concert setting,” Raouf said. “At most, there will be a handful of people because the community isn’t as established like those in Finland, New Zealand or the United States.”

“The good thing about it is that we are treated like normal people by our fans and that is also largely due to the fact that we share a special relationship with them,” Kafafy said. After a set the band is known for their personal approach, jumping into the crowd and spending time with fans. “We often go out for dinner with them, or spend a night in their company,” Raouf explained. “Without our fans we are nothing.”

Wyvern – Breaking through the barriers

Growing up, the members of Wyvern were attracted to metal music due to its distinctive nature. The depth of the lyrics, the issues addressed by the songs, the prominent riffs and grooves, the compositions, the vocals, the guitar solos are all just a few of the reasons that drew them to heavy metal in a pop-dominated culture. The founding line-up, when Wyvern was formed in 2003, had Marawan Shaaban and Sherif Alaa on guitars, Hameed on bass and Seif El-Din Moussa on drums.

Starting as a cover band, Wyvern played songs from their favourite bands like Metallica, Megadeath, Iron Maiden and Sepultura. A year later, Wyvern performed their first single, Sex for Sale. The track criticised the state of the mainstream music scene, how it was overpowered with obscene, profit-oriented songs, which lacked musicianship and songs revolving around poorly handled issues that were usually performed by mediocre musicians. Adham Roshdy joined Wyvern as their lead vocalist in 2006 when the band started shifting towards original material.

By the turn of the 21st century, metal concerts in Egypt attracted an audience of 800 to 1000 people at most. Wyvern’s performance at the SOS music festival was the first time a heavy metal band performed for a large audience since 1997; an audience of about 15,000 people. This performance was featured as a breakthrough for metal music in Egypt in a BBC coverage of the event. The band delivered their music to over 20,000 people at other instalments of the festival.

By 2008 the band recorded their first album titled The Clown.  It was the first legally-licensed heavy/thrash metal album in Egypt. One of the obstacles the band faced while recording and releasing the album is that most of the audio engineers in Egypt lack relevant experience and knowledge about the genre’s sound. “I wasn’t involved in the recording process from the beginning”, said Essam Al-Saharty, audio engineer on The Clown. Wyvern asked Al-Saharty to join the team, in the middle of the recording process, and help them achieve a better production from the available recorded tracks.  Al-Saharty said that due to the tight timeframe, he was forced to accept the recorded sessions the way they were, and that the sessions did not adhere to the desired standards of the genre. Before starting the recording process, Wyvern did not choose the relevant person for the job. “It’s not that the engineers are bad, it’s only that they do not understand the sound of metal and there was a lack of experience in the record-taking process,” Al-Saharty explained.

“Egypt is not a good market for heavy metal,” drummer Seif said, referring to the obstacles a band faces. The members were oppressed along the years for trying to uphold metal music in Egypt. The group believed many people had placed little faith in their ability to succeed and singing in English would not make it easier for them to find a producer.

Wyvern’s line-up has significantly changed over time, “I lost count,” Seif said. In 2010, Sherif the guitarist was replaced by Mohamed “Ousso” Lotfy who performed with the band until halfway through this year. Hameed wanted to explore and engage in different musical directions. Feeling that he would not be able to offer a great input to Wyvern, he decided to leave the band in 2011. “I received a phone call from Marawan asking me whether I wanted to join Wyvern or not, and my answer was an absolute yes,” said Osama Salah, Wyvern’s current bassist. Later in the year, Rami Sidky joined the band replacing Ousso, who had moved to England.

There are many reasons behind the changes in the band’s line-up. “Nothing that has to do with the relationships between the band members though,” said Seif. Marawan believes that one of the reasons why members leave a band in general is frustration and despair. “They feel that the path they are following is not taking them anywhere,” Marawan said. He added however, that those who truly believe in what they are doing are still in the band.

Heavy metal tackles and addresses personal, psychological, social and philosophical issues. “We channel our frustration regarding troubling issues into music rather than other dysfunctional expressions,” said Marawan. For instance, Wyvern’s Dr Butcher attacks the brutality behind illegal organ trading, while Fallen Idol tackles the issue of being deceived and disappointed by the very people we look up to.

The band shares a diverse pool of musical backgrounds, which results in the unique sound of their music. Wyvern is currently working on their second album, blending their different musical experiences towards a modern-oriented sound, while maintaining the profound characteristics of old-school metal.

The band has turned their attention to finding a respectable international label under which they can further develop their talents and expose their music to the world. “The band has enough experience and repertoire to make that breakthrough, focusing on the creation of good music and going international will definitely work out,” said Ramy, Wyvern’s current guitarist.

Massive Scar Era – Challenging societal sensibilities since 2005

Defying virtually every concept of women in the predominantly conservative Egyptian society, Massive Scar Era (Mascara for short) began as an all-female, four-piece, face-melting band. In 2005, Sherine Amr lifted her guitar, and with a combination of talent and passion began to work on what was to become Mascara. Over the next year her dedication led her to find Nancy Mounir, the violinist that solidified their musical identity.

Over the next two years the group was frequently undergoing changes in the line-up, with Nancy and Sherine being the permanent members. Finding ways to fuse Sherine’s passion for punk and hardcore music and Nancy’s eloquent classical melody, the girls managed to draw the attention of several venues and events in their hometown of Alexandria, eventually being invited to play at the SOS music festival.

By 2009, Sherine and Nancy decided to take their act to Cairo, and due to the frequency of their line-up rotation and the talent pool available in Cairo, the girls decided to forego the notion of an all-female group and took on Youssef Altay as the drummer. In that year, the group was given their first international stage in Sweden, at the annual Sweden Rock Festival. The band performed alongside musical giants such as Motörhead and Immortal.

Calling the current line-up a metal band may be a mistake, as their effective combination of thrash and classical melody leave many people surprised. “We play post-melodic hardcore, which is a mix between the hard-core riffs and many other genres,” Sherine explained. “We often have a wide mix of pop, punk and oriental influences, along with both the screaming vocals and the melodic soprano.”

Anarchy band members Ahmad Raouf, left, and Peter Ayman perform on stage Abdalla Saleh. (Courtesy of Anarchy)

Anarchy band members Ahmad Raouf, left, and Peter Ayman perform on stage
Abdalla Saleh. (Courtesy of Anarchy)

This musical smorgasbord was not the end-goal Sherine had envisioned, saying the style had chosen them. Their current line-up consists of Sherine on vocals and guitar, Karim Ashraf on bass, Nancy and her violin and Maged Faltas on the drums. “I come from a punk and hardcore background,” Sherine explained. “Nancy comes from a very classical and oriental background, Karim comes from metalcore and Maged comes from a hardcore and blues background.”

Being accepted in Egypt’s metal scene as a woman was very hard for Sherine and having a female leading the group hadn’t made their job easier. “Most of the other bands did not take us seriously and did not really accept us,” Sherine said.

“The other bands began taking us seriously when we started touring outside of Egypt in 2009,” Sherine explained. Their performance in Sweden was not merely as another band in a festival but as representatives of Egypt’s internationally untapped musical market, the unelected spokespersons. “Many bands,” Sherine began, “were very excited for us but some bands got upset,” due to what they perceived to be an unfair advantage given to Mascara simply for having women in the group. “It is very stupid to be honest, but we have to deal with this kind of mentality in our society.” Driving the point home, Sherine pointed out that they are musicians and should not be valued according to their gender. “I choose to ignore those people and carry on with creating music.”

Mosh-Pit Maniacs – Hijacking the airwaves one song at a time

Mosh-Pit Maniacs (MPM) may very well be the only metal radio station in Egypt, or at the very least the most well-known by some margin. It was launched in April 2011 through an online radio channel now known as capitalclubradio.com. The creator of MPM, Baron Daimonos as he is known in the scene, was offered to launch an online metal radio show by the owner of Capital Club Radio, Ossama Kamal.

“The main reason behind starting the show,” Daimonos explained, “was the lack of an on-air portal that reflects our metal music scene in Egypt and the Middle East.” This new project allowed for the listeners to become familiar with new bands, expanding their libraries and promoting the art through osmosis. His radio show allowed the listeners to “get to know more about bands they have been listening to and bands that they will listen to for the first time and throughout their musical life,” Daimonos said. “The show aims to upgrade listeners’ information levels when it comes to metal music and certainly to update their music libraries with everything that is new and good.”

Daimonos remembers his first hosting session very well, and recalled his enthusiasm in promoting all things metal. “I remember hosting the first two episodes with a message to familiarise non-metal music listeners with all heavy metal sub-genres, as one of the show’s messages is to familiarize non-metal music listeners with metal music’s tunes, philosophy and lifestyle in general.” Since its inception, Daimonos has interviewed several Egyptian bands, including Crescent, Black Rose and Sinprophecy. The plethora of genres and subgenres, “from heavy metal and the new wave of British heavy metal to the dark recesses of black metal,” Daimonos said, creates a near bottomless pool of styles and bands.

Egypt’s metal is in great part influenced by other musical genres, which have grown alongside Egypt’s culture such as oriental music, and it is in this unique aspect that Egypt is just like any other metal scene in the world. It has the devoted metalheads that go to as many concerts as they can , often travelling from city to city for separate concerts. Daimonos points out that the metal scene is mostly concentrated in the large Egyptian cities of Alexandria and Cairo.

Metal will always exist in Egypt, Daimonos believes. Regardless of any political developments in the country he is confident that metalheads will still enjoy the music. It is from the musical side of things that raises concerns to Daimonos, who is adamant that the relatively low number of bands performing in Egypt are often ill-suited in their attempts at generating music that can be bearable to listen to. “Old is gold,” Daimonos said, “in Egypt this is often the case.”

About the author

Luiz Sanchez

Luiz Sanchez

Journalist

Luiz is a Brazilian journalist in Cairo @luizdaVeiga


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