Heavy Metal In Baghdad
Directed and Narrated: Suroosh Alvi & Eddy Moretti
Produced by Vice Films
Review by Chris Galea
As this documentary starts rolling, we see the producers being forced to wear bullet-proof vests. Straight away it’s clear that this is not going to be your average music documentary. Sure enough…
“Heavy Metal in Baghdad” is about Acrassicauda, allegedly the only active Metal band from Iraq (then…and probably also now). The documentary uses interviews, commentaries, live performances and other original footage to reveal what it is like to be a Metal band in a war-torn country. Consequentially we are enlightened on much more than the band’s history.
The members of Acrassicauda initially come across as young and naïve but in reality Saddam Hussein’s tyranny and the war that followed his murder seem to have instilled in these Iraqis a sense of maturity far advanced for their age.
One thing that struck me was that in general Heavy Metal tends to use a lot of gory imagery, violent song-lyrics and horror theatrics but for Acrassicauda reality is far worse than all that. There’s a scene when one of the band’s members looks at the artwork of Iron Maiden’s “Death on the Road” CD and remarks that that artwork looks like daily life for him. And yet Heavy Metal gives the band members and their local fans a sense of purpose in life.
Marwan, the band’s drummer, sums up what Metal means to him: “If you can teach every prisoner to play drums…smash drums…they are going to be good citizens.” During that same interview, the band members are sometimes forced to talk louder when sounds of bombing and gunfire outside the building drowns out their voices.
The social climate within which Acrassicauda are immersed is incredibly tough. When the camera shoots (no pun intended) the street of Baghdad, everyone seems to be holding guns. So when the band members receive death threats for plying the ‘devil’s music’, their genuine concern is understandable. Power cuts during a live performance is the least they’d come to expect and you can’t help share their heartbreak when they discover a rocket has hit their rehearsal space and in one stroke destroys their gear which lay inside. Acrassicauda’s guitarist tells the interviewer: “It’s like a nightmare but the problem is that you cannot wake up from it.”
Eventually the band members manage to travel to Syria via Turkey as refugees, and even manage to organise a Metal gig in Damascus, the biblical place where millennia earlier St Paul is alleged to have converted to Christianity. The gig kicked off with a cover of Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ and, besides some original numbers, also included a cover of Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’. The positive reaction to that gig seemed to reinvigorate the band.
Another memorable moment is when the chain-smoking band did their very first recording, a demo of 3 original numbers. The narrator makes the interesting observation that while Iraq seemed bent on either destruction or on rebuilding the ruins, Acrassicauda had actually created something from nothing with that first recording. And clearly that made them proud.
The band interviews tend to be frank and honest. In a particular one, a band member even calls the producers mad for showing an interest in the band and for travelling to Baghdad to meet them. In other interviews you can really sense the band members’ implied feelings of desperation and helplessness. It would have been interesting to hear more about their childhood and how they first came across Rock and Metal. On the other hand, the narrator/interviewer keeps the documentary flowing with his commentary and pertinent observations.
The film-doc concludes with a caption stating that the band was forced to return to Iraq from Syria.
Two years after the documentary’s release, the band managed to settle in New York and other parts of U.S.A. They also managed to record a full album in a proper studio, meet Metallica and tour North America. Life still remains a struggle for the guys of Acrassicauda but they have already rebuilt their lives several times so I’m sure they’ll keep overcoming the odds that life throws at them.
“Heavy Metal In Baghdad” is insightful, unique and, in my opinion, represents essential viewing. In particular, any band disheartened by the prospect of a decimated post-coronavirus live-scene should check this out.
Watch the trailer here:
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