Label: self released Band: Molodost Origin: Lebanon
This record collects music made with the project Molodost. Molodost takes its inspiration from Slavic folk metal, particularly Alkonost and their song with the same name as the band. Molodost is however a one man project in the southern land of Lebanon, far from the Russian realms.
Originally Molodost started as a vehicle for poetry, but the one man metal band has become more than that. Finding an own sound and inspiration in the Slavic folk/black metal scene. There’s a clear ethnic element present, but also a worship of nature and the land. Though oft critisized for being very primitve and lo-fi sounding, this is definitely a choice by the artists that simply fits the need to express. The sound of Molodost is something different, something unique and highly personal. That makes this a record to check out.
The album opens with a calm piano intro, which is strangely free of a clear origin. It’s mystical sounding with synthesizers adding a dungeon synt-y feel to the whole. The blistering riffs on the second song have a metallic twang to them, which resonates with the origin of the music. The noisy drums add another layer of effec to that, which is ever so subtly present. The artist spits out the words like an enraged demon. It’s the typical Arabic pronunciation that really takes it to a new level. As many know, the Oriënt has many mysteries and strange spirits. The vocal style and meandering synths immediately invoke that feeling.
No, I’m not turning this record into a cliché, it’s way to specific and captivating for that. What I particularly like is how the artist blends in the intermissions of dungeon synth to create an aura befitting the record. The Slavic inspiration can definitely be noticed, but it meets with a very own sound on a track like [ازرع الصحراء]. The riffs sound very peculiar here, but are also very intriguing and offering another different taste of the mystique of the eastearn landscapes, also the desert under a blazing sun, the mountains when the sun crests the top.
[مائدة الفقير] is a dense song, full of synths and trickling, Burzum-esque elements. The vocals are performed by Lord Dark from the band Tears of Regret. It’s a remarkably peaceful tune, with the ever present synth elements to keep that eerie vibe up. Nonetheles, Molodost packs a punch without ever really firing up. Maintaining a steady atmosphere and an indpendent voice, make this a record I can listen to over and over.
This interview with Molodost was originally published by Echoes & Dust. Enjoy reading it and check out the music.
When you listen to metal from far of places, you find that views can be very different to what you’re familiar with. To me this is always the challenge and beauty of exploring metal’s unexplored fringes.
But if you are from Tyre in Lebanon and you make black metal, your concept of anti-Zionism isn’t some strange theory from a far right movement. It’s the very real expression of fear of war, which for Tyre was never far from its door and a bit too often in the recent history actually in their country. This runs through the music of Molodost, the otherness, the oppositions and a typical melancholy.
The theme of Molodost’s music is youth. Youth is a broad concept and matches with an open, inquisitive mindset towards the world. Towards wrong and right, towards the self and the other. Youth means being open to others, open to change and learning. Read my interview with the man behind Molodost and make sure to check out the EP.
Hi, could you kindly introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Molodost?
Molodost: Hello and thanks for such an opportunity. I hail from Lebanon; a small country in the heart of the Middle-East. Molodost was founded in 2012 as a medium to primarily express some English and Arabic poetry of mine, rather than write and record music as an end-result by itself. The project mainly lasted some months with the release of 2 demos. I have, however, continued writing and recording more mature materials from 2013 all the way to 2015 and eventually released them in the recent release entitled نسيم جبل صنين (The Breeze of the Mountain of Sanine).
(((o))): How did you get into metal music? What bands inspired you to make your music?
Molodost: I have been listening to heavy metal music since 2003 and it was a natural development of an interest when I was exposed to ‘Moonlight’, a song by the German death/gothic band Crematory and carried over since then. However, it wasn’t until 2009 when I have discovered my niche of metal music which have ever since influenced my entire listening experience and my own music; such niche is mainly Slavic folk metal and (atmospheric) black metal with all the variants of being ‘traditional/epic/blackgaze/ambient/neoclassical/etc…’. Folk music in general, neofolk, darkwave and dark ambient, in addition to some Arabic music also had some influences on my work. To cite some influential bands, they were and still are Burzum, Alkonost, Summoning, Agalloch and Fairouz (yes, Google her! The very famous Lebanese lady).
I understand that there’s a Russian connection to Molodost, how did that start out? Can you elaborate on that?
Molodost: Yes, definitely. Molodost (Молодость) is Russian for ‘youth’. This is the title of a song by Ivan Kupala (a Russian ethnotronica band) and was later covered by my ultimate favorite band of all time, Alkonost (a Russian folk metal band). Youth is also a major theme in my poetry and so, since I have a deep appreciation for the Russian culture, geography, language and music, the connection between the name, the music and the themes was natural.
You’ve just released your new EP. Can you tell us a bit about it and its themes?
Molodost: This is actually a compilation more than an EP of the best materials I’ve written over the years (some stuff didn’t make it to the final compilation). Some songs were also omitted out of respect for copyright (since the ‘EP’ is available for purchasing on Bandcamp) since they were cover songs (for the record, I have two covers: Burzum’s ‘Móti Ragnarokum’ and Mortifera’s ‘Epilogue D’une Existence De Cryssthal’). Lyrical themes of this record revolve around existence, anti-Zionism and the support of the Palestinian case, mountains and deserts (landscapes of Lebanon and the UAE, respectively), and poverty.
One of the criticism that I read a few times involves the quality of the recordings. I felt that the synth parts had a fitting dungeon synth-esque vibe and the quality matched the expression, but I was wondering if it was a lack of means or a conscious style choice to make your music this way. Are you satisfied with the result.
Molodost: At the beginning, yes! I was and still fascinated by lo-fi productions as sometimes they can be truly atmospheric! Yet, with the emergence of more high-quality and more accessible stuff in the recent years, I actually wanted to improve my sound, especially the synth (to reflect more natural folk instrumentations) and the drum machine involved. Guitars-wise (since this is the only real instrument in the recording; except for one song as it shall be a secret), I was never able to improve the quality of recording due to my living circumstances. But generally and for the early Molodost songs, the creepy and frightening tone of the synth and the guitars were indeed satisfying.
Can you tell a bit about the recording and the writing process, how do you go about these things and do you involve others in it?
Molodost: I just grab my guitar, unplugged, of course, and start composing riffs. Appropriate stuff are then evaluated if they are more suitable as synth lines, bass lines are then added (and I like them loud!) and the beats are composed next. Vocals were always difficult to be recorded due to logistic issues (e.g. equipment availability, inappropriate recording place). Others were never involved and this was a clear decision I’ve taken from the early days as I just can’t adapt my poetic and musical ideas to the ideas of others. This is something I can elaborate later on but my metal musical taste is far from common in my country (and I actually mean among typical metal fans, and not non-metal fans).
How important is nature, or the land, in your music. In what way do you find inspiration in that?
Molodost: Nature is and will always be the glue that attaches all my ideas, whether musical or poetic, together. The appreciation for nature can express itself in either directly describing landscapes or describing a more desired natural human behavior (like how we should really respond to poverty or understand existence). The influencers can range from the US black metal scene and Scandinavia all the way to the harsh Russian winter and Lebanon’s valleys and seas.
When listening to your EP (repeatedly) I find that there’s a lot more feeling put into it than you’d initially think. I mean the poetry, the expression, it feels to me as a highly personal expression the way you make music. How do you feel about that?
Molodost: Indeed and I just wish if you could understand Arabic! Mentioned earlier, the primary focus of the project was to express some words I’ve been writing since 2006, rather than make music for the sake of music. Feelings are genuine. For instance and in the anti-Zionist song, the lyrics and the music were written at the height of the Israeli invasion of Gaza strip in late 2012 and so you can’t imagine how much rage one could have during that sad period.
You’ve got one song you describe as an anti-Zionist song on the EP. It to me felt like a sad song, lamenting the situation and the losses. You’ve just written another song with a more violent tone. You’re not going to release that as a Molodost song. How do you determine what fits in the project and what not?
Molodost: I was always a fan of chaos in music (I mean, just check the Italian black metal band Nazgûl!). You know that feeling when a song starts with a mesmerizing flute melody or a harp line where you are taken back to your childhood with all the memories and the forests you’ve once played in (yes, that line is from Nest, the Finnish neofolk project) and so, out of nowhere, violent blast beats interrupt everything and start reminding you again that you’re now living in the present where evil is taking over (Ulver’s Bergtatt comes to the mind eh?)? Yet, the outro is just another piano line where hope is reborn from gazing at the stars and the rising sun behind the mountains (Saor had something relatively similar in their latest album, Guardians). Such a musical chaos reflects the kind of poetry I usually write. In other words, the musical aspects of a record don’t really matter for me. I can place a peaceful neoclasical intro, followed by a violent black metal song, a soothing folk metal song and a farewell neofolk outro without feeling ‘out of context’ as they are the themes of the lyrics that unite the musical aspects of the record and not vice versa as often done elsewhere.
Can you explain what your position on the anti-Zionism is as a musician? I’m interested in why you as a Lebanese musician feel that you need to speak out on this topic.
Molodost: That would be very obvious for any person who has a minimal knowledge of the Middle-East and the modern history of Lebanon and Palestine. As a lyricist and a hardcore music fan, I believe that music and poetry are very powerful political tools. You know that cliché of saying that ‘music should unite all/music should be separated from politics’? That’s bullshit for me. A bit of a context out of my personal memory, I have survived 3 ‘Israeli’ invasions and wars; one in 1993, one in 1996 and the last one in 2006. This is not mentioning the continuous abuse of Palestinians and the Gaza-Strip wars. Put differently and as simple as it can be said, ‘Israel’ is a ‘country’ built on terrorism and crimes. However we fight back, it’s just resistance. Whatever you hear differently, it’s just ‘typical blind western media’. I live 15 kms away from the borders of Palestine and I really know what happens nearby. I don’t really live in the west and remotely preach about what’s going on in the Middle-East.
What is it like to play the music you do in Lebanon. I understand it is a rather tolerant country. Does your music get a different sort of attention due to the language choice?
Molodost: Lebanon is actually a relatively tolerant country, unlike, again, what you could hear in the ‘typical blind Western media’. Many concerts of all sorts often take place in Beirut and heavy metal music is among them. Hell, even Dead Can Dance (a highly respected world/neoclassical music act) had a concert here in 2012. The desire to use Arabic poetry instead of English was actually a very conscious choice as the former language is much more expressionist than the latter one.
Do you plan to ever play live with Molodost. If not why not?
Molodost: Not really. As I said, the project is on-hold and so, frankly, I am not a good musician at all (last time I held my guitar was a few months ago!) due to a lack of interest and time (I am currently more of an academic and work person).
What is the metal scene like in Lebanon? And are you involved in it in any way? What bands should people check out?
Molodost: The metal scene in Lebanon is actually a fine one, in terms of having ‘metalheads’ (which is a super silly term but you get the idea anyway). As I mentioned before, heavy metal concerts do regularly take place. Am I involved? Not at all; neither as a fan nor as a musician. I simply don’t like the common liked styles of heavy metal here in Lebanon. Most fans here listen to traditional, thrash, groove, progressive, death, etc… metal music. Folk metal is under appreciated in Lebanon and, if found, it is more towards the Celtic branch and sound and not the Slavic one which I am a huge fan of. As for atmospheric black metal, appreciation is growing, especially with the explosion of interest in bands such as Alcest and all the -gaze movement since the early 2012. Personally speaking, I loved and still like a Lebanese oriental gothic metal band called Shepherd Of Sheol which was a band in the early 00s who once open for Theatre of Tragedy here in Lebanon. As you have also mentioned them, Blaakyum is a very good band in terms of international exposure but I am just not a fan of their sound since I hate thrash metal and its related sound and songwriting.
How are the relations with metal artists from neighboring countries?
Molodost: It’s fine. Not that I have many to say but supporting is nice, especially if relevant. There’s a good folk/pagan black metal band from Tunisia (a country I really love) called Ymyrgar. That’s a great step forward.
You’ve composed some material that you’ve named oriental black metal. What makes the track oriental? What element do you add to the mix so to say.
Molodost: The track was actually labeled as ‘oriental folk metal’ and so this is because of the theme of the desert, the influence during my stay in the UAE and the Arabic-inspired synth sound of that track, and eventually, the lyrics which were, sadly, never sang!
If you had to describe Molodost as a dish, what would it be and why?
Molodost: Molodost is youth and the dish of the soul is its youth! Clear enough? But yeah, I love Lahm-bi-Ajin. Shoukran a lot and Spasiba again for the opportunity!
Blaakyum has been around for a long time and has been instrumental in keeping the metal scene in Lebanon alive. Lebanon you say? Yes, Blaakyum plays a mixture of thrash metal and various elements from other styles and hails from the country near Syria, Israel and all those places where you think no one has even heard of metal. They proved me wrong.
Now for me the country was as unknown as this band, so logically I checked their music and wrote them a message. It turns out that Lebanon is, considering our general view in the west, a pretty liberal country on some fronts. Still, Blaakyum is not a band that enjoys the same liberties and possibilities as bands from over here and they have to face very different hurdles on their path.
They have been around longer than most bands, and it took a lot of effort from guys like Bassem Deaibess to keep this band and also the whole scene together. Anyways, enough introduction, best to hear the story from the horse’s mouth.
You guys are, as it stands, the oldest, active metal band from Lebanon. How did you guys get started on playing metal music and how did you get in touch with the style? Also, was it hard to find like-minded souls to form a band?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, If I wanted to answer that, it would take me probably around 20 pages. To make it as short as possible, I started learning guitar when I was around 15, and that lead me to look for guitar oriented music which lead me to Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. Back in the 90s it was not hard at all to find that music since it used to be played on our Radios and we had Rock Shows on TVs, the major Metal bands were all over our radios and TVs such as Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Sepultura, Morbid Angel, you name it.
When I got introduced to this music mainly thanks to my cousins, it was love at first hearing. As a typical dream of a beginner guitarist I wanted to form a band, so I started looking for members, and surprisingly it took less effort than I expected. Although Metal was available and accepted it was never mainstream, so I won’t say it was hard to find like-minded people or more precisely like-music-tasted people, but when we would discover someone who listened to metal it was as if you have just discovered a gold mine… We would in most cases become instantly friends… From the time I set my mind of forming a band towards the end of 1994 untill Blaakyum was formed in summer 1995 it was a relatively short period of time. Sadly since 1995 untill today the line-up changes have been endless, so I cannot answer the question on behalf of the past members.
Rany Battikh: Back in the 1980s/early 90s, Metal was pretty big in Lebanon spawning a couple of popular dedicated radio shows. My older brothers recorded selected songs on cassette tapes off the radio for bands like Metallica, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Dio, Slayer, Iron Maiden etc. I would put those tapes on and listen to them all day long. I remember once my brother brought a video tape of a Judas Priest concert home and he made multiple copies of it so we won’t damage it by over watching it.
When I picked up the bass, Metal was an obvious first choice for me, before I got into funk, jazz and classical music later on (through my college studies).
Jad Feitrouni: My father was a hard rock fan, so he always put on Deep Purple, Rainbow … while driving us to school. He always insisted that we (my sister and I) play an instrument, so we had piano lessons at an early age. I kept listening to hard rock and rock bands till I met Rany (Blaakyum’s Bassist) at university. Rany was a huge Power Metal fan at that time and started giving me CDs for Rhapsody, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray, Manowar, Helloween (to name a few)… he tried to give me thrash CDs but I didn’t like the style at that time. Few years later (when my ears matured) I gave thrash a try and I have been a huge fan ever since.
Rabih Deaibess: My brother (lead vocals) was sick enough to put some Sepultura on my headphones when I was 6… When I grew up I started listening to Symphony X (Divine wings of tragedy). I was 9 years old, the only reason why I did was because I heard my brother saying to my other brother (Blaakyum’s ex-bassist) that this is too complicated, that he will not understand anything of it. Somehow it angered me and I wanted to understand that music. So I started to become fond of that style and love the sound of the guitar and drums. When I was 11 I started playing the guitar, but the song I learned to play to was ‘Hey God’, by Bon Jovi.
I have to ask, how was it to play the first Lebanese rock festival? What was that like for the crowd, the bands, the atmosphere…?
Bassem Deaibess: The first concert Blaakyum performed at was in 1996 at the Lebanese University, which was the first Metal concert to be organised after the civil war. It was interesting to see so many metalheads, and back then we had even media coverage. The first Major Rock festival was organised in 1997 in place in Beirut called “Beirut Hall” the festival held around 13 bands and it was dubbed simply Rock Concert!! It was thrilling to go on stage and see around 2500 people waiting to hear you, we were so young and amateuristic back then, and although I felt we did a horrible job as a band, the crowd was so supportive. We probably were among the least experienced bands, the other bands were seriously amazing. I never realised how high the standards of the Metal Scene were back then and the atmosphere was really extremely friendly, like a brotherhood. The next year Rock Concert II happened, but Blaakyum did not participate. We kept playing in one of the most famous 90s (up till 2005) Rock and Metal venues that hosted regular concerts on a weekly basis, it was called Peak Concert Hall. It had a capacity of 700 people and it was almost always full, up till 2001 where Blaakyum performed in the first edition of Rock Nation, a yearly Rock/Metal festival (though mainly Metal) that kept going till 2008. The scene during all these years had its ups and downs, but considering a country of 4 million inhabitants, the scene is extremely impressive here even in its down phase.
What bands were the ones that got you guys into metal?
Bassem Deaibess: For me personally it was Guns’N’Roses at first who got me into the whole Rock/Metal genre, followed by AC/DC. Then came Metallica’s ‘Black Album’ and Iron Maiden’s ‘Fear of the Dark’, from there on the snowball rolled.
Rany Battikh: Prior to Metallica’s self-titled album’s release (in Lebanon), ‘Master of Puppets’ was a game changer for me, definitely my Metal bible for a very long time alongside Black Sabbath’s Live Evil.
Jad Feitrouni: The bands that got me into metal where Manowar, Rhapsody (Now named Rhapsody of Fire), Gamma Ray, Hammerfall, Helloween, and many others…
Rabih Deaibess: bands that got me into metal: Symphony X, Dream Theatre, Rhapsody (now named Rhapsody of Fire), Evergey, Pantera, Testemant, Nightwish, Alter Bridge (those are part my inspiration as well)
Where do you get your inspiration from for your lyrics and music?
Bassem Deaibess: I must admit that the main source of my inspiration lately whether for writing lyrics or music, is my anger. Especially with what is going on lately in the region and the threat of Islamic fanaticism that is threatening my country, the incredible political and social corruption, and the intellectual struggle and the cultural terrorism we face on a daily basis because of religious and political dominance. There is always a social, political or socio-political message behind each song even those who seem to be more related to literature and arts (I am a big fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and fantasy novels as well as Edgar Alan Poe and thriller/detective novels e.g. Dan Brown) Musically I must say that the main influence from the Metal side is Thrash Metal, mainly Testament, Overkill, Sodom, Kreator, Onslaught, Metallica and Pantera. But I am also very fond of Classical music especially Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky and RimskyKorsakov. And traditional Lebanese folk like Lady Fairuz, Lady Sabah, Wadih El Safi, Marcel Khalife and TonyHanna, and Oriental Arabic folk such as MuwashahatAndalusia and RoudoudHalabia. I am so much in love with Celitc music.
As for Jad and Rany other than the bands they named that are a major part of their influences, I must say the Blaakyum Rhythm section is heavily influenced by Funk and funk fusion.
Rabih Deaibess: I was a Progressive and Power Metal fan for a long time, then I got a bit off track to bands like Creed and Nickelback, but then I heard 3 tracks that changed my life: Black Sabbath’s ‘Cross of Thorns’, Dio’s ‘Hide In The Rainbow’ and Pantera’s ‘I’m Broken’ and I went more into thrash stuff like Metallica, Megadeath, Testeman, Kreator and Exodus.
Recently you played two major festivals (as if you need reminding, right?). What was it like for you as a band to get to this international stage?
Bassem Deaibess: Well, it is a proof that even in the most unlikely circumstances and against all odds, if you work hard, you are good enough and you want something so bad, you can get it. Let us be honest, to have a tour on your own, without any label or management backing you up, would seem a normal thing from someone in Europe, it is not really that hard. But for us in the Middle East, it is equivalent to an eternity of hard labour!
First the dehumanizing factor of getting Visas (So many times we were about to cancel some dates because we weren’t sure we will get the Visas), the way we are treated in some embassies is almost inhuman, you feel you are an inferior race begging the White West supremacy for a chance to go to their countries. Applying for a Visa is such a stressful and anxious experience and you are totally helpless. Then comes the transportation, I mean again in Europe, you can simply rent a small van, get in there and drive to whatever country or town you want. Here we have to travel on our own; the economical difference is huge even with the crisis in Europe, what is considered affordable there cost us a fortune here, then the hassle to run from an airport to a bus station with all our equipment and luggage on our back, then from one train terminal to the other and try to do it without missing the train and without breaking any of the equipment… So by the time you reach the venue you are almost dead *laughs*. But then the moment you go on stage, and see the people actually digging our music and headbanging, it always pays off.
Rabih Deaibess: First time we played will be a memory I’ll never forget and tell my kids about if I ever have any. It made Rany, Jad and me become like brothers as we laughed and played together. That bond made our sound tighter as well.
Jad Feitrouni: Playing on the same stage as Testament, Overkill, Onslaught, Iced earth, Annihilator… was a dream comes true especially with Bassem, Rabih and Rany by my side. I listen to these bands every day and to be with them in the same room was simply amazing.
Rany Battikh: It feels great to reach that “international stage” as this was our goal since day one. We went through a lot of hassle to get there for sure, but hard work does pay off at some point and sacrifices trans-morphed into achievements.
What is the most common response that you get when people figure out Blaakyum is from Lebanon?
Bassem Deaibess: OWE DEATH AND DISPARE *laughs hard* actually we got mixed reaction, some do not even know where Lebanon is, some gets really intrigued, many ask us if Metal is accepted in Islam, which use to puzzle us since we are not an Islamic country, nor any of the current members come from an Islamic background. There is a lot of stereotyping that we face, which we actually understand. We would be surprised when we meet some people who actually have a very good idea about our country, but still they would be amazed that there is Metal there.
Jad Feitrouni: The most common response that we get when figuring out that Blaakyum is from Lebanon is a long silence. This is where we explain where Lebanon actually is on the map *laughs* But when people actually know where Lebanon is they get surprised to know that metal reached that little country in the Middle East.
Rani Battikh: People get pleasantly surprised when we reveal our country of origin. Some ask about the desert (we don’t have any!), some ask about religion (I was never tempted to discuss my Christianity in that case) and some just show how enthusiastic they are about eastern women!
Rabih Deaibess: We get the funniest reactions sometimes, people get more exited and curious about us once they know we are from Lebanon, some asks us about desert or camels, personally I have never seen one! Some get shocked that we even know what metal music is or that we drink beer!
I read in an interview that metal has been around in Lebanon since the seventies, but it struggled for acceptance. Most people, as you probably know, would not even think there’s heavy metal being played in Lebanon right now. Can you tell a bit about how metal arrived in Lebanon and how it developed further?
Bassem Deaibess: Ever since Lebanon was created in 1920 in it was open towards the west. Even in many cases half the Lebanese refused to identify to the Arabic world they are in. Western Culture was rarely viewed as an alien culture, but as part of the Lebanese culture, thus we always were a true mix of both oriental and western cultures. Whatever was mainstream in USA and Europe, was mainstream in Lebanon. So the underground scene in the west was established in Lebanon almost at the same time, even the counter-culture and youth movements such as the beat movement, and the hippies were here as well, so Metal came naturally. When Black Sabbath released their first album at the beginning of the 70s it was all over the place in Lebanon, Lebanese clubs and pubs were full of bands playing Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin,Yes and Deep Purple… even the quarrels between the Disco fans and the Hard Rock fans were as common here as in the west. When the punk movements in the mid-70s took over the streets of London it did so in the streets of Beirut… of course there were some cultural clashes but they were really kept at minimal. So during the 80s and 90s Metal was all over the radios and the TV rock shows… Till this day Metal has a strong presence in Lebanon, although at times it was under attack from either religious or governmental institutions. Although a big part of society is ignorant about what Metal is and not always accept it, it is fair to say that metal is as alive in Lebanon as in any other western country.
In Sam Dunn’s documentary ‘World Metal’ (if you haven’t seen it, I really recommend it) he shows that metal bands in the middle-east face a lot of adversity from their respective societies. In some countries it’s virtually impossible to be a metal fan on your own terms. How is the situation in Lebanon and how is it compared to surrounding countries?
In Lebanon Metal was very well established on the contrary of most other Middle Eastern countries, It wasn’t till the mid-90s, precisely 1996 that some Christian religious institutions started the “Hard Rock/Metal panic” after a tragic incident of a teenage suicide. This is also very similar to what happened in the west few years earlier, especially in USA. Because religious institutions in Lebanon had so much power, they were able to spread a kind of mass panic. Then the government took part and created a black list of bands and albums and banned some shows, so we had some trouble with the authorities.
All this calmed down by 1999. We even played in few mainstream festivals, but in 2002 a fiercer “witch hunt” was organized both by the church and the government and later the Islamic religious institutions joined forces. This kept going on until 2005, with the assassination of the business man Rafik al Harriri, a prominent political figure and former prime minister, the country went into an open revolution against the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the Syrian presence was driven off, in the aftermath of this political uprising the country plunged into a long political crisis that is still present, and during all this they forgot about Metal. Every now and then few voices in the media or the Church are expressing some concerns of Satanism and drug abuse in Metal, but after the information age kicked in, these voices are quickly silenced.
The Lebanese Metal scene still has its ups and downs, mainly related to the economic and political situation, but I guess this is what gives the Lebanese bands who write original music the edge that puts them apart from the main western Metal scenes. Needless to say with all this, Lebanon is one of the very few Arab countries that has a freedom margin and were Metal is not utterly threatened, this mix of minimal oppression and margin of freedom makes Lebanese Metal able to develop and creates its own unique identity.
In an interview you describe the Lebanese metal scene and also discuss its better days in the past. Can you describe to an outsider how the Lebanese scene looks like? What kind of venues do you play shows at and is it easy to buy new records and such?
Bassem Deaibess: As I said, during the 70s, 80s and during the heat of the civil war, the clubs were full of bands playing and performing Rock, Hard Rock and Metal music. After the Civil war things were going well, many local town festivals like “Al Hamra festival” and “Féte de la Music” and others always had local rock or metal bands on the bill. Up till 1999 there were few “illegal” radio stations that were exclusively Rock and Metal, to name few we had Blue FM, Generation X FM, UFO, and Rock FM. We would look for big venues to organize our multiple band concerts and Rock fests, and we had a regular underground venue called Peak Concert Hall. Around the end of the old century we had few clubs that hosted Rock bands regularly such as “Mon General”, “The Irish Pub” and “Rio Grande” bar.
At the beginning of the new millennium, a new venue was available in a town called Kaslik part of the city of Jounieh, it was called Mad Wheels, where many underground and mostly low budget and poor produced concerts would take place. This was alongside Peak Concert Hall, which remained active till 2005. Also many summer festivals would take place, including the famous Rock Nation (from 2001 till 2008), featuring big stages and good production. At the start of the new millennium, Hard Rock Café Beirut opened and we also had many metal-friendly pubs. One was called “Purple Haze”, which was established by Rockers For Rockers. Sadly, it was short lived but started a tendency other bars and clubs followed. Next was “Kalinka Pub”, which hosted rock and metal bands from 2002 up to its closing date in 2005. Until 2010, the “Nova Club” was the hub of the scene, together with “Cherry’s Pub”, which was active from 2006 until 2009. It was a phenomenon in the scene and the beating heart in its short existence. A pub was started in the Hamra Street, named “Pavillion”, which was a new centre for the underground. For a while we had a big venue where bands could play, named Tantra (capacity: 1.500 people). It took over from Peak Concert Hall, when it closed down in 2004. That was the time we had the Rock and Metal organization to be established called Rock Ring.
Rock Ring took the Metal concerts and festivals to a new level, and organised a high profile events during the first decade of the new millennium, including the participation of Lebanon in the GBOB (Global Battle Of the Bands) twice as well as bringing the all-stars band called Hail to Lebanon twice. During those years few mainstream figures helped the scene by bringing some international acts to Lebanon, like Mr. Jyad El Murr (a rocker himself) who is the co-owner of a TV station and the owner of a Radio station in Lebanon. He was the one to organize the biggest Rock and Metal Festival in Lebanon known as Beirut Rock Festival, and brought bands to Lebanon such as: Anathema, To Die For, Catatonia, Moonspell and others. In 2009 individual efforts were made to bring Lake Of Tears, and the concert was a success. Blaakyum opened for them as well.
But things started deteriorating after 2010, Tantra the main Metal venue at the time, was demolished, Cherry’s Pub has closed down, many pubs such as Nova cut down on accepting Metal bands, but we still have few Metal friendly venues were we throw a gig every now and then such as Yukunkun Music Club, and Quadrangle Pub.
As for the stores, before 1996 Metal was available almost all around the country, but the place where we could find ANY metal new release and old albums was in Disco Rama in the suburbs of Beirut… That changed dramatically as Disco Rama was raided by the security forces and no longer offers Metal music. It has become extremely hard to get Metal albums except for the few very well- known Metal bands, and basically the only place I can think of is Virgin MegaStore, ironically it is not allowed to have the Label Metal, so the Metal albums are all there under the Label, Alternative/Pop-Rock. Mostly we get our music online these days.
We have a few instrument stores that sell good quality instruments, especially when it comes to Guitars and Drums and Amps and everything related to Metal. Those places are named Instruments Garage, and Mozart Chahin. We have few rehearsal studios, but there are no facilities for Metal Musicians in Lebanon, being one is simply choosing to live a hard and unrewarding life. Lately only one such facility exist and it is called LYC (Lebanese Youth Centre), but it is only accessible through subscription and is not open to the public.
I understand Lebanon has a great deal of religions that are officially recognized. I was wondering about the following: the devil is a common theme in traditional metal and the church as something to oppose, how do you guys deal with these themes?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum actually do have Christian members, we all come from Christian backgrounds, although most of us are Atheists but we do have one member who is actually a Christian Believer. Some Lebanese bands tackled the traditional themes of devilry and very, very few were openly oppose the church. In our culture we learned to respect all forms of religions even if we oppose them. Blaakyum music can be described as anti-conformism; many of our song messages invite the listener to be free from dogmatic brainwashing. Personally I am against insulting religion, I find it really a cowardly act. I am anti-religious myself, but there is a difference between criticizing and pointing out the dangers of religion and being outright disrespectful. It is in our view everyone’s right to be religious as much as it is our right to criticize and expose religious bigotry.
What can you tell us about the Massacore incident? Is it exemplary for things you face as a band?
The Massacore incident was this: A live show took place in Lebanon and reporters made it out to be a satanic mass. This was mocked by the metal scene for all the obvious reasons. Then another reporter made things look even worse, claiming it was rituals in an old monastery, drug taking and the presence of kids of public figures etcetera. When Bassem Deaibess called in to the tv-program, it became more evident that it was an attempt to smear the metal scene with all sorts of accusations, which left a taint on the scene for times to come.
Bassem Deaibess: The Massacore incident came as a shock as we thought that the Lebanese society has moved forward and away from such claims. We have been relatively able to organise and play concerts without any such incident since 2009 when the General Secretary of the Catholic Schools issued a paper to the student’s parents warning them of the dangers of Metal and how it is a place for drug abuse and Satanism… That incident did not spread out of control as the organizer of the event is a very powerful public figure and has huge political support. But then in 2012 when the Massacore incident happened, we knew that things have not changed much, we did not face a similar situation as in 2009 after that incident though, but we know for a fact that whenever the Church or the uneducated population have a chance they will bring this subject up. They do it simply because they ignore what the hell is actually going on and they get shocked when they see us moshing, or when they hear someone growl. To be honest, this is nothing like the our “Dark Ages” between 1996 and 2005, that period was by far much more threatening to us as Metal fans, and I am sure that period is over… Or at least I hope so.
You live in the middle of a turbulent region of the world. Do you feel this has become part of your inspiration and your lyrical material?
Bassem Deaibess: Definitely, the situation that we are living in always is an inspiration, what better place to create Metal music than living in such a shit-hole, with political corruption, religious ignorance and war threats all around us. In fact, many of our songs are about such things, like the song ‘Cease Fire’ that talks about the 1996 and 2006 Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The same goes for the newly emerged threat of the so called Islamic State, which is today the biggest threat we face especially as non-Muslims. Thish as brought so much anger to our hearts, and that anger will always translate into Metal Music. The album we are currently trying to record has most of its tracks inspired by the events that followed Massacore concert, it is filled with anger but as well state how the Lebanese Metal Scene revolted against the faulty accusations… We already have some material prepared as well for the third album which in most part is inspired by the anger, fear and resentment we feel because of the threat of the so called “Islamic State” which is more known as IS.
So, what would you really like to tell about Blaakyum, that I didnt ask yet?
Bassem Deaibess: Blaakyum is but one example of the Lebanese Metal Scene perseverance an struggle against discrimination and cultural terrorism, be it religious or political. There are also many bands such as Kimaera, Inner Guilt, Kaoteon, Nocturna, and many more that are also here, and we will remain here. The Lebanese metal bands and fans are authentic, Metal was born in Birmingham from the voices of a neglected youth, that were under the stress of nuclear threat and industrial dehumanization, and Metal in Lebanon just like the majority of the Middle Eastern Metal scene. It is the product of the suffering of youth and generations who have been living for so long under horrible circumstances. In truth we do represent the authentic feelings of the Middle Eastern and Lebanese youth in all its forms and different points of view and when I say ‘we’ I mean the Lebanese Metal Scene and not the band.
As for Blaakyum, we have been around for a long time, and we are not going anywhere. We will remain a thorn in the side of bigotry and ignorance.
Where can people check out your music?
Well we are all over social media, on Facebook, twitter, myspace, Instagram… from there people can check out what is going on with the band, sometimes we release some footage or some music, as well our album is sold at various selling points in Lebanon and few points in Europe, but for anyone who wants to buy our album they can do it online through iTunes, Amazon MP3, 7Digital, Spotify and many online outlets.