One of the first few comments on the music video for necessarily mysterious Saudi Arabian black metal trio Al-Namrood’s 2015 song “Hayat Al Khezea” says simply “let the outrage begin.” Outrage seems to be expected – and maybe even the point – when considering this band – if there’s any area of the world that seems like it would be completely incompatible with black metal (and many other musical genres to be honest), that region would be the middle east. On some level, you’ve got to give the band some credit: they’ve definitely got balls to be playing anti-Islamic metal in a region where they could be executed for doing so. What’s perhaps an added bonus is that the music the band is making is kinda cool.
“Hayat Al Khezea” starts off with some wispy ooo-ahh vocals being heard over a gradually intensifying swarm of sinister guitar tones, eventually settling into a typically Arabian sort of main verse. Playing out at a moderate tempo, the ambiance of the song seems to suggest shifting sands, with metallic, slightly discordant and jarring secondary melodies sounding behind the snarling guitar and thumping drums. Compared with other metal acts, Al-Namrood’s sound isn’t nearly as obviously punishing: the percussion has a rather quiet, brittle sound but the singer does his part to make up for this as he bellows out guttural, Arabian-language vocals. Towards the end of the piece, tinkling Persian melodies again swirl to the surface, playing over lurching guitar chords and subtle, clacking and slapping noise elements.
Though I know not one lick of Arabic and therefore can’t judge the “offensiveness” of the song, “Hayat Al Khezea”’s vaguely dream-like official music video certainly includes some rather alarming elements. For one, scantily clad women (one seen in the midst of a seductive dance routine with a python and another who, in the uncensored version, strips topless) are featured in the video, performing for the enjoyment of a Sultan-like character who peacefully puffs on a hookah while eyeing up the females. Considering the prevailing attitudes towards the female sex in Muslim countries, this would be distasteful in and of itself, but the first half of the video also builds to a moment where a pair of prisoners are beheaded by a man sporting a gigantic scimitar. If any scene in the video is likely to promote a response for Western viewers, this is it even though there’s no actual gore scene in the production.
Even if the video’s ambiguous, anticlimactic ending seemed a bit strange, it’s nicely realized as a whole, creating a mesmerizing backdrop for the music to play out in front of. As a musical group, Al-Namrood is likely to have a polarizing effect on listeners – plenty of Americans wouldn’t want to listen to this group simply because they’ve fallen under the grip of the Islamophobia propagated by many an American media outlet. More open-minded listeners might appreciate the band as the fascinating cultural phenomenon that they arguably are; I, for one, can dig most any band which features a performer credited with “Middle Eastern Instruments and would have no problem recommending this band, song, and/or music video.