Thanks to Kiki Yablon for the linkage on this: Vice’s VBS.TV series The Black Scorpion of Baghdad. (Here’s a YouTube taste for older browsers.) This is a seven-part documentary about Acrassicauda, a Baghdad-based death-metal band named for a species of Iraqi scorpion. Also worth your time are these interviews with the filmmakers, a better glimpse of just how dangerous it is for any Westerner in Iraq than anything you’ll get from CNN.
Acrassicauda are about as good as any band that can’t always count on having electricity can be (not to mention one affected by the scarcity of safe, curfew-free nights) and they’re better than a lot of bands dealing in violent metaphors whose only real frame of reference is action movies. (It’s also pretty interesting to hear Islam worked into metal’s usual antinomian take on religion). But is it right to produce a documentary that focuses on music when so many people are dying so horribly? Short answer: Yes. That kind of resolve is how Mesopotamia got to be the Cradle of Civilization in the first place. Without it, we might still be leaving messages on trees with urine instead of typing our profundities on the Internet.
But I think I might have to disagree with the band that Arabic is no good for metal. (They sing in English.) Admittedly they’ve tried it and I haven’t, but I think if done right it could sound amazing.