Posts Tagged ‘ Thrash Metal ’

Album of the Week 39-2018: Doom – Still Can’t The Dead


Some albums are much better than they are supposed to be. With the death of fretless bass wizard Koh Morota, Doom had lost a key member. In addition, their last album before disbanding, releaed seventeen years prior to ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, wasn’t all that good. And yet, ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ is almost as good as the band’s classic work. Frontman Takashi Fujita shook off most of his electronic and psychedelic tendencies and decided to make another unconventional, experimental thrash metal record. With maybe slightly more pronounced hardcore influences, but that might contribute to the album’s somewhat more contemporary nature.

First things first: new bassist Takatoshi Kodaira does a phenomenal job filling Morota’s shoes. He is not quite as good melodically, but it is obvious that he has studied Morota’s work closely.  He even gets the chance to show off his virtuosity in pieces like the middle section of the otherwise bleak, doomy masterpiece ‘The Folly And Splice’, though overall, he is slightly less prominent in the mix than Morota was. Then again, that’s like comparing your winters to those on Antarctica. By employing a similarly styled bassist who apparently is a fan of Morota, Doom has all the ingredients for a classic Doom album.

And by almost any definition, it is. Sure, there are marginal stylistic differences with their earlier work, most prominently the fact that the jam-like sections are dropped in favor of tighter compositions. But overall, ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ leaves very little doubt that we are dealing with a Doom album. The electronically tinged overture ‘Introduce 99s Life… Getting Lies’ might be a little misleading, but it is followed by an array of crude thrash riffs that switch between brutal, uncomplicated hardcore picking to chord work that almost feel like bluesrock violently pushed through a meat grinder. And of course, Fujita’s trademark snarl is all over the record.

The songs on ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ are generally long, but feel shorter. The ‘Grin’ era Coroner-ish title track, for instance, rages on for over nine minutes and doesn’t have that many riffs, but manages to draw the listener in repeatedly by subtle touches, like verses that abruptly stop before they appear to be over and bass and guitar parts that constantly shift rhythms in relation to each other. ‘All Your Fears’ deserves to be long for maximum impact of the brooding danger in its mysterious atmosphere, while ‘All That Is Gone’ appears to be blunt at first, but reveals its subtleties through multiple listens. That middle section is uncharacteristically melodic and heartfelt. Fujita’s solo in particular.

Instrumental tracks ‘Ibiza’ and ‘Siesta…’ are fairly obvious tributes to the memory of Morota with Kodaira’s prominent melodic work on the fretless bass, but they work very well to offset the abrasive, almost noisy nature of the rest of the record. The latter half of ‘Siesta…’ has the whole band firing on all cylinders, but really, that could be said about the whole record. ‘Still Can’t The Dead’ is a great work of contemporary progressive thrash and despite the fact that it contains all the familiar Doom elements, it manages to be quite a surprising listen. The concrete urban jungle of ‘Incompetent…’ has become a debris-coated wasteland on ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, but that should hardly be a complaint.

Recommended tracks: ‘Still Can’t The Dead’, ‘The Folly And Splice’, ‘All That Is Gone’

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Album of the Week 38-2018: Voivod – The Wake


After ‘Target Earth’ being much better than it had any right to be and the excellent ‘Post Society’ EP, Canadian sci-fi thrashers Voivod had a reputation to live up to. They proved that they could still write a song that their late guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour would be proud of. But could they continue his legacy in a satisfying manner? Hearing ‘The Wake’ leaves only one possible answer to that question: a resounding yes. Most impressively, Voivod decided not to lean back and release ‘Target Earth II’, instead treating us to an album that pushes their progressive tendencies to the fore.

Just like on ‘Target Earth’, Dan ‘Chewy’ Mongrain plays so many twisted dissonant chords and almost fusion-esque melodies that it’s barely noticeable that D’Amour is no longer there. The riff work is notably less thrashy though; ‘The Wake’ opts for a somewhat more spacious sound and therefore feels like the natural successor to ‘Nothingface’ or ‘The Outer Limits’ rather than ‘Killing Technology’. Every song feels like a little adventure on an extraterrestrial planet where anything can happen, without ever sounding as chaotic or busy as many of the other bands of the Québécois metal scene, as Michel ‘Away’ Langevin’s rhythms are generally laid-back rather than hyper aggressive.

It is interesting to see how every song unfolds, as many songs open with a riff that will claw its way to your brain and once the verse-chorus structure is established, the band moves into more experimental territory with a section that almost feels like a particularly tight jam. ‘Iconspiracy’ is the most notable instance of this, which after appearing to be one of the more intensely propulsive tracks on the record moves into an almost cinematic b-section with a string quartet, followed by what is arguably Mongrain’s best solo on the record. ‘The End Of Dormancy’ follows a similar path, forsaking conventional structures for an approach that builds riff upon riff.

Because of this approach, it is more difficult to pick highlights than it was on ‘Target Earth’, as ‘The Wake’ is best listened to in its entirity. It is impossible not to mention closing track ‘Sonic Mycelium’ in that context, however. It never feels quite as long as its running time of twelve and a half minutes, though it has a number of interesting shifts in mood and intensity. The track reprises several musical ideas that appeared earlier on the album with a completely different atmosphere and just when you think the returning string quartet concludes the album in a ‘Grand Fugue’-like fashion, Mongrain and bassist Dominic ‘Rocky’ Laroche return for the open ending.

For a band to be truly progressive, they’d have to try out new things without completely alienating their sound. That is exactly what Voivod does on ‘The Wake’. In a way, it is to ‘Target Earth’ what the holy diptych of ‘Dimension Hatröss’ and ‘Nothingface’ was to ‘Killing Technology’. Those who did not like the band before will probably still be unimpressed by the almost spacey atmosphere and the relatively montonous vocals of Denis ‘Snake’ Belanger, but anyone who loved the progressive sci-fi thrash Voivod got buried under justified praise for should be happy with how remarkably and weirdly good ‘The Wake’ really is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Always Moving’, ‘Sonic Mycelium’, ‘Spherical Perspective’

Album of the Week 30-2018: Volcano – Darker Than Black


‘Darker Than Black’ is Volcano’s fourth original studio album since mid-July 2015. While that may seem a bit excessive, it is also remarkably good. Volcano was always the perfect band for anyone who could not choose between the vicious aggression of thrash metal and the melodic appeal of traditional heavy metal and ‘Darker Than Black’ is no different, though the melodic death metal influences that were prominent a few albums ago have been dialed back considerably. ‘Darker Than Black’ is one of Volcano’s more interesting albums compositionally, though it is just as capable of thrashing your face off when it needs to.

One thing that immediately stands out is that a lot of attention has been given to making the songs instantly recognizable. Every previous Volcano album has its fair share of powerful songs and catchy moments, but at times, some of the non-highlights had a tendency to sound a little too similar. However, no two songs sound alike on ‘Darker Than Black’. This is admirable, because thrash metal can be quite the limiting genre. By subtle changes in tempo, atmosphere and melodic content, the Japanese quartet managed to give each song its own face while retaining their thrashing intensity.

Speaking of atmosphere, two of the album’s most atmospheric moments have surprisingly been composed by bassist Akira. The propulsive ‘Jailbreak Vampire’ has a middle section that would not have sounded out of place on a mid-nineties Scandinavian melodeath album, while closing track ‘Guardian Deity’ immediately becomes one of the album highlights through its heroic melodicism. Guitarist She-ja wrote the rest of the material, with ‘Flight To The World’ possibly being the best opening track Volcano ever released. Classic twin guitar melodies, punishing drum work by the incredible Shun and biting thrash riffs constantly keep each other in perfect balance. And good luck getting that chorus out of your head.

Furthermore, Volcano explores the entire spectrum of heavy metal here. At the most melodic end, there are songs like the classic midtempo heavy metal of ‘Scatter Toxins’ and the relatively open ‘When You Are’, which has a gorgeous, almost bluesy guitar solo. The latter is also true for ‘Arena’, which is the perfect breather for an otherwise rather chaotic song. ‘Horror’ is a very cool riff-driven thrasher closest to the eighties Bay Area tradition, while ‘Great Crisis’ similtaneously houses some of the album’s most extreme as well as some of its most melodic sections. It should not work and yet, it does.

In fact, the entire album works. The only issue have with it is that the mastering job is a nightmare. It isn’t disruptive in every single song, but during some intense double bass sessions, the music distorts. With the songwriting generally being on par with – at times even slightly better than – the better moments of ‘Melt’, that should only be a minor complaint though. Though nothing on ‘Darker Than Black’ may be as instantly catchy as ‘Tokyo Panic’, it feels like this 53-minute collection of carefree thrashing will leave more of a lasting impact, quite likely making it the second best Volcano album after 2001’s incomparable ‘Davi’.

Recommended tracks: ‘Flight To The World’, ‘Guardian Deity’, ‘Horror’

Album of the Week 26-2018: Iced Earth – Night Of The Stormrider


‘Night Of The Stormrider’ is often mentioned as a favorite by those who followed Iced Earth from the very beginning and it is easy to hear why. The song material is notably more complex than the songs that would make the band a big name less than a decade after its original release in 1991, though there is more of a polish than on the self-titled debut. The fact that it’s a concept album certainly helps its continuity as well. Whatever happened in the intervening year, it helped. Most of the songs would remain live staples for many years to come.

Whether or not ‘Night Of The Stormrider’ would be your favorite Iced Earth album depends on what you want to hear from them. If you want the hooky choruses and dramatic vocals that are currently synonymous with them, the album may come off disappointing. Jon Schaffer’s trademark aggressive, hyperspeed palm-muted riffs are all over the record though. And there’s certainly a higher riff density than usual. Verse-chorus structures are broken up by extensive middle sections full of tempo and atmosphere changes, while the overall tone of the album is notably darker than most of the band’s other output.

Compositionally, the album contains some of Iced Earth’s finest work. Especially when the band combines fierce aggression and the first traces of theatricality, as is the case in the massive opener ‘Angels Holocaust’, Iced Earth proves they were easily among the best metal bands of the early nineties. Closing epic ‘Travel In Stygian’ manages to wrap up all the elements of Iced Earth’s style as well, with fierce semi-thrash riffs, balladesque sections and a particularly climactic chorus following each other seemlessly, though it could have used a shorter middle section. ‘Stormrider’ and the more melodic, oft-forgotten ‘Mystical End’ are more concise, but no less impressive.

Another song that doesn’t always get the praise it deserves is ‘Desert Rain’. It is easily the darkest moment on the album musically, with the rage and confusion of the lyrics perfectly illustrated by the juxtaposition of forceful metal and more desperate tranquil sections. Its chorus is one of the band’s first experiments with vocal harmonies and it is quite tasteful. If you’re splitting hairs, you could argue that the song is more a collection of riffs or segments than a composition, but that is the case for ‘Pure Evil’ as well and that one is still a fan favorite to this day.

The album is not without its flaws. First and foremost, John Greely is merely adequate, though significantly better than his predecessor Gene Adam. His cleans have a pleasant tone and his rawer work sounds delightfully aggressive, but his high-pitched screams lack character and his range is quite limited. The acoustic interludes ‘Before The Vision’ and ‘Reaching The End’ don’t add much musically and some sections (most notably the parts before the final verses of ‘The Path I Choose’ and ‘Pure Evil’) sound too similar. The pros outweigh the cons though. Unlike Schaffer, I think the bottom-heavy production benefits the music and there is a simple reason why a majority of these songs are considered Iced Earth classics: they’re very good.

Recommended tracks: ‘Angels Holocaust’, ‘Desert Rain’, ‘Stormrider’

Album of the Week 25-2018: Doom – Complicated Mind


One risk when you are listening to Doom is that you will only pay attention to the late Koh Morota’s crazy, but always serviceable work on the fretless bass. Especially when he is put front and center in the mix like he was on the ‘Killing Fields’ EP. However, Doom is a power trio in the truest sense of the word. The magic of this band happens within their intricate, but always spontaneous interaction, something highly uncommon amongst thrash metal bands, but also a defining factor of the middle section in just about every track on their masterpiece ‘Complicated Mind’.

Structurally, most of Doom’s songs follow a similar pattern. They are bookended by tightly composed thrash riffs, only to turn into a contrasting instrumental section in the middle. The riffing has a futuristic feel, but manages to steer clear of the clinical nature of Voivod’s riffs, a band Doom is often compared to outside of their native Japan. And those middle sections really turn Doom into something special, as they could be anything from bluesy hardrock (the title track) to an atmospheric break (‘Bright Light’) or what can almost be considered a loud and distorted take on freejazz (‘Fall, Rise And…’).

While all of this may sound abstract, it is actually surprising how listenable ‘Complicated Mind’ is. Morota, singer/guitarist Takashi Fujita and drummer Jyoichi Hirokawa are not trying to be clever, they just play what came to their minds and apparently, their minds are wired a little differently than those of most people. The strangest track here is probably ‘Can’t Break My… Without You’ – verses: start-stop riffing with a melodic bass line, middle section: clean guitar break – but Hirokawa’s steady, almost danceable rhythms keep the song grounded and easily digestible. Doom’s secret appears to be to feel the music rather than to overthink it.

As a result, ‘Complicated Mind’ does not feel like college material. Banging your head to the pounding rhythms and dissonant chords of the title track is easy, while ‘Painted Face’, ‘Bright Light’ and ‘Slave Of Heaven’ are simply excellent, inventive metal tracks. The way Fujita’s straightforward riff and Morota’s busy parts are woven into each other on the latter is nothing short of art, as is the open, almost alt-rocky solo section. ‘The Boys Dog’ features Fujita narrating a story about what appears to sincerely be his childhood dog over some great riffing, which works out much better than it may sound like it would.

Everyone who enjoyed Voivod and Coroner should definitely give Doom a spin, though the more adventurous fans of the likes of Rush may actually find something of their liking here as well. Sure, Fujita’s vocals are quite monotonous, but they are convincing and strategically placed within the songs. While Doom would become even more progressive or even avant-garde in later years, ‘Complicated Mind’ features the trio at their very best, combining the blunt force of their early work with the thinking man’s intricacy of some of the following albums. And while some moments may feel downright odd initially, those with a similarly complicated mind will get it soon enough.

Recommended tracks: ‘Complicated Mind’, ‘Slave Of Heaven’, ‘Fall, Rise And…’

Album of the Week 20-2018: OverKill – Horrorscope


While OverKill had line-up changes before guitarist Bobby Gustafson left in 1990, but Gustafson contributed heavily to the songwriting. Therefore, there must have been some sense of anticipation leading up to the release of 1991’s ‘Horrorscope’. It was the first OverKill record with two guitarist – always a plus – and it seems to explore the boundaries of OverKill’s vicious thrash metal sound more than any other of their albums, including its highly varied predecessor ‘The Years Of Decay’. For what it’s worth, I think it’s their best record, combining the hungry aggression of their early days with just the right amount of experimentation.

Songwriting-wise, the transition is not as large as one might expect. The songs are a little more to-the-point than those on ‘The Years Of Decay’, but the main ingredients are still the same: heavily pulsating riff work that shifts between fast thrash and more pounding mid-tempo tunes, Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth’s rough, relatively high-pitched throat and generally simple, brutally effective choruses. The album’s biggest asset is in the degree of variation. The lesser albums of the band tend to get a bit samey as the album goes on, but literally every song on ‘Horrorscope’ sounds different than the others.

The varied nature of ‘Horrorscope’ is often emphasized by pointing out the most experimental tracks on the album and it must be said: the experiments are very successful. ‘New Machine’ manages to inject a great deal of groove into the sound without forsaking the band’s thrash roots and ‘Soulitude’ is the greatest power ballad the band released to this day due to its dark atmosphere, its excellent use of dynamics and its beautiful guitar solos. The title track sees the band grinding through doomy tempos without going into Black Sabbath-like territory like they did on ‘Skullkrusher’. The palm-muted main riff is simply punishing.

However, the more familiar straightforward aggression is every bit as interesting here. Songs like opening track ‘Coma’, ‘Infectious’ and the punky ‘Thanx For Nothin” show OverKill doing what they do best: playing angry thrash metal with as little subtlety as possible. Even within the uptempo songs, different approaches are attempted. ‘Bare Bones’ is one of the most complex songs the band has recorded to date and ‘Blood Money’ has a surprisingly open chorus. The true masterpiece is the mid-tempo thrasher ‘Nice Day…For A Funeral’ though. Especially when after the driving verses and a haunting chorus, a beautifully dramatic guitar arrangement appears in the middle section. Truly a work of art.

After the release of ‘Horrorscope’, drummer Sid Falck would leave the band and that is really too bad, because his parts were far more interesting than what other east coast thrash bands were offering. His tinny snare sound is the only downside to the album though, alongside the well-executed, but somewhat unnecessary Edgar Winter cover ‘Frankenstein’. OverKill must have realized that ‘Horrorscope’ was a pinnacle in their career, as last week’s ‘Live In Overhausen’ contains the full album – and debut album ‘Feel The Fire’ – played live and they went in a different direction following the album and did not try to force another ‘Horrorscope’ out. Well worth hearing if you like interesting thrash metal.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nice Day…For A Funeral’, ‘Soulitude’, ‘Coma’, ‘Bare Bones’

Interview: Rockabul


When you think your band is going through difficult times, wait until you see the story of the Afghan metal band District Unknown. Their story, as chronicled in the documentary ‘Rockabul‘ by the Australian film maker Travis Beard, is simultaneously one of a band trying to find its sound and simply one of young people trying to survive and find their place in a politically unstable country. Prior to its screening at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, I was given the opportunity to sit down with Beard and talk about his involvement with this special project.

Beard’s involvement with District Unknown and the Afghan music scene is not just one of casual interest. He lived in Afghanistan from 2006 until 2014 and with his band White City, he was at the heart of what became known as the expat party scene. “In 2002, the Americans came in, the Taliban fled and there was relative peace until about 2006 or 2007“, Beard explains. “We refer to it as ‘the golden time’. It was a time when Kabul was safe, you could move around pretty easily and that is why the expat party scene flourished. After that, I guess things sort of started to decline, but it wasn’t until 2011, when the Americans and the NATO forces announced that they were handing over the keys to the city, that it got worse and worse every year. They gave the security back to the Afghan forces, which is the police and the military. That means they were manning the checkpoints. Because Afghanistan is full of corruption and because it’s a very troubled country, those checkpoints didn’t work and attacks escalated. I constantly keep an eye on the news and it’s just going from bad to worse, which is really sad.
There’s this kind of catch-22: you don’t want to have this occupying force, but at the same time, once they leave, the country goes into a bigger mess. This country’s been a crossroad for a lot of conquerors and people moving their empires through and therefore, it’s been troubled for a long time. It’s not just something the Americans caused or the Russians before them. It’s just been a troubled part of the world because of where it’s positioned. Unfortunately, Afghans have bore the brunt of that for thousands of years.
What drew you to Afghanistan in the first place?
We refer to it as the Afghan bug. It’s an itch you get from experiencing the country. A lot of people fall in love with it. I fell in love with it. And some people end up staying there for many years. I guess that’s what happened to me. I was exposed to it, I fell in love with it and then I just couldn’t get out of there until the shit really hit the fan and I had to leave.

Growth trajectory

Despite being featured in the film himself, the real protagonists of ‘Rockabul’ are District Unknown. In essence, their story is not much different than that of other bands. As the viewer, you can see them evolving from an enthusiastic, but also directionless group of youngsters to a group of guys that work on their dreams together. The discerning factor is, of course, their location, which creates a lot of difficulties that western bands never get to experience. “I had a studio where you could practice music. There weren’t many places to do that“, says Beard. “They walked into my studio and I just pressed record and I got that first day. And the second day, and the third day and so on. The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t a film maker. I was a photographer. So there was a dual kind of evolution or growth trajectory between us. They were learning how to make music and be a band. And I was learning how to make films. And we grew together. Almost at the same pace. You see us grow as a collaborative team and it all comes together when they go to India. That is kind of their pinnacle regarding their performance. And they really peaked.
They weren’t the most popular band in Afghanistan, but they were the most dynamic. When you saw them perform on stage, the other musicians thought: these guys aren’t that good, but the crowd is going mental! That was the energy. it was all about the energy. You don’t have to be the best musicians around, but if you give off enough energy, the audience will respond. And it worked for them. It was a great path to follow. I was very lucky that they walked into my house and that they allowed me the access they did.

A key scene in your registration of the concert in India was the friction between frontman Youssef and his predecessor Lemar about the representation of Afghanistan. Was there ever any disagreement between you and the band about that scene?
We had contracts signed with every member. I wouldn’t have gotten that access if they hadn’t allowed it in the first place. And when we got to the India situation, it would have been so easy to cut that as in: they finish the gig, the crowd’s screaming and we cut to a plane flight or them in bed and that’s the end of it. But there was something else. There was the tension of the two frontmen being on stage together for the first time. Lemar was the man who ran that band. He was very vocal and very passionate about his country, whereas Youssef is the classic kind of frontman who just wants to rock out. He wanted to have a good time and he wasn’t interested in politics. And they butted heads. That was an interesting thing to watch from a filmmaker’s perspective. I wanted to show the reality of what happened after the concert, because there was a lot of expectation at that concert and things boiled over. It’s not always sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Especially if you’re a band from a country like Afghanistan. It’s good to show that and not just have a clean cut of all the highs and not show the lows.
You have filmed the band and the scene for seven years. How do you decide what makes the cut?
There were members that didn’t make the cut, there were other recordings that didn’t make the cut, there’s another half a dozen concerts that didn’t make the cut, there was the in-band fighting about really silly stuff… It’s just not that interesting. Every band fights. we know that. It was more about the cultural exchange and the cultural challenge for them in the country. It’s hard to squeeze that into ninety minutes. There was talk at one point of doing a mini-series, which I kind of laughed at, but we definitely had enough content for that. It’s just one of those things, you’ve got ninety minutes, you make do with what you’ve got. And I hope that we’ve got as much of the story across in that.
Yesterday we had a press screening and Youssef was present. That was the first time anyone in the band was seeing the film. And I watched him more than I watched the film itself. He just had a smile on his face. He said he relived all those memories and saw the truth in what happened. That’s all I ever wanted. I wanted to try and relate the fact as close as possible. Obviously you’ve got a narrative and an audience that you want to entertain. You don’t want to lose them. But at the same time, the five most important audience members I have is the band. And after that, the second most important audience I have is the Afghan and expat community that were there along with the band. Before I even go to an international audience, that’s what I sort of had to tick off, to verify that this film is what it represents.

Intervention

With all of the political and religious tensions in the area, were some of the ideas you proposed to the band too reckless?
There is a fine line between brave and reckless. And I think the only way to succeed in such an environment is to serve that fine line. And I served it, whether it be with festivals or taking the show on the road. Or having musicians in my house every day, because I lived in a residential area. I didn’t lived in a compound protected by security and the normal kind of precautions that the western community did. I lived like Afghans did. With the Afghans. So that frequency in my house was also a risk, because it doesn’t take long for the neighbors to know what’s going on. The neighborhood talked. We got kicked out of houses, because we were playing music. And there were situations where Afghans would be pulled aside and they’d be questioned: what’s with the foreigner you work with?
So when you’re putting on concerts and doing these events outside of the so-called safety zone, or ‘the bubble’ as we referred to it in Kabul, you have to push that envelope. Otherwise you don’t get result. I always asked the boys: do you want to do this? Do you want to go on these adventures and so-called wacky ideas that the westerner is coming up with? They were never forced. Sometimes they’d say yes and other times some obviously said no. There’s a lot I didn’t put in, because a certain person didn’t want to be shown or it was just too much.
For me, the biggest issue or the biggest concern I ever had was a fatality at one of my events. At least I can say that didn’t happen, but I saw it happen after I left at the venue I worked at for many years. We didn’t want something like that to happen and ruin the whole legacy. There would be someone saying: oh yeah, that’s the guy who ran all those festivals and got twenty kids killed. We did it to create a platform for them to be able to express themselves with no limits. With no rules. They could just say what they want on stage. It was a peaceful project and I hope that’s how it will be remembered.

How do you maintain a certain degree of neutrality if you’re so close to the subject?
Politically, I’m very much outside the system in my lifestyle. I’m quite left of center, but because Afghanistan is such a complex situation, I was really adamant and quite focused on not giving my opinion on the situation. I’m an outside observer in a very complex situation with many players. And I wanted the Afghans to speak about their views and perspectives on the situation. Because it’s their country. Some of the band members weren’t interested in politics – particularly Pedram, the drummer – whereas other members were. You kind of just have to let it come out organically and therefore hope that the audience takes enough parts of information from the film to make their own assessment.
We know that the Americans intervened, but the fact of the matter is: their intervention had vertain influences on the country. Culturally, politically and economically. District Unknown would not have existed without that intervention. They would have been into metal, but they would never have had a platform. And that’s why the Americans sponsoring our concert was very important to highlight in the film. We took that money from the Americans. It was not a comfortable deal, but I knew what I was doing. At the same time, without those funds from the Americans and, in later years, other western embassies, we would never have had that platform. We analyzed this in the narration. I talked about myself being part of the war machine. And we kind of just pulled it back. If you represent the Obama perspective, the embassy perspective and the Afghan perspective, I think the audience is intelligent enough to come to their own conclusions.
Regarding to neutrality with the band: that’s impossible. As soon as you walk in with a camera, everything changes. That’s quintessential documentary making 101. There was no way around it. But the good thing is: because I was a musician and because I was running the scene with a couple of other collaborators, I was always kind of there. Because of that, it wasn’t as different as it could have been. I think that’s where I got a lot of the visceral and fly on the wall moments in the film from, because I was there every day and they were in my house every day. And so you get shit after a while, just because it’s there. It’s right in front of you.

The right film

The subject matter of the film draws comparisons to Viceland’s 2007 documentary ‘Heavy Metal In Baghdad’ about the Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda. Did that film influence you at all?
Absolutely! I saw that film when it came out and I’m not going to beat around the bush: I’m not a fan of Vice. I never was a fan of Vice. It was their first feature film, it got them their street cred, but it was a piece of shit. I mean… They’re clearly extreme tourists and that’s it. We lived in Afghanistan. We didn’t just nourish the scene, we were the scene. And when I saw the film, I was already mentoring District Unknown and I thought: I want to make the other film. The right film. The film which is what Vice kind of just flirted with and then turned into the typical mass news media sensation.
The funny thing is: it comes up in a lot of conversations. I’m not afraid to talk about it, because I believe our film is a lot stronger than that. And in a sense it did inspire me: it inspired me to make a better film. Or at least a truer representation.

How important was it to represent the expat scene in the film?
That was an important factor, because without the expat scene, you would never have had the music scene flourish. Because that was the safe zone where they could do it. And we slipped those Afghans in under the radar, to be become a part of that scene. And eventually, the Afghans wanted to perform to their own audience. And you see through the film the evolution of the scene and the fact that we have Afghans playing to Afghan audiences. That was obviously our ultimate goal. You want to be influencing your peers, not just a bunch of westerners that are ultimately going to leave the country. It was integral to show that part. As much as it was excessive. And a lot of the expat party scene is quite wrong in an ethical or moral sense when you’re an Islamic republic like Afghanistan. But that was the truth. That’s what they were doing every day or every weekend. So I tried to give a taste of the expat scene without going overboard, because the film is really about the Afghans rather than the expats.

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