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When it comes to the documentary following a heavy metal group called Acrassicauda, from Baghdad, it is evident that western influence in prevalent in the heavy metal scene and also the band member’s lives. In the beginning of the film, when beginning to discuss their interest in heavy metal, they cited watching videos by American artists such as Slayer and Metallica, which also were bands that helped them learn in English in their home, Iraq. However, the one discrepancy between American heavy metal and Middle East heavy metal, is the freedom which those involved are allowed to embody. The genre of heavy metal comes with a great sense of individuality, but in Iraq these heavy metal band members are not allowed to fully express themselves to the extent to which they would like.
There are many restrictions placed on the Iraqi people by the government, forcing them to limit their sense of individuality. The band members are faced with consequences by doing things such as wearing Metallica and Slayer shirts, growing out their hair and also having facial hair that is a goatee, rather than a full beard. These actions which they take based on their heavy metal lifestyles can have detrimental effects on their, leading to imprisonment or death. These strict regulations set by the Iraqi government reflect the current state of society and warfare when the documentary was filmed. Generally, when we think of heavy metal in western culture there is a great deal of individualism and expression that goes into the genre. Many times, these American heavy metal bands take very controversial, political standpoints; sometimes taking opposition against the government its leaders. With Iraq’s strict regulations, it would be extremely dangerous for a band or artist to have a political message behind their music without facing dire consequences just as jail time or death. In the documentary the band told stories where they would be forced to play songs that were a tribute to Saddam Hussein at their shows, and if they didn’t they could face being thrown into jail without a justifiable reason.
The band then went on to reflect on the hardships and conditions which they were forced to play under; usually the venue being an old hotel of some sort, surrounded by barbed wire and tanks, where they were forced to used old power generators in order to provide electricity to their instruments. They were forced to end their shows by 7:30pm so the patrons would be able to make it home before the 9:00pm curfew in Baghdad. For the band and the audience these shows offered an outlet to ‘let loose’ so to speak, and forget about the destruction and war going on around them. Many of the members of the audience would never have the opportunity to see their favorite bands such as Slayer or Metallica live, so seeing Acrassicauda cover songs by these bands was something they really enjoyed witnessing and being a part of. Through these shows, the members of the band and audience were provided and outlet to release their anger by headbanging and the general craziness of the shows.
In one portion of the documentary there are mortars and gunshots going off in the distance while the band members are carrying on with their daily activities and lives, speaking out on the fact that they had become desynthesized to the death and warfare which had been going on in their hometown. Additionally the band members mentioned that they had run into several issues with security solely due to their appearance with goatee facial hair and Iron Maiden band t-shirts. Eventually, the band members relocated to Damascus, Syria, as Iraqi refugees, where they discovered there wasn’t much of a heavy metal scene at all; but due to the circumstances surrounding their previous living conditions in Iraq they did not have much of a choice except living together in a flat that did not offer any form of central heating.
The ultimate goal of the band was to make it out of Baghdad, in order to guarantee the safety of themselves and their family, but also to pursue their dreams of becoming a successful heavy metal band. The city of Baghdad was overwhelmed with terrorists and military troops and the civilians were just getting caught in the crossfire of these acts. The shows themselves were very difficult to set up in these areas due to the fact that most people in this region did not understand the genre of heavy metal, much less what the band members were trying to accomplish. They would advertise their shows are ‘Rock n Roll’ rather than heavy metal due to the negative connotation which followed the genre of heavy metal where it eluded to the worship of Satan.
While the heavy metal genre is very present in western culture, it is not as looked down upon as it is for the Baghdad band Acrassicauda. Western culture is entirely more accepting to these genres of music, especially due to our lack of war torn cities and stable government. Additionally, there is a huge divide separating those who are wealthy and have an education in Iraq. One of the band members recalled working seven days a week, 12 hours a day in jobs such as retail or restaurants just to make 100$ a month for him and his family which all had been relocated as refugees to Damascus. The Western world’s flourishing economy and stable government feasibly allow for genres such as heavy metal to succeed and also give artists the option to carry a controversial political message behind their music without fear of imprisonment or death. While the migration these band members make to Damascus might not seemed forced, it still leaves the viewer feeling some sympathy for them uprooting their lives from chaotic Baghdad in order to attempt to lead a more successful, prosperous life.
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