Al Namrood, Ten Years of Resistance, Canada, Shaytan Productions, Qayamat-22 CD / Qayamat-23 vinyl LP (2018)
In 2018, Saudi pagan black / folk metallers Al Namrood celebrated a decade of existence under extremely difficult circumstances in their native country (Saudi Arabia) that we in the West would find hard to imagine. Unable to play live, having to import all their instruments (and having to get them repaired overseas), recording clandestinely and not even being able to tell their families, relatives and friends directly about their musical activities for fear of Saudi government authorities finding out: these difficulties would be enough to ensure any BM or other underground metal band a very short life in the kingdom. To their credit, Al Namrood have been able to release six albums (with a seventh album due for release in June 2020), two EPs, three singles and this compilation, appropriately titled “Ten Years of Resistance”.
The band’s style blends Middle Eastern folk instruments and musical scales and structures with powerful hard-driving thrash BM, resulting in a very distinctive sound with surprisingly catchy tunes and strong head-banging rhythms. The acoustic folk instruments might seem a little out of tune with the BM chord structures but the fusion acquires a quirky and eccentric charm that perhaps reflects the bizarre world Al Namrood’s members live in. Vocalist Humbaba’s exaggerated, clownish style of singing, just a bit on the raspy side, and not above over-acting, is something listeners either love, hate or merely tolerate (with gritted teeth perhaps) but at least the music, relatively more restrained and concentrating on delivering crushing riff power and folk melodies, is a good contrast and counterpoint. Come to think of it, the combination of vocal buffoonery and minimal music may be just right for the kind of extreme religious fundamentalist society Al Namrood live in. The synth drumming isn’t especially strong but this actually benefits the guitars and folk instruments: the guitars have solid brutal crunch and the acoustic instruments seem more twangy and hypnotic without competition from an acoustic drum kit.
As the album progresses – it starts with songs from earlier releases like “Estorat Taghoot” and “Kitab al Awthan” – the sonic universe that Al Namrood create becomes ever more bizarre, overwhelming and bordering on hysterical and suffocating. The songs aren’t especially fast due to having to accommodate native music structures and maybe as a result they don’t come across as angry and aggressive as they could – but this also means listeners have to suffer the oppressive ambience the music and singing together bring for much longer! I hesitate to recommend particular tracks as later tracks sound heavier and more strident than earlier ones and I’m sure if the order of the songs was rearranged the album would still come out sounding more and more brutal with each succeeding song.
The songs might be rough around the edges and awkward in their delivery, the band sometimes going for bludgeoning excess, but given their difficult situation we should be glad the musicians have come as far as they have, that they can celebrate ten years of being together and having a large discography as well. A strong and stubborn punk spirit is present throughout this compilation right up to and including the last song “Atbaa al-Namrood”, full of the thrashiest, tinniest synth drumming, the doomiest bass droning and the shoutiest blood-curdling singing you’ll ever find on Planet Earth.
Yep, Al Namrood’s very survival is itself supreme anti-religious defiance indeed.