Worship the Degenerate: Saudi stalwarts Al Namrood deliver a punishing hybrid of black metal and Middle Eastern folk

Al Namrood, Worship the Degenerate, Canada, Shaytan Productions, QUAYAMAT-31 CD / vinyl LP (2022)

Since releasing “Wala’at” back in 2020, Saudi black metallers Al Namrood have gone through a few changes, not least giving up vocalist Humbaba whose florid singing helped define the band’s hybrid black metal / traditional Middle Eastern folk style. New singer Artiya’il has a more aggressive, even savage style of raspy black metal vocal which fits a more streamlined yet still powerful style of melodic black metal. Though “Worship the Degenerate” is Al Namrood’s ninth album, its production values remain raw and rough around the edges, thanks in part (ironically perhaps) to Saudi government repression of non-Islamic music, and in particular those styles of music that are associated with rebellion or which express opinions and views critical of aspects of Saudi society and culture, and of Islam itself – meaning of course that Al Namrood members record in secret in what must be difficult and often makeshift / primitive conditions with whatever instruments and recording equipment are available.

Compared to previous studio albums, “Worship the Degenerate” is short with fewer songs – there are six here whereas previous albums had up to nine or ten songs – but in spite of the production quality which can make the music seem bristly and brittle in parts, the music is as strong and punishing as ever. Indeed, with Humbaba’s vocal gymnastics gone, the music takes centre stage and Artiya’il’s slavering icy-cold vocals become part of the music itself, albeit a savagely thrashing reptilian part. The complex Middle Eastern rhythms and melodic structures and the rich tones of traditional Arab music that have always been part of Al Namrood’s style now stand out along with the harsh noisy guitars and thundering percussion. With a true hybrid music like this, no other adornment is necessary (though some tracks do boast background field recordings and dark ambient introductions) and even a more polished presentation might mute the aggression and fury of the band’s style and message.

Each and every song from the first, “Protector of the Herd”, to the fourth, “Sun of Liberation”, goes for its life, packing in as much thunder and hard-hitting rage in every riff, melody, blast-beat rhythm and screaming lyric as possible. If there’s one thing missing from Al Namrood’s musical vocabulary, subtlety would be it. At the same time that a roar from Artiya’il or a jagged guitar chord sequence is going on – and usually the screaming and the savage music are carrying on at once – a tinkly quarter-tone melody or police siren might be dropped into the cacophony. Of these four, the stand-out tracks are the title track for its riffing and rapid-fire percussion, and “Guerillas” for its smart presentation combining crunchy guitar melodies and stony percussion with the sounds of urban street warfare.

The last two tracks “Eclipse” and “Free Will” are instrumentals which initially seem out of place on a savage album, being little more than repetitive rhythm exercises in search of lyrics and someone to sing them – though in the very absence of lyrics and a vocalist with Artiya’il’s style, the two tracks may be saying something about the current state of Saudi society and its respect (or lack thereof) for personal political freedoms. As a title, “Free Will” has a mocking edge to it, given that the track meanders along as if looking for and beckoning a human voice that might expose the dark forces within its languid flow. The danger though is that once those forces are released, they can destroy that voice.

Though the album is short and ends abruptly, and individual tracks themselves are not long for all their punchiness, the music achieves a sharp richness from fusing black metal, Middle Eastern folk and field recordings of modern urban life. The bizarre and surreal aspects and contradictions of this hybrid music – thundering black metal, lyrics examining the role of religion as both psychological warfare and a path to spiritual liberation, native folk music with its own distinct moods and ambience – are what make Al Namrood’s work so fascinating to follow.