Heavy metal in Dubai

The crazy Jordanian metal band talk to <em>Time Out</em> about their mission to spread the good word of rock across the UAE and their latest gigs in the region.

Music feature

‘We are not allowed to play live in our own country, can you imagine that?’ The voice of Ramzi Essayed, vocalist for Jordanian doom- and death-metal band Bilocate, rises with anger: ‘Last year we were all set to play a venue with other bands. After everything was finalised and tickets were being sold, the organiser got a call from someone in the government who said that if we were on the bill, it wouldn’t be allowed to go ahead. The organiser said that we were the reason he was selling so many tickets, but the government said it wouldn’t happen at all if we were there.’

For Bilocate, this is only one of many such stories. The band formed in Jordan in 2002, when Ramzi, his brother Waseem and best friend Hani, came together through their shared love of metal. Time passed and they picked up three more members, released their first album (2005’s Dysphoria) and even filmed music videos. But as their profile rose, so did their notoriety. Now, despite having built up a big enough fan base to warrant the release of their second album, Sudden Death Syndrome, the band have not played in their home country for two years.

Not that they are alone. ‘The government is against all metal concerts, because there is some head-banging and people are dressed all in black, and this is not accepted in our culture. They think, “This is odd, we cannot allow our children and our brothers to follow this, so we must kill it.”’ They are also, says Ramzi, always connecting metal music to Satanism, although they’re not really related at all: ‘We write about war, tragedy and death. This is the death and doom metal style. Rock musicians sing about love and their girlfriends and things like that, and we sing about this. We talk about either sadness about what’s going on or anger at why it’s happening. But we don’t talk about Satan or God. And we don’t talk about drugs, sex or alcohol.’

It’s ironic that the band should have such problems being heard in their home country, since they have gone to some effort to work their Jordanian culture into their tunes. While Ramzi describes the music as ‘dark and epic metal’, with the guitars, keyboards and heavy drums that metal fans would expect, it also uses traditional Jordanian sounds.

‘We don’t let it overpower the music,’ he explains, ‘but we use Arabic instruments, so you can hear things like the oud and the tabla. It makes for an epic sound, so we are unique in that way.’ Such an approach can, he acknowledges, be cynically read as, “‘Oh – let’s use Arabic instruments,” but we are proud of where we came from.’

It means their music stands out from the other metal bands, especially Dubai-based Nervecell, who have pointedly developed a Western sound. Bilocate even gained kudos from using Jens Bogren as their sound engineer – the Swede’s previous work includes Opeth and Bloodbath.

Ramzi now lives in Dubai, where he works as the marketing manager for an IT company, leaving him with precious little time to play with the band live – usually one month a year of holiday time. ‘Even when I’m on holiday I’m working,’ he laughs. ‘But if we want to succeed in what we do we will have to focus on Bilocate and support the album whenever we can.’ And in the near future, that support may come in the form of gigs in Turkey, Egypt and – of course – Dubai. Anywhere, it seems, except for Jordan.

Metal detector
Fight off your metal fatigue with this guide to the subgenres.

Heavy metal
The grand-daddy of the subgenres. Spilling out of the rock scenes of the late 60s, traditional metal is about turning the amps up to 11, distorting the guitars, hammering the drums and using complex instrumentation. Examples: early Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath.

Thrash metal
Faster! Faster! Faster! That’s the motto of thrash, which means roaring vocals, chugging rhythm guitars, complex riffs, high-register solos and bleeding fingers. Examples: Metallica and Motörhead. Doom metal Need a breather? Here’s doom metal: very, very slow tempos, low-tuned guitars and grim lyrics. It’s all about building an oppressive atmosphere of dread. Examples: Trouble and Candlemass.

Black metal
This is the one that really gets the bad press, largely because of excitable Norwegian fans burning down churches, fast tempos, shrieking vocals, lots of distortion and no irony. Examples: Emperor and Mayhem.

Hello Kitty metal
Just kidding.

Sudden Death Syndrome is out now.

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