Dark and Brutal Iraq Style


It was a heavy metal miracle.

Acrassicauda had been through hell as a rock band in wartime Baghdad. Its practice space was bombed. Its members were branded Satan worshipers and received death threats for making Western-style music. Then they suffered through two purgatorial years as refugees in Syria and Turkey, killing time and dreaming of rocking out in the land of the free.

And on Sunday night, two days after the last of the band’s four members was resettled in the United States, they enjoyed what any metal fan would have to call heaven: bearhugs and “Wow, dude” heart-to-hearts backstage with Metallica at the Prudential Center in Newark. It probably wasn’t necessary for James Hetfield, Metallica’s lead singer, to surprise them after the show by handing over one of his guitars, a black ESP, and signing it “Welcome to America”; their minds were already blown.

“That’s for keeping the faith,” Mr. Hetfield said, adding as he disappeared with his entourage down a corridor, “Write some good riffs.”

The band was “discovered” by Brooklyn-based Vice Magazine and their struggle to keep a band together through the worst of the Iraq Civil War as band members scattered across three countries was chronicled in the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad.

The documentary is available for free on Netflix or on this site. It’s compelling viewing even if you hate heavy metal. In America we rarely get intimate portraits of normal Iraqis. These guys are just normal “dudes” who want to be able to dress how they want, listen to what they want, and play the music the love without fear of being shot because of it. You get a small understanding of how difficult it must be to be from a place like Iraq. Your country is your home, it’s where you want to live. You didn’t ask for this war, but it’s not like you were free under Sadaam. And now to stay in your home country risks death for you or your family. It’s all but impossible to get a visa to live in other countries such as Syria, let alone the U.S. What an awful Catch-22.

As one of the band members said, “Our whole country is heavy metal. We live it.”

Maybe Acrassicauda can summon a lake troll to weed Al Qaeda and the other thugs out of Iraq.

Couldn’t resist.


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