Meaty Al-Namrood , inventive Music for Hard Times.
Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq
Saudi Arabian” and “black metal band” are not exactly words one expects to see placed beside each other, but, with the way Al-Namrood guitarist/bassist Mephisto puts it (as told to the Metal Injection website), it makes complete sense: “Saudi Arabia is the biggest motivation you could ever get to start a black metal band.”
The trio Al-Namrood works in anonymity and secrecy in its homeland of Saudi Arabia, which allows relatively little religious freedom, being an authoritarian state that complies with Sharia. Appropriately, the band name, translated as “the non-believer,” refers to the figure Nimrod included in Hebrew, Christian and Muslim traditions characterized with a religious rebellion.
Some Scandinavian black metal bands draw from Nordic themes, and similarly, Al-Namrood’s songs borrow from Babylonian, Arabian and biblical legends, citing ancient gods with intimidating titles, and melodies utilize Arabian scales and traditional instruments, such as the Oud (similar to a lute) and the Ney (a type of flute), alongside the more familiar throbbing metal style.
On the group’s fourth album, Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq, don’t be fooled by the opening seconds, featuring a solo flute—the metal chugging, slightly distorted drum machine and buzzsaw guitar soon enter and get down to business. “Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq” generates a thick maelstrom of Arabian scales enhanced with synth lines, and the threatening vocals from the band’s new singer Humbaba can transform into a menacing laugh.
“Youm Yukram Al Jaban” sports a peak intensity for the album with scream-sing vocals, contrasted with an abrupt breakdown section with stringed instruments and hand percussion, followed by more pummeling. “Bat Al Tha Ar Nar Muheja” features furious tremolo guitar picking and growly, throat-shredding, staccato vocals.
Heen Yadhar Al Ghasq stands up not as a mere novelty and holds its own as a hefty, meaty, compelling bundle of darkness.
Music for Hard Times
City of Cardboard
In the search for new sounds, an inventive performer can play existing instruments in non-traditional ways—called extended techniques—or an actual inventor can just create a new instrument.
There’s a good helping of both methods on City of Cardboard by the free-improv duo Music for Hard Times, comprised of instrument sculptor Tom Nunn and bassist Paul Winstanley, who employs “extensions” and electronic effects. One of Nunn’s unusual instruments featured here is the Skatchbox, which is a painted cardboard box affixed with various metal and plastic objects, such as washers and hair combs, that is played by rubbing a comb over it.
Another is the Crustacean, which is a circular metal plate with thin rods welded to it, sitting on four balloons, each resting in its own pail embedded in a table. When played with a bow, the Crustacean generates a uniquely eerie sound, somewhat like a bowed cymbal but with more tonal variety. Readers, do yourselves a favor and look these instruments up on YouTube for proper demonstrations.
The seven improvisations on City of Cardboard cover a wide spectrum of moods, typically going between two poles: one of playful, animalistic scampering, and one of a desolate uneasiness.
Cardboard in an urban environment brings to mind a homeless person’s improvised shelter, but the album’s cover offers towering buildings made of cardboard, perhaps suggesting hollowness and artifice.
This fits in with the parts that convey a bleak, artificial cityscape, like “Shantytown Council” which uses low hums and the sound of music boxes to create a delicate melancholia; “We Travel the Spaceways” also uses sonic space in a subtle way, without assaulting the eardrums.
The fascinating City of Cardboard catches the listener off-guard in multiple ways, not only with its peculiar musical instruments and noises, but also by being piercing and affecting with its starkly grey mood, like a walk through an abandoned junkyard.