Whenever metal bands in the west think they have it hard, very little thought is spared for their contemporaries in the war-ravaged, poverty-ridden or geographically-isolated nations on planet earth. It's bands from these parts of the world that ultimately deserve far more attention than your next big band who sells thousands of albums a month. When your recording and playing metal music whilst bombs around you go off and your effectively playing with your life in the balance, reality kicks in and the reality is the Syrian Metal scene has far more to lose than the vast majority of westernised metalheads can ever lose. This is why Absentation relocated to Germany, here guitarist / vocalist Salah Alghalayeeni speaks to GMA about the scene back home, the challenges that came with playing metal, the forthcoming album and the fact that having no festival in the MENA region has left some scenes without a live outlet.... this is his story.
"Hopefully someday we will gather at a big metal event in Damascus Castle, that would be f***ing awesome"
For those who have not heard of Absentation could you give us a brief history of the band?
"First of all, greetings to you Rhys and to Global Metal Apocalypse, Absentation is the first official Death Metal band formed in 2003 in Damascus, Syria. The first album was "Death Chapter" released in 2005, then "Mental Battle Resurrection" which was released by ADP records in 2007 (we were interviewed by Terrorizer magazine and got a killer review by Noisecreep), then we were preparing to release an album entitled "Claves Inferni", we released 2 singles but couldn’t complete it for the bad situation we faced in the country. We came back with "Ascending To Desolate" released in February 2018 and are actually mixing the upcoming album "The Intellectual Darkness".
It must be tough for Syrian Metalheads these days let alone bands, how do you ensure you're not caught; have you fled Syria? Any plans to evacuate?
"Well now I am in Germany, but the situation for metalheads in Syria nowadays is very good compared to old days, today nobody gets caught yet still there is no support, record labels, magazines…., etc, which is hell for bands and music careers."
It seems alongside Maysaloon that Absentation are flag-bearers for the Syrian Metal scene, but what about in the early days, when did the Syrian Metal scene first come around?
"Well we had in the 80’s a lot of rock bands and tribute bands to Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden etc., and still we have a lot of tribute bands that are doing great. About the early days, we are proud that we were the flag bearers and are still in Death metal alongside Anarchadia (Thrash Metal), Netherion (Death Metal) NuclearDown, (Power Metal) and now Maysaloon joins the troops of flag bearers for them and for all much of success."
Are you worried about touring the USA and Europe because of the politics going on? Do you feel metal music brings the world together regardless of differences?
"I am not worried, because we all are brothers in metal, we all relate to this kind of music and we all trying to keep metal alive, as Chuck Schuldiner said, but of course it affects us a lot with visa granting."
You're currently working on your new album "The Intellectual Darkness", how is that going? Will this be released physically?
"Yes, this album I am proud of and are working hard on, the mixing of the album will be finished soon and thereafter entering the mastering process. Yes of course this will be released worldwide and we are in the negotiation process for now to pick up the best deal to get to the next level; there is a big surprise, I will leave it as a surprise until the release.
The album is talking about an intellectual man, who no longer fits in this fake society; his brain is eaten by them, so he is trying to find the equation (based on strings theory) to make the universes collide so he can join a higher civilization, will he succeed? Or will he turn to a very dark entity to take revenge? We describe here all the darkness he is suffering and sees, and how society manipulated his mind and was responsible in turning an intellectual man to a very dark entity, will he survive? That is what we will see and follow with this album."
For bands in the MENA region it must be hard not having any real metal festivals, so, would you hope that Desert Rock in The UAE revives?
"Yes sure, I hope so, and hope we have in the future big festivals that unites all metal bands worldwide."
Have you had any fans contact you outside of Syria? Any from countries you would have never imagined?
"Yes sure, we have a lot of fans from Germany, Belgium, France, the United States, even in China, India, and we got massive support from Brazil, Argentina… etc., we hope someday we will be known around the globe."
Obviously it's hard for metalheads to go on holiday in Syria at the moment, but, what sights or attractions in Damascus?
"You have old Damascus (Babtouma, Bab Sharqi, Damascus Castle, Qasiuon mountain... etc.,) Damascus is a very pretty city and it has it's magic. Hopefully someday we will gather at a big metal event in Damascus Castle, that would be f***ing awesome."
What plans do you have for 2019 and are there any greetings, thank you's, etc you wish to send out?
"I am concentrating now on the upcoming album, as I am producing it, the release will be in early 2019. The plan is to do it as professionally as I can and to get the attention that in Syria we have a lot of talent that needs to be supported, and to be recognized as world class musicians. Also to continue in spreading the plague with our music. I want to thank the fans that believe in Absentation, and believe in our music . Stay tuned for "The Intellectual Darkness". I want to thank you Rhys for the support, I send hope for you and wish Global Metal Apocalypse much success."
Deathcore is either regarded as taboo within the world of metal music, or as a misunderstood genre baying for recognition as a valid form of metal music. Either way the fact remains it's an unrelenting force that continues to enthral and dominate in both the underground and mainstream realms of metal, from the high-fliers of Bring Me The Horizon, Thy Art Is Murder and Whitechapel to the newest practitioners of the genre; in this instance Denmark's Hanging The Nihilist. However despite the genre's viral appeal, it has on numerous occasions fell flat as becoming 'generic' through bands using the basic formula of riffs, breakdowns and nothing else. So, how does one escape that ever-growing void of unoriginality? It's simple, experiment and tinker with various sounds to create something people will dub as a 'signature tune' (think Whitechapel's frontman Phil Bozeman and his rapid-fire vocals, or BMTH's Oli Sykes's raspy screams, etc). For the Danish sextet in Hanging The Nihilist, this is exactly what they have done and are on course to bring to the fore the sound of 'Danecore'.
The band agreed to embrace hygge and speak with GMA about their forthcoming EP 'The Crow', the Danish Metal scene and how they aim to avoid the clutches of 'generic Deathcore'.
"The scene is small and most of us know each other in one way or another, however, it seems to be constantly growing"
For those who do not know of Hanging The Nihilist, could you give us a brief history of the band?
"Jon, Berna and Emil (guitar, keys, drums) played in a band before Hanging The Nihilist (HTN) that broke up because of creative differences. They decided to not stop writing music and were joined by William (bass) in early 2016. Marc's old band had just gone on a hiatus, so he joined during the summer of 2016 after being persuaded by Jon for almost a year. We played without a second guitarist for a long time because we couldn't find the perfect fit, so we decided to write 'Crow' with just one guitarist. Right after we finished recording Crow, we found the perfect fit in Casper (guitar), who has been a a HTN member ever since."
How do you distinguish yourselves from the already over-saturated genre? What makes your style of music not generic Deathcore?
"We're naturally very inspired by the international Deathcore scene and the hype that's been built around it. We do try to add different elements that aren't as common, such as the piano (which is responsible for the creepy vibes), as well as the way Chris has mixed and mastered our EP which definitely makes it stand out. We're inspired by the way bands such as Lorna Shore add a horror "feel" or vibe to the music using a guitar, and we're trying to give our music a similar feel with the use of a keyboard rather."
You must be stoked to be releasing your 'Crow EP' next year, will you be touring in support of it?
"If the opportunity strikes. For now our focus is on making sure "Crow" will be well received, and everything past that, we'll deal with as it comes. "
Could you give us a brief breakdown as to what each song title means?
"Marc says:- lyrically...
How strong is the Danish Metal scene lately? What is the current scene like? What challenges are there?
"The scene is small and most of us know each other in one way or another, however, it seems to be constantly growing. People like Mirza (CEO of Prime Collective) does a wonderful job of furthering our scene and making sure that the Danish metal scene is taken serious internationally as well. A challenge for us, especially being a Deathcore band, is that we're one of few Deathcore bands here, which means that it's difficult to get a lot of shows going, without it being the same bands and line-ups every time. However, positively, geographically-speaking Denmark is in a great spot in-between massive metal countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland and Germany."
How did you get into playing metal music? Who did you grow up listing to?
Most of us seem to have either metalcore or heavy metal backgrounds at least.
Berna, do you feel that more and more women are engaging with metal music and that it's becoming less male-dominated?
"I think that it is kind of balancing out and I think that it is great. Women are being more and more accepted in the metal scene now more than ever. Since I was a kid I have always had big female idols in this scene such as the vocalists from Nightwish and Arch Enemy, and now seeing that it is becoming more accepted I also become more confident with my music and live performance and way more motivated than before."
For metalheads visiting Copenhagen and Hillerød, what sights and attractions could you recommend?
"All metalheads that visit Copenhagen must check out our friends in Cabal and their live-show. They're not just incredible musicians, they're incredible performers."
What plans do you have for the year ahead and the rest of 2018?
"For the rest of 2018, our plans are to play a show on the 14th December, as well as releasing 'Endless Crime' on the 7th December. We're working on merchandise and the release of 'Forgotten' as well as "Crow" in its entirety in 2019. We're mostly just looking forward to hearing what people think of "Crow", and we've already begun working on new material."
Do you have any greetings, thank you's, etc you wish to send out?
"Thanks to you guys for reaching out, thanks to Prime and Chris Kreutzfeldt for the work on Crow, last but not least, thanks to everybody who checks out Hanging the Nihilist.
We're looking forward to seeing what you'll make out of this!"