The fact that metal music is a global phenomenon has been established since the turn of the millennium and as such is no longer a secret, this is a music genre that has traversed the world across all factions and even to this day, more and more bands are forming and scenes being established, leaving lasting legacies not only just in the metal community, but in their own national community also.
The challenges metal music poses vary from country to region and seeking resolutions have not always been easy, but the spirit of devotion to arguably the world's most connected genre lives on and so will the people behind it.
Yet ironically where it is no surprise that metal exists in every corner of the globe, the fact that new scene discoveries are so fascinatingly exciting just underpins the gravity of why global metal music is a treasure to behold.
Enter Toxic Roulette, the first metal band coming from Yemen. The band spoke exclusively to Global Metal Apocalypse about their origins, the possible emergence of a Yemeni metal scene; the challenges that will come / are coming with it and how they are perceived by the Yemeni people.
For some bands it was relatively easy to establish a scene, for some it was the choice between life and death. For Toxic Roulette, their emergence was thanks to meeting in a talent competition, and that they discovered metal music through various means as they go on to explain:-
"Heavy metal came to Yemen mainly because of the people who lived abroad, they came back with guitars and metal CDs, and the second reason is the internet. There was a small talent show and we gathered from different places. Some of the talents had similar taste of music and we thought why not make a metal band. It was a pure coincidence."
Much like when Morocco went through a period of censoring metal music, jailing metalheads and labelling it as Satanic music, Yemen could enforce a similar if not the same method of constraining a harmless 'threat to cultural norms'. For now it seems that metalheads in Yemen are wanting the music to remain ironically underground and not gain a wider national interest, maybe the values presented in Sharia law outweigh the freedom of playing metal music and so would rather keep it hidden in secrecy until open dialogue is established – look at Creative Waste playing their first open air concert in Saudi Arabia for example....
“The general perception of heavy metal in Yemen is very bad, they think it’s only related to Satanic rituals. But at the same time the majority of people are yet still to know more about it. Heavy metal in Yemen is still not well known enough, and the authorities are not well informed about it, but if more people follow heavy metal, then the authorities will ban it 100%.”
This view then begs the question of what the bandmembers families think of metal music, naturally it's expected for family members to be supportive of what their relatives undertake within reason (no prizes for coming up with any suggestions of what is not appropriate). Also, as the band mentioned earlier, the importation of metal CD's were a fundamental resource in building up a metal community in Yemen, they go on to explain who they got into first:
“We got into heavy metal after listening to great bands like Metallica, AC/DC and Megadeth. Also, we loved the sound of electric guitars. Our parents thought it sounds loud and doesn't make sense, but they too love guitar solos.”
Forming a band and releasing music is one thing, forming a band with no pre-existing scene and then looking to release music is an entirely different challenge in itself. For Toxic Roulette, the latter applies as they go on to explain they are only doing covers for the time being, with 2022 aiming to be the band's first time creating original material:
“We are still yet to release a demo. We mainly play covers of famous metal songs, but hopefully we can release a demo next year.”
We look forward to the first ever metal release to come out of Yemen, but like the rest of the world this is not the biggest challenge being faced... in 2019 a then-unknown pathogen emerged out of Wuhan, China which later came to be called 'COVID-19', plaguing the world in a battle and race against time to suppress this lethal killer. Since then vaccine developments have been heralded as major step in attempting to limit the long-term damage of the disease, however a whole host of countries (chiefly those of the Third World) are yet again being left behind by the First World. It is no secret that Yemen has suffered years of famine and poverty and still continues to suffer, to coin a phrase it's like 'kicking a man whilst he is down'. So how has the country dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and what limitations have been posed?
“COVID-19 didn’t have much effect in people's lives in Yemen, since the authorities didn’t do much to protect the people. We are not under a lockdown.”
As mentioned earlier Toxic Roulette are the first metal band from Yemen, so with no pre-existing scene the challenges are exceptionally difficult - let alone not performing outside of Yemen. One such challenge is equipment sourcing and so they have to rely on travellers to carry out favours for them:
“Obtaining good equipment is always a challenge in Yemen. We rely mostly on people who come from abroad to provide us with good instruments.”
Since 2019 air travel has been at an all-time low and as such many destinations were off-limits or strongly advised travelling to, but under normal circumstances the band recommends visiting the historic sites Yemen has to offer including old Sanaa (Bab Al Yemen).
Naturally the global metal community is a tight-knit one and it's considered the norm to herald any major achievements by bands from the lesser known metal scenes. Of course it's great hearing bands like Ghost getting a GRAMMY award, but what about Orphaned Land (Israel) and Khalas (Palestine) touring together? Considering their two nations are against one another, that milestone is something that should be celebrated more than winning an award no?
The MENA (Middle East-North Africa) metal scenes have come a long way and are making sensational progress in establishing themselves, it's inevitable that more and more entities within the Western music industry will pay more attention to bands from this region... it's got to happen, there is so much talent being overlooked just because the next Swedish export so happens to be the next Amon Amarth per se, Europe is no longer the big boy on planet metal and it's about time we accepted that.
“We think that heavy metal has made great progress in the MENA region despite all of the obstacles and challenges. We have seen many great metal bands from Jordan and Egypt get noticed.”
And so where does Toxic Roulette go now as we head towards the end of 2021 and welcome in 2022?
“Our plan for next year is to make original heavy metal music.”