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."