NOTE: This interview was originally published by Heathen Harvest in 2016, and has been republished here only because Heathen Harvest is no more, and I wanted people to still be able to read it.
No Gods, No Masters: Living Dangerously with Al Namrood
“A public beheading will typically take place around 9am. The convicted person is walked into the square and kneels in front of the executioner. The executioner uses a sword known as a sulthan to remove the condemned person's head from his or her body at the neck. Sometimes it may take several strikes before victim is decapitated.”
So says Wikipedia about public executions in Saudi Arabia, one of only four countries left that still carry out executions in public. Apparently, just last year (2015), the number of public beheadings reached "at least" 157 – a twenty year high – and the sentence can be carried out for a wide range of offences, including witchcraft, murder, rape, armed robbery – and apostate blasphemy. And that’s where Al Namrood come in.
No matter who your favourite black metal band is, they are playing it safe compared to Al Namrood. Recording anti-Islamic metal in Saudi Arabia, these three metalheads (Mephisto, Humbaba, and Ostron) risk very real punishment if they are ever discovered, and have to keep their musical lives completely hidden, under fear of death. No matter how tough Glen Benton thought burning an inverted cross into his forehead was, it pales into silly (if painful in the forehead region) nincompoopery compared to the life-or-death concerns of Al Namrood.
(Of course, many readers will immediately shout “fake!”, as people tend to do in this untrustworthy age of internet lies and clickbait trollery. We’ve all been burned by bands like Ghost Bath (a band whose claims to be a Chinese black metal /shoegaze band turned out to be total bullshit – they were actually from North Dakota), and still no-one knows for sure about the veracity of Janaza / Seeds of Iblis. However, there are two strong pointers to me that Al Namrood are the real deal: firstly, the fact that these guys have been going at it since 2008 and have never attempted to leverage their notoriety for personal gain (as Mephisto says, “We do not wish to score any benefit from our band project, it is a sense of self achievement rather than aiming for public attraction”), makes me strongly believe them – hoaxers are generally too narcissistic to let nearly a decade go by without showing everyone how very clever they are; and secondly, an old comrade of mine actually played on two Al Namrood releases, and he absolutely insists that they are 100% legit. I know that, in the end, there’s no way to prove anything either way, but I can assure you that this interviewer is genuinely convinced.)
I begin by asking Mephisto and Humbaba if they are concerned by the media’s concentration on their belief systems and socio-geographical location, over their musical output…
Heathen Harvest: Does it bother you that you’re known for the fact you’re “that anti-Islamic band from Saudi Arabia”, rather than for the strength of your music?
Humbaba: No, it does not! And I hope they keep this title upon us because we've come across too many retards who still think we're Muslims! Like seriously, how much more effort do we have to put in to emphasise that we are not? I’m thinking to print a T-shirt saying “The Towel Head Blasphemer”!
Mephisto: We do not wish to score any benefit from our band project, it is a sense of self achievement rather than aiming for public attraction.
H: In addition, too many Westerners – especially Americans – presume that all Arabs are Muslims.
HH: It is a common misapprehension. And currently here in the West (I’m writing from Australia, but from what I can gather, it’s much the same in the Europe and the USA), anti-Islamic feelings are at an all-time high, to the point where even refugees from Islamic countries – people who are trying to escape the repression and violence of exactly the kinds of religious rule you’re rebelling against – are faced with immense prejudice once they’ve arrived here. Do you think there is a point at which being anti-religious is as dangerous as being religious?
M: We do what we want to do, we did not choose the approach of anti-religion to challenge religion, we just bear the idea of utter freedom. We cannot fake our thoughts and pretend we are okay with religion. We have rejected it from the early ages, it didn’t make sense to us and time evolved until it was clearly proven to us that religion is a big deceit to control people, mind and emotion. More seriously, we are ruled by a religious regime and we just cannot fold and obey! Being a sheep is comforting, but we just cannot do it.
HH: So if you’d been born into the harsh caste system of India, you’d be an anti-Hindu band, or if you’d been born in the Vatican you’d be anti-Catholic?
M: Exactly! Taken from the social/environmental causes, the ideologies re-shape, this is due to the source of oppression.
HH: It’s one thing to be against something, but if you did ever manage to tear down Islamic rule, what would you replace it with? Anarchy? Secular scientism? A democracy that sees all religions as equal? Communism? What do you see as the end-point goal of your struggle?
M: I do not believe in world peace whatsoever, the world will always be miserable, it is just we have to deal with and tackle this misery to pursue our lives. We believe in free life, free from the system, free from religion, free from any control! I think this might lead to anarchy by definition or something close.
H: I just fucking hate everyone.
HH: Is moving an option? What is keeping you there, in a system you despise?
M: It is not that simple for various of reasons, we are connected with many things in our life, we have families, and other things that we care about. In addition our vocalist is banned from traveling and we won’t be selfish to replace Humbaba just because to tour. Also, we will be pursued for eternity even if we left the country, our government is connected with the major countries and they can simply claim us, bribe some other government or even send assassins. Other than that, the radical Islamist exists everywhere. Humbaba once told me, he thinks our end will be on stage – he believes one day when we go mainstream, one radical religious sheep will shoot us in the head just because we do not agree with religious view.
HH: A terrifying vision to live! But, at the same time, that would go down as one of the most legendary live music concerts ever…
M: We understand this approach of life is not safe at all, we know we are doomed just because we hail from the most religious country in the world. We are Arab and whatever happens, our identity and background will remain threatening, either to the extremist nationalist fascists, or the extremist Islamists.
HH: You’ve been spreading your message of anti-religious rage since 2008, and yet it feels that in 2016 the world is considerably more religious than it has been for some time. If the Western media is to be believed (and it probably isn’t, but you never know) Islamic State seems to be seizing more control, and places that were until very recently modern and secular (like Turkey, for instance) are turning into religion-ruled caliphates. Do you ever feel like just giving up?
M: Never! These circumstances are the reason we started the band, so more religious brutality means more drive to continue what we do. Islamic State ideology was born in Saudi Arabia, so we are not surprised with the current consequences of exporting radicalism across the world, we have lived it in our childhood. We are already involved in the endangerment, there is no way we will quit, it is our passion.
HH: You’ve currently got more ex-members than members. When secrecy is so important to you, how do you deal with the trust elements of having so many ex-members floating around? Is someone’s word ever enough?
M: As much as I am disappointed for members to leave the band, the choice was always theirs. Essentially, we do not trust people easily, especially when it comes to the band, that is why our pick was always toward specific criteria. One of these criteria is the band member must tolerate anti-religious themes, and all the past members shared that perspective (except for one guest band member whom we got deceived by and turned out to be Muslim, but quickly we fixed that error). This remained a big issue to us that we cannot recruit local members from Middle East. Many metal heads in Middle East listen to metal while maintaining the relation with religion, which we find big contradiction.
HH: Are you ever worried that one of your ex-members will hand you into the authorities?
M: The probability is remote, simply because we had no problems with any of the ex-members, they shared with us the same ideas, they agreed on the band content and when they left it was their personal choice for their personal lives. However, the issue to be taken in consideration is what if one of the ex-members converted to radical form of religion, will he bring revenge upon us for being blasphemous? I think we are prepared for these circumstances.
HH: How do you go about finding a new band member once someone has left the band? How well do you have to know someone before you can even broach that topic, given the consequences of mentioning the topic to the wrong people?
M: All the members who joined the band we know them personally, usually they are fans who expressed their desire to support the band, as much as we want our line up to be completed, we do not announce publicly for members.
HH: Have you ever had to deal with “secret police” kind of people infiltrating your scene, and if so, how do you deal with that?
M: Yes, we have dealt with secret police. We have to convince them we are still Muslims, otherwise we will be charged with apostasy, which automatically leads to execution. Humbaba is banned from traveling, which we will not disclose any details about now.
HH: Let’s talk a little about the music itself. I love the grandness of Al Namrood, there’s an epic quality, a cinematic scope to the sound that so many bands fail to achieve. Partly I think is due to the richness of sound, all the additional instruments that aren’t “just metal”, but partly I think it’s just the big riffs and the way they flow. When writing music, is this large-scale epicness something you’re specifically aiming for, as a vehicle for expressing the enormity of your pre-Islamic worldview, or is it just a sound/style you enjoy making?
M: Certainly, the aim of epicness is intended. In fact it happens spontaneously, the reason we like black metal is it has atmospheric theme, and when I started to learn guitars, I explored many genres, after learning the scales of guitars, it noticed that my playing is going through certain scales which produce a meaningful tone. It was important to me to make a riff that has a story-telling quality, whether aggression, rage, dramatic etc… the aim for meaningful riffs is significant.
HH: What other bands influence you the most?
M: While each of us has different taste, we are so much inspired by the bands Marduk and Nile, also we were inspired by old stuff of Melechesh, but sadly now Melechesh shifted their approach of music which we didn’t like as personal taste. Mephisto likes the intense blast beaten black metal such as Marduk and 1349, Humbaba enjoys old school heavy metal and punk, bands such as The Exploited and Discharge. Ostron enjoys doom and slow tempo heavy metal.
HH: The ancient Mesopotamian texts (where Humbaba’s name comes from – the Epic of Gilgamesh says "he had the paws of a lion and a body covered in thorny scales; his feet had the claws of a vulture, and on his head were the horns of a wild bull; his tail and phallus each ended in a snake's head") are fascinating, bizarre, and rich in otherworldly history. In what way do you draw on these kind of texts for inspiration?
H: Fear, Terror, Power and Notoriousness! In the name of violence, this inspiration driven from the epic of Gilgamesh tablets, the part when Enkidu and Gilgamesh were frightened to death before the battle began. That fearful sensation I tend to deliver to the audience in a sarcastic way to confuse them and corrupt their little minds with hate and violence!
HH: What’s next for Al Namrood? New recordings? New releases? New inspirations?
M: We are currently working on new album which its main theme is black/punk metal. We have designed a new logo for it. Inspired by the band The Exploited, we are indulging the anarchy ideology along with the basic element of Al Namrood. The album is planned for release in the first quarter of 2017; it will be released on Vinyl, CD and digital copies. Shaytan Productions (Canada) will release it.
HH: Looking forward to hearing it! Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything else you want to touch on that I haven’t yet explored?
H: Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their own culture will never be understood! Now, do you think I can be the ambassador of good intention?