“We are living in the heavy metal world.” - Acrassicauda
“Heavy Metal in Baghdad” is a Vice Films indie documentary following the only metal band in Iraq. Filmmakers Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi became fans of Acrassicauda in 2003. The pair tracked the band’s progress through the reports of others, admiring the band from across the globe. Their fascination led them to create the documentary about this unique group and its journey to play metal music live to its fans. Acrassicauda is Firas (bass), Tony (lead guitar), Marwan (drums), and Faisal (vocals and rhythm guitar).
Starting in 2003, the filmmakers hoped to follow the journey of the band as its members came together, built relationships and hopefully found success in the new landscape of Iran. What they found was much more captivating, horrifying, and interesting than the storied rise from the ashes most bands portray in their marketing bullshit.
Gideon Yego, MTV reporter, and Waleed, the former Acrassicauda front man, hooked up back in 2003 when insurgents were rising, power was spotty, and the band carried guns to get to practice and powered the P.A. with gas generators. Two years later, the filmmakers planned a return trip to Baghdad in 2005. Due to bombings, the journalists were stuck in Lebanon. Yego soldiered through as the band still went on to perform at the Al Fanar hotel. Issues with security made for some interesting obstacles, and then the hotel’s generator failed to power the show. The band eventually played to a room full of wild fans; providing a brief respite from politics, violence and the perils of civil war.
One year later, Moretti and Alvi returned to Baghdad, unsure if Acrassicauda was still together, or still alive. The pair smuggled themselves into Iraq. Alvi’s reading of the Time Magazine article “A Day in Baghdad: Life in Hell” before the flight is hilarious. The duo was armed and given bullet-proof vests, and seat belts were prohibited (as a giveaway that you’re a foreigner). They were partnered with two drivers, two shooters and a translator as they moved forward in their attempt to find the missing metal band.
In the next scene, an interview with Firas reveals his view as a rebel living in the middle of chaos. His words echo a lot of the American youth attitude toward organized religion, rules, and media propaganda. The journalists build on the energy of the interview, and are soon stopped by the Iraqi Police. This close call expands their paranoid security detail to 12 shooters.
Firas’ words ring true. The result of the war isn’t a democracy where the fans of metal can express themselves in their clothes and even the length of their hair. Instead, their perspective on Iraq is a culture of thieves; a feudal state where no one is certain how the local leadership or the militia can be trusted.
Fast Forward: The band fled Baghdad at the end of 2006 and reunited in Damascus, Syrria. The quartet found life in Syria to be completely different from the danger in Iraq. Parties, singing and music were under the squeeze in Iraq. 650,000 Iraqis had been killed during the war. 80% of the singers in Iraq had fled the country. Less than 500 had been taken in by the United States. In short, Iraqis have flooded the workplace in Syria; providing cheap labour for the jobs reserved for those under the poverty line.
The first concert in Syria goes much better than expected. Once the band uncorks familiar cover songs from Metallica and Iron Maiden, the fans erupt with excitement. The night is a success in energy, if not in finance. The band feeds off of the reaction; confident that a metal scene can be born and bred in Syria.
Finances tell a different story (that of the career musician.) The band members can’t legally work in Syria due to the mass exodus of Iraqis. The band suffers earning under $100 a month, working seven days a week, living in poverty, supporting their families. They trade danger for poverty in the name of metal music. They’re day labourers in a new country. They are safe, but they are poor...like so many Iraqis around them.
Coming through on their promise to assist the band in any way possible, the filmmakers find a studio, and help Acrassicauda to record the first metal CD in Damascus. The recording process is a learning experience for all involved. The end result is an historical account of wartime Iraq, exportation, resurgence, and all the aspects of life affected by the war.
Before they leave, Moretti and Alvi share some of the footage from Baghdad. The band members express a longing to be back there; back HOME. Viewing the rubble of the building where they rehearsed, practiced, and bonded for six years brings them to tears. It’s a microcosm of the war. It’s the direct human impact of the conflict between the prison that once was, and the chaos that has risen to power while order seeks to establish its dominance.
“Heavy Metal in Baghdad” provides a snapshot of historical events and the deep impact these battles involve one lives. The members of Acrassicauda are brave and intolerant enough at all stages of their journey. Their blind courage should be celebrated, along with their devotion to the people of Iraq, and their love of their country and its ideals, long before they were compromised by war.
Alvi’s on-screen persona is pensive and emotional. He personifies the fascination and the shock that hits an outsider immersed in the culture and the life inside and outside of Iraq. He braves a number of personal dangers but does so because each member of the band has braved these dangers so often they consider it a simple part of life.
While 22-year olds in suburban America worry about pissing off their parents upstairs during band practice, these crazy bastards have to consider getting shot at, blown up, robbed or killed. During the Saddam Hussein regime, even head banging was considered a violation in the eyes of the government.