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Underground Metal Special: Egypt

Underground Metal Special: Egypt

by Luxi Lahtinen

We all know at least something about the ancient history of Egypt, right? The country's history is awesome and one of the most documented and absolutely finest (even bloodiest perhaps?) in the whole history of mankind.

What do we know about the country's heavy metal culture? Not much, I would say. Naturally, they have their own fertile underground metal scene, producing new artists and bands but unfortunately it seems none of us know much about them due to the fact the music industry isn't that keen on investing in the countries where it's hard for metal bands to make a career, Egypt surely being one of the countries left in the shadows.

Here's a glimpse into the Egyptian underground metal scene, as told by musicians from some of the country's most promising underground metal acts; Riverwood, Osiris, Catharsis, Maddox Theory, Zaeer, Erasing Mankind, Bovem and Al-Azif. This special feature focuses primarily on the bands and what it is like to be a metal musician in Egypt today.

All interviews conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Thanks to everyone above who took time and participated in this special feature.

When you decided to form/join this band, what were your goals?

Mahmoud Nader (RIVERWOOD): Our goal was basically to show the world that Egypt is not too far from the metal music world. We blend Egyptian culture into our music in a way that should please listeners and take their minds to another cloud full of visions and inspirations.

Ali Zeid Shinshi (OSIRIS): Osiris was formed by me in August 1996. The goal or rather the idea was to play original music as most Egyptian bands back in the '90s played covers of thrash and speed metal bands such as Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Savatage to name a few. Thrash metal bands were rare, only a couple preceded us, but none had original content. Osiris was the first, one of the pioneers of thrash metal of Egypt, releasing a demo in July 1997, disbanded in 1998 and reformed again in 2014. We released our first proper album in April 2021.

Ahmed Sokkar (CATHARSIS): First of all, I would like to thank you for featuring us in your magazine. We feel delighted and privileged that we will be part of your journey.

I started Catharsis around 2009 as the founder, guitarist and vocalist. It started off as an acoustic black/doom project under the name of For Her Tears. The main idea for the music was acoustic guitars with clean/brutal vocals. Later, I wanted to make things heavier after being exposed to bands like Swallow the Sun, Draconian and Daylight Dies (who are a major influence on my composition process to this day). Thus, "A Feeling Beyond Depression" was composed (to be revamped and restructured on our album), and ever since we have taken a totally different direction into the genre.

In 2015, the project was scrapped, to be reinstated as Catharsis.

The main goal of the music was to express some of the darkest emotions that, not only myself, but a lot of people go through every day, to shed light on this emotional spectrum that haunts many and none have the courage to speak of. I always want to be the voice of the voiceless and assure the rest that you are not alone.

A Journey of Remembrance speaks of everything that I have gone through, from depression and suicide to family and betrayal.

Mustafa Gharib (MADDOX THEORY): Our personal goal as a band since our foundation has always been to create music that we personally enjoy making, as well as to voice our opinion on various political matters, as in the case of our tracks "Mr. Dates" and "Renegade Slaughterfest" which directly criticize two recent Egyptian leaders. We initially had financial goals as a secondary aim, being musicians and all, but that was short-lived as it became clear that it would take several years and a lot of spending to become famous enough to make money off of playing metal music in a country where it's already frowned upon to play such music. If anything, we end up paying the venues if we want to play a gig, but otherwise we're pretty much comfortable playing our music, not because it might sell but because we enjoy making it.

Omar Sabry (ZAEER): At first, we never thought we'd even make it in the metal scene here in Egypt, but all that changed when we released our first single "El Taree," which took the metal scene by storm and even ranked third on the top metal playlist on "Anghami."

Only then we realized we had an obligation toward the Egyptian metal scene. We had to get our voice out there and retain the mixture of heavy metal music with Arabic lyrics, which isn't that common in this genre, and although all of our songs are in Arabic and with no translation (translation will be available in the upcoming tracks), most of our fans are from the USA, the UK, Turkey and Germany.

Our next goal is to introduce metal music into the Egyptian music scene which will probably take a lot of time and effort where we will try to focus more on non-metal listeners and introducing them into this new kind of music and we've already had some success with that.

Bottom line, all we want is for the metal genre to survive and have the breakthrough it really deserves here in Egypt.

Karim A. Mounir (ERASING MANKIND): All members of Erasing Mankind have been a part of Egypt's music scene and metal community ever since I can remember, as early as our 12–13-year-old selves.

We've all been part of different groups growing together, and with a small scene such as ours, in terms of venues, available platforms and not as fans or lovers of the genre, our paths have always crossed, and we have had a rich interpersonal relationship throughout the years.

Fast forward to 2019, where our scene was at a halt, bands were not as active as they used to be, venues started focusing more on showcasing the commercial artist (which we have nothing against, nor do we agree with the implications and perceptions associated with the word "commercial") and the overall climate specifically for metal bands was discouraging for some to keep pushing and moving forward. This was when we considered the true meaning behind the concept of Erasing Mankind, that being the drive, passion and the love of the genre and the art. We have come together as four people from different backgrounds and subgenres, who have an unexplainable passion for the music and the craft of creating as a collective, not accepting the circumstances or status quo of what our scene has become. We decided mainly on two things, we will always be playing the music we love, and we will not let anything get in the way of that. That is why we all joined and that is why we are still going, hopefully for many years to come.

With that being said, then came the vision or the message; we are not affiliated to any particular political or religious ideology, nor do we see ourselves as qualified, for lack of a better term, to take on these challenges. But we are part of a tribe and a greater community, we are simply humans, and our analysis of situations, incidents, frustrations, hopes and needs all result from this one simple fact. Our message is focused on that, even though we might seem, be perceived or labeled as a band with a clear affiliation, we are not. We talk about human experiences and personal struggles which mostly are affected by our environment and surroundings, worldly events and what we see or might dare to deem as inhuman or needing to be talked about and challenged.

Which leads to our core value or mission, which is to do our best to help support, revive, and pave the way for our music scene and our right to create what we love. A big part of our individual identities is our love of art and creation, and we need to make sure that this is a right and a calling for many others that needs to exist and flourish. Our rich history as Egyptians is always mirrored by our love and ability to create.

Shady Abdelkhalek (BOVEM): In 2014 the band was formed by me (current lead vocalist and guitarist) and Ahmed Samy (ex-drummer). The band was formed with the shared passion for blackened death metal music. We had a goal to become a well-known band even though in Egypt it is hard to generate any income from metal music at that time.

Mohammed "Mafia" Sherif (AL-AZIF): I formed my band Al-Azif in 2008 with the goal of playing my favorite music covers of bands like Hypocrisy, Arch enemy, Opeth, Kalmah and so on. Then I wrote our first album Claiming the Sand Throne in 2009, with recording starting in 2011. I started recruiting members for our first live performance in 2011 and it's been a good journey ever since.

How has the political and/or cultural tolerance towards metal bands changed in your country over the years compared to 10-15 years ago? Is it more accepted to play metal music in your country these days?

Mahmoud Nader (RIVERWOOD): Actually it is accepted to play metal in Egypt. We've been touring inside Egypt for years now and never faced any major issues. The issue is the media in Egypt as they do not involve themselves with rock and metal and instead they shift their focus to other popular genres due to the audience's mindset. The majority of the audience always looks at local rock and metal bands from a judgmental point of view which reflects into very low interest towards rock and metal shows, while international audiences never even think about that. For example, most Egyptian metal bands are really well known, praised and respected outside of Egypt, but inside it's a big fat no.

Ali Zeid Shinshi (OSIRIS): It was much more accepted in the 1990s. Accepted wouldn't be the right term to refer to the social ignorance to what metal music in general, and whether a scene existed or what social impact it had. In January 1997, the metal scene was shut down by the government. Fans, mainly teenagers, were arrested and falsely accused of satanic worship and all venues were shut down. It was not until 2004-2005 that the metal scene somewhat revived with a minimum of capacities. The scene picked up for approx. a decade until Nader Sadek, who thought he was cool and decided to bring in foreign bands with satanic images to perform in Egypt, which resulted in yet another social uproar. This resulted with the scene diminishing again. Some people just do not care to know what the consequences are and think it's OK to introduce their values forcefully without considering the effort others have put in over the years. Yes, musical and artistic expression should be free, but not every society functions the same or has the correct medium to present some forms of art.

Ahmed Sokkar (CATHARSIS): Well I'm going to be honest here, my main priority was never the local scene. My main target is to one day tour the world with my heroes, StS or Draconian.

As far as the local metal scene, I cannot say anything but it's dying, if not dead already.

For many years we have tried hard to deliver our case to the public, but due to the strict cultural background of the country, the meaningless, unethical, personal issues between band members and the organizers, the strict rules of the musical syndicate, the lack of venues, and the media making a mockery out of us, we are buried under the sand.

Needless to say, the musical hierarchy in Egypt has been decimated with the appearance of a disgrace called "Egyptian House," or in other words, Mahraganat. Such an abomination of fake, tasteless, and abhorrent musical ideology has dominated the musical scene, leading to capitalization and the monopoly of the industry, and destroying the values and morals of the sophisticated taste of music in our beloved country.

That's why our target was never the local scene and we understand that our music never was and will never be Egypt's musical cup of tea.

Mustafa Gharib (MADDOX THEORY): Tolerance towards metal bands in Egypt has somewhat increased, but not significantly enough for metal bands to be free to play their music without scrutiny and/or limitation. At some point there were continuous metal festivals with humongous and energetic attendance, despite heavy criticism by the musicians' syndicate in Egypt, which would even go as far as protesting against metal bands who dare play a gig in the one venue we're even allowed to play in if we're not popular or marketable enough. At that time, metal bands would play gigs knowing full well they'll be talked about in the news the next day by some news anchor who has no idea what's going on yet wants to give their uneducated take. It is the wont of Egyptian news people to exaggerate what's going on rather than, you know, tell the news. Nowadays some venues try to avoid the anger of the authorities by filtering the metal acts that play in their venues (letting only the ones that don't growl, aren't too loud, energy levels all the way down, etc.). Not that it's a problem, there are other venues, albeit slightly less abundant, that don't have these inhibitions. To answer your question, the popular local view of metal music as weird, satanic music that only psychos listen to still remains, and it does make things harder for metal bands concerning gigs and marketing. I don't know much about the current head count of metalheads in Egypt, but I presume it has grown slightly.

Omar Sabry (ZAEER): It wasn't until maybe 2014 when metal began to make an appearance again here in Egypt and we started having concerts again. Things began to take a turn for the better, especially in the last three years, around the time we released our debut single. Gigs became relatively easier to get but still not that common.

Karim A. Mounir (ERASING MANKIND): To answer this question, first it needs to be completely understood that we are a country of 100+ million people, and a common part of any ruling law or ideology is monitoring and compartmentalizing the masses.

"Metalheads" are a unique and forthcoming group of people. We prescribe to certain traits, we feed off the volume and aggression, the rush and excitement, which funny enough increases with the heaviness and the darkness of the music we listen to. This is just to paint a picture of the stereotypical stigma of this genre worldwide. Simply said, I understand why we might scare some people and seeing us in a mob is terrifying to many.

We've experienced it all, from complete openness and support of the scene to the extreme opposite of not wanting even a group of 3-4 of us seen together. It fluctuates and depends on the political climate and the spirit of the country at a given time. It directly impacts our existence and certainly our propagative to make our presence known, let's say at a festival or a show with 600-800+ metalheads crammed in a tiny place. We understand it and as this seems to be generational, we know it will not change easily or shortly, but we are trying to spread the awareness, reshape and reinvent this notion of what some idiots like to call the "devil worshipers" phenomena.

But to be honest, the main issue we face as a band in Egypt and the Middle East, is not the acceptance, it's the platforms or venues. The idea that a metal gig will not be financially rewarding to venue owners or even worth the risk of what these people subjectively expect to happen when you bring this group together in one place. It is very difficult to have a live presence here and connect with the fans, which accordingly impacts our ability to showcase what we have and to be honest, it is frustrating at times not being able to be onstage in a live setting, just going crazy with strangers over a breakdown that we came up with in the studio. This genre of music is one of the very few that have a unique individual experience when you have your headphones on and a cathartic, crazy and rejuvenating experience when you are in crowd moshing, headbanging and going insane.

Shady Abdelkhalek (BOVEM): Recently, people are more tolerant towards metal bands but still the culture does not accept metal music due to the propaganda created in the late '90s and early 2000s linking metal heads to satanism. But lately new venues are accepting metal bands to perform live, and metal bands are starting to generate some minor profits.

Mohammed "Mafia" Sherif (AL-AZIF): Actually, metal music has always been sidelined in Egypt ever since I started playing music. Allegations of Satan worshipping and drug use always chased metal fans over the years. We would have some grace periods and sort of acceptance from authorities every now and then, followed by severe lockdowns of the scene. It has been like that for so long now.

What are you most proud of regarding your band?

Mahmoud Nader (RIVERWOOD): We are really proud of our first work Fairytale even though it is not even close to our upcoming album Shadows and Flames in terms of production, musicality and lyrics. Fairytale will always be our (or my) baby and here is why:

It has been selected as one of the top 20 folk metal albums of 2018 by World of Metal magazine. Because of Fairytale. We've won the best metal act in the legendary Bibliotheca Alexandrina Festival in 2019.

We sold all printed copies of Fairytale in its first week.

The album has dominated the metal chats of the top Middle Eastern streaming platform Anghami. Six songs out of 10 were listed on the top 20 at once with "Queen of the Dark" making it to #3 for a full month.

But more to come with Fairytale in the past now. On January 7, 2022, we released our second full album under the name of Shadows and Flames.

Shadows and Flames is a concept album with storytelling, mythologies, symbols, and is accompanied by a booklet with the lyrics of each song. It is divided into two major chapters:

"Chapter I: Shadows" consists of six songs and "Chapter II: Flames" consists of seven songs. Songs in each chapter outline a certain part of the story, bringing the shadows and the flames together into one force of words.

We have released one single off the album as a music video under the name of "Dying Light", which had everyone really waiting for the new album.

Ali Zeid Shinshi (OSIRIS): The 1997 demo. This was released during the first satanic scandal. When most fans and musicians went into hiding, we went against the tide and recorded a black/death metal album right in the face of all that was going on. The demo kept the metal flame alive, and the spirit passed down to next generation bands like Crescent, Scarab, Ahl Sina and more.

The other thing to be proud of is the fact that Osiris returned after 24 years.

Ahmed Sokkar (CATHARSIS): Let me start off by saying that in 2021, I met Khold Havenson, to whom I owe a lot of the credit for giving me the will to finish the album. Because of him, Catharsis had reached levels I never thought of since I started composing the album five years ago. A special thanks to our recording studio, Silver Steel Studios in France, and to the talented Yass Omri, who was the mastermind behind the mixing and the mastering of our album.

A Journey of Remembrance was finalized and ready to be released in March of 2021. This step was like a dream come true to me. The euphoria of listening to the review pre-release version was so overwhelming that it brought me to tears.

Nine months after the release, the album was chosen by The Dark Melody as one of the top 100 albums of 2021!!! We ranked #63.

The sense of accomplishment did and still brings me joy, even as I'm writing to you.

As for the future, a new album is under way, but this one is totally different as we will include more classical and dramatic elements. A new single will be released from the album under the name of "Pretty Bird" that will present the new direction of the band.

Mustafa Gharib (MADDOX THEORY): We're especially proud of two things; creating our debut album Made of Steel and playing our first online gig in an event called Argentina Online Metal Fest 3. We're proud of the former because it was, at the time, the personal debut album for three of our members, and it felt like such a great milestone to record and produce our first album. There's a first time for everything and creating this album still feels special to this day despite our financial limitations and that, frankly, it could have been mixed and mastered a little bit better. We're proud of playing Argentina Online as it was also a first-time experience for all of us, besides representing our metal scene as the only Egyptian band to have been featured in that edition of the festival. We also haven't played any other gigs - yet - so playing that festival is also kind of special for us, not that we intend to stop at that. We also intend to create a second studio album at some point that we can be even more proud of than we are with Made of Steel.

Omar Sabry (ZAEER): In almost two years we achieved so many things:

1- We played a decent number of gigs.

2- Many of our songs reached international charts and two of them passed the 50k stream milestone on Spotify ("El Bar" and "Ayamna").

3- We released our first official music video for the track "Hareb."

4- By the 28th of October 2022 we had the whole El Taree album finished and released on all platforms.

5- Although two of our members have left (the vocalist and drummer) we were able to regroup and we're already in the process of writing new material and planning for our next gig on the 8th of January 2023.

All of these achievements have given us the hope and strength to go on. Our voice is already circling the globe, we've gone through a lot and we're not afraid of what's to come.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to be heard.

Karim A. Mounir (ERASING MANKIND): To be completely honest everything seems not worth mentioning or trivial compared to one simple thing, regardless of what obstacles we face we are still going strong against the odds. That is the thing we are proud of. So far, we've stuck to our binding goal of making the music we love.

We might not have the venues to show people who we are and what we've created, but we'll find a way somehow to come up with a video clip basically running on no budget and just calling in favors of people who have passion for the arts or still believe that this genre deserves a spot as rightfully as any other.

We don't have the proper studio or the ones that are proper would not give us the time of day, knowing that we cannot afford it. We'll find a way to learn how to track, mix and master our own.

It's that drive in each of us, and when one falls behind, seemingly giving up or not knowing what it's all for, the rest are there just as a reminder to why we started in the first place and that feeds us and keeps us going.

That's what we are proudest of, we do what we love, and we are lucky enough to do so with each other and just have a blast doing it for ourselves.

Shady Abdelkhalek (BOVEM): We are most proud of our recent concert in Alexandria, Egypt, which we organized. This concert was a comeback for extreme metal music in Alexandria, our hometown. We are also proud to be releasing our debut EP at the beginning of next year which took a lot of time and despite a lot of changes due to personal reasons and members leaving the band.

Mohammed "Mafia" Sherif (AL-AZIF): Our journey with Al-Azif has been quite good so far, I have to say. The band members and I have always been friends before and after forming the band. We had a lot of great local performances with huge crowds. And we got a lot of compliments for our songs from fans all over Egypt. This kept us going regardless of all the difficulties and money shortage we faced over the years.










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