No Context: Heavy Metal in Baghdad. . . Actually Worth Seeing

Heavy Metal in Baghdad
April 2
Anthology

One more sign of how yawningly distant Baghdad is from New York—the sight of Vice idiots Suroosh Alvi and and Eddy Moretti strapping on flak jackets outside their Baghdad hotel, spooked like guys who just happened to take a wrong turn on their way to work out on N. 10th St. Into the frame rush the security team, a band of shooters that starts at two and swells to 12 as the local Iraqis realize their wards have literally no conception of the danger they’re dealing with. “Journalists…it’s not safe for them,” one guard finally breaks down and explains. “Or for the guys that protect them.”

This to say nothing of the predicament that the subjects of last night’s doc, Heavy Metal in Baghdad, find themselves in. First-and-so-far-last-ever Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda—“the Black Scorpion,” named for the most deadly of all scorpions—can’t really headbang (looks like Jewish prayer), can’t really wear Slipknot t-shirts (looks American), can’t grow their hair long (ditto), can’t play a show pre-Saddam without including “Youth of Iraq” (the “Freebird”-type request/demand made by Saddam’s Culture and Media Ministry, in which Arassicauda take the bait and rhyme “Hussein” with “insane”). After Saddam, the four guys can’t really go outside at all, and then their practice space gets rocketed.

Enter Vice, who take a Gideon Yago tip and decide to sponsor a show in post-occupation Baghdad. Alvi and Moretti do the gonzo thing—lots of chest-hair, aviator lenses, and giggling—until they finally make it into the country and realize this time, they might really die. Friendship with the four Arassicaudans ensues. The Americans miss the first concert go-round, in a not-quite-Green Zone hotel where the power keeps failing, but finally zig-zag in from the airport intact. They smoke cigarettes on their hotel roof, watch the helicopters fly by, and meet in secret with band ringleader Firas al-Lateef, who plays bass and is the group’s philosopher—“It’s just a crazy mission, dude” he apologetically tells Moretti and Alvi, when they ask about their prospects.

A reunion in Damascus ensues, where the band can’t work and its members live in the unheated basement of a Syrian project. The neighbors complain about the noise, so practice is out, but the band gets in one show and, on Vice’s dime, a recording session. Afterwards they all hit the hotel minibar and Marwan, the drummer, is so happy he promises the camera: “I’m gonna tell my kids about this, if I ever have one of those fuckers.” (Firas, who has one already, makes no such promise.) Then they see Vice footage of their time back in Iraq and two of them start crying. All credit to Moretti and Alvi, who’ve filmed enough faux fucked-up stuff to not flinch when they stumble onto the real thing.

News from the Q+A afterwards is that Arassicauda are now in Turkey (tickets courtesy of Vice donation drive), after being denied entry to the US, Canada, Germany, Sweden, France, and the UK. Alvi and Moretti remain in touch, and both sat in on the band’s most recent (read: third) round of interviews with Homeland Security. Slipknot’s manager is interested, as are much of the rest of the metal community, but they’ve got to get here first.

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