Heavy Metal in Baghdad : The Story of Acrassicauda

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  • Edition: Original
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-11-17
  • Publisher: MTV Books
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The inspirational story of Acrassicauda, an Iraqi heavy metal band, whose members' struggle to stay alive as their country fell into bloody insurgency echoes the unspoken hopes of an entire generation of young Iraqis.Born out of a basement rehearsal space in Baghdad and inspired by western bands like Metallica, Slayer, and Slipknot, Acrassicauda ("Black Scorpion") played only three live shows in Iraq before the country began to disintegrate around them. Rebels and religious fundamentalists accused them of Satan worship. Eventually it became impossible to find any venue where they could safely perform. Still, they refused to let their dreams die.In their internationally acclaimed, award-winning documentary, Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti's raw, uncensored portrayal of daily life in war-torn Iraq struck a chord with music fans around the world. Featuring never-before-seen photographs,Heavy Metal in Baghdadis the untold story behind the film, picking up with the band where the documentary left off and revealing how its extraordinary story -- and the humanitarian efforts it inspired -- changed the lives of everyone who helped to tell it.

Author Biography

Vice Media,
is founded by Eddy Moretti, who holds an Hon. B.A. in English and Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. He is currently completing his Ph.D. at NYU. Since 2000, he has served as director of Vice Films, coauthoring original screenplays for Brad Pitt’s Plan B. In 2007, Mr. Moretti co-founded the broadband video network VBS.TV (with Spike Jonze as creative director), where he serves as Executive Producer and a correspondent. He has directed television spots for the National Legacy Foundation’s Truth anti-smoking campaign, and he oversees content production for Virtue, the in-house marketing and creative-services agency at Vice. Heavy Metal in Baghdad is Eddy’s feature film directorial debut. Eddy lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

An Introduction To Acrassicaudap. xi
Roots Bloody Rootsp. 1
Children Of The Gravep. 11
Born To Raise Hellp. 23
Live Undeadp. 45
Hell Awaitsp. 61
Fight Fire With Firep. 75
Trail Of Tearsp. 103
Message From Baghdadp. 123
Peace Sell Out, But Who's Buyingp. 139
For Whom The Bell Tollp. 153
And Justice For Allp. 181
Epiloguep. 193
The Film Transcriptp. 201
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.




FIRAS AL-LATEEF (bass): I was born in Baghdad. My family is totally Iraqi. We are Muslims and we don't believe in differences between religions or sects.

I have one brother and one sister. I grew up in a middle-class neighborhood. My father is a doctor, a vet.

Sometimes I got to hang out with him at the surgery. Since I was a little kid, I used to go to the clinic and treat the animals. So I got a lot of experience with treating pets and stuff. We had a farm outside the city that we used to go to a couple of times a year. It's not really a farm, just a piece of land with animals and stuff.

MARWAN RIYADH (drums): My dad used to be in the military. He retired in 1988 after the Iranian war. My mum was a schoolteacher, and we're a pretty small family, an educated family. I'm the youngest one; I have two sisters.

What with my dad being in the military and my mother being a teacher, my family was strict. We had our issues with discipline in the house, mostly when I was a kid growing up. My mother was a headmistress in a school and she was worried about discipline in a school with three hundred fifty to four hundred students. So imagine when she'd come home and had to raise a family with my dad trying to pay off the bills with his small pension. They had high standards, and they were concerned about us getting a good education and how it would help us in the future. They paid for my sisters and stuff, for college. But I was kind of the ugly duckling of the family. I was a rebel and I was seeing the way life was and how education didn't really matter in my environment. It was all about money. I felt like I was living in a total paradox. That affected me within.

TONY AZIZ (lead guitar): My mum is a housekeeper; my father was in the army when he was younger. He was a war prisoner during the Iran-Iraq war for eleven years. So I was raised by a single mother with three sisters and one brother. I was the oldest. We lived in a house that we shared with another family. My dad came back in the nineties and is retired now; he's sixty years old. My mother is retired, too. They both live in Syria now. I was thirteen when my father came back from the war in Iran. Eventually, I would go on to join the Iraqi army as well. It was every Iraqi guy's destiny because it was mandatory. Considering the amount of wars Iraq had, it was a bit frightening to enlist.

FAISAL TALAL (vocals/guitar): My family was middle class. About seventy-five percent of people there used to work as officers or employees for the government, but my dad wasn't much of a career guy. He worked many jobs. He was a teacher back when we used to live in Saudi Arabia -- I was born there, my brothers and me. My father lived there for twenty-one years and my mother for about fourteen years, in a very small southern town. He taught English and my mother was a housekeeper.

We came to Iraq after the Gulf War. We were afraid that after the war, Saudi Arabia would not accept all of the Iraqis, so my father said, "Let's get out of here with our pride, without tears on our faces, before somebody says something to us." The funny thing was, after the war I was thinking, Oh good, so that's everything now. It's finished. It's going to be peacetime for Iraq. But then in 1990, the Gulf War began.

Because I was a kid, I would hear rumors about what was going to happen. My parents would tell me to be inside the house at 9:00 p.m. because it wasn't safe outside, but I wasn't quite sure about that.

The idea of war was not very comprehensible to me because I'd never experienced it before. Not like Marwan and Tony. Marwan's dad had been in the Iran-Iraq war, and Tony grew up in circumstances like that, too, what with his dad being in the military.

FIRAS: I wasn't a great student, but I kept things balanced -- work, music, and studying. Where we grew up, you have to manage things from when you're a kid. You have to work and struggle to make your future. Some people don't agree with the idea of little kids working, but I think it builds a stronger personality. A kid who works will be in contact with a lot of older people, all sorts of people, he'll gain a lot of knowledge and a lot of strength -- mental strength -- as well as life experience. For us, the idea is not to earn money as much as to learn. Since I was ten or something I started working. Before that, any work I did was for free.

MARWAN: I started working when I was eleven years old, making sun seed bags. They're like sunflower seeds; you know, you'd get a book and rip out the pages and make bags of sunflower seeds, and sell them in dozens, for nickels. I didn't stop working until I was twenty-one and I left Iraq.

Then I started making falafel, and later started baking different things at home to sell. In Iraq you do whatever it takes so you can finish school and afford living, so I needed to do all I could. I started working in the neighborhood store, like from 6:00 to 7:30 a.m., help the milk guy unload, then I'd go to my school, come back at 2:00 p.m. and keep working until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. Then I started working in a video game store, then making leather bags and shoes in a factory. Bit by bit, I was going up the ladder and getting better jobs and salaries. I also worked as the editor of an Internet newspaper and at a music store. I don't remember now exactly, everything is so hazy, it feels like living someone else's life. But I was also taking the experience from previous jobs and sometimes what I learned in school.

One of the jobs I also had and was into was painting and drawing pictures for people. I drew all kinds of stuff. I used to paint for myself different things that came from my imagination, things that were living in my mind. I used coals all the time; I never liked to draw using colors. One of the happy memories I have of old Baghdad is going to the Almotanabi Street market every Friday morning [Friday is the Sabbath for Muslims], where they sold art supplies and comic books.

Drawing became the main problem I had with my parents. I'd open a book and instead of studying, I'd start to fill the corners and in between the lines with drawings. So in all of my schoolbooks, there are drawings of whatever I observed or was on my mind. My family thought I was reading but I wasn't. At that time, drawing was my only getaway from reality. So at that point, when the burdens of life started getting heavier, I tried to make the world inside my head a reality. That was my only sanctuary. I started drawing on the walls and ceiling. I was becoming more isolated, living through painting. I was interested in history and mythology, and I drew Tutankhamun, the pyramids, and gargoyles all over the walls. I didn't have enough big paper to draw on. It wasn't enough for how much I wanted to extend beyond all the burdens in my life. I didn't think anyone did. I couldn't afford my painting addiction.

At first my parents encouraged my drawing, then I started getting obsessed with it. That's when they stopped because it started affecting my school and getting out of control and all over the walls.

FIRAS: My father wanted me to be a vet, to carry on the legacy, but I didn't like it, not as a profession. When I was really young, my dream was to be a pilot. Then I grew up and opened my eyes. Your dreams don't change as you grow up, they kind of just get more realistic. To be a pilot you had to do math and I couldn't do math so there was no way. Plus, I wear glasses.

I'd always been fascinated with planes, though.

Anyway, my dream started as a pilot, then to become an engineer, then after high school I thought about going to art school, then I thought art school in our country doesn't mean much because you can't get a job with it. Then I thought about business administration. I had one year of college in Baghdad doing that. And I actually loved it. I love things where you get to meet people; it's not about being smart but more about calculating what you do. I know I suck at math, but I did great at college because in the banking system it's a different kind of math. You have a calculator, that makes it easier.

MARWAN: I wasn't bad at school, but the main reason for me having low grades was that the school was going downhill and it was impossible to bribe the teachers. Yeah, it sounds weird, but that's the way it was. You either had to study all the time, buy the teachers stuff, or take personal lessons to get good grades. I couldn't afford to buy them anything or take lessons, and I couldn't afford low grades, either. If your level was in between good and bad they'd just crush you down, and sometimes there was just no way to get your grades up. School began to feel like a dead end. Power was constantly cutting out at home. I used to go to the college near my house and ask the guard to turn on the field lights so we could sit on the benches and study.

Life was primitive down there when it came to power supplies, clean water, and even the markets. Every time you wanted to do anything, power would cut out and you'd have to light candles. It wasn't easy at all.

Boys like to hang out and mess around. There wasn't much to do besides soccer or smoking cigarettes on the corner behind the teachers' backs. The girls, they think it's their only chance maybe to get out of this life, so they work harder. But boys, they mess up once, and they are doomed. Some teachers were really not into their jobs and took out their frustrations on the students; some teachers were decent and went by the book. The hiring standards were very low. I tried so hard, but drawing too much was my main problem, plus I was working around ten hours a day. I didn't stop because I couldn't afford to. If I stopped for even one week that was it, I couldn't afford to go to school the next day. My family was too proud to admit that we couldn't support ourselves financially. That was worse mentally and emotionally for them; having to put on this mask of denial was a lot of pressure.

When it came time that I graduated from high school, I had a choice. Either finish another three years, go to college, and earn a degree, or go to an institute, study for five years, and get a teacher's diploma. I told my parents that I wanted to go to art school because I loved drawing, but the main reason for me was that I couldn't afford to go to college. But with fine art, it was easier, because I had it in me.

My family told me to finish high school and didn't accept the fact that I might not get a college degree. The whole idea freaked them out. My older sisters were bright and in college, and they wanted me to be like them. So I went back for another year and I failed, because I didn't want to be there and I wasn't happy doing it. It was like a two-semester nightmare. So my parents told me to stop going to work, they said they could pay for me. But I couldn't face telling them that the dinars they were giving me were not even nearly enough. They would work so hard to give me this amount of money, which I would then blow by failing the semester. It was twenty-five dinars to go to school and that would buy you a ticket on the bus, and I had to take two buses. Then I had to walk like two more kilometers.

So it was kind of tough, but after that I went to art school. I studied down there for five years; I dropped one year because I had to work. My work required fourteen or fifteen hours a day, so it was hard to go back and forth. But the work paid well. And then I had the band and practice, which is six or seven hours a day. There was not enough time to work, study, and play music, and music was always my priority.

FIRAS: My family wasn't musical, they weren't supportive really, but they didn't mind as long as it didn't affect my life as a student.

My brother and sister used to listen to Pink Floyd and hard rock and stuff, like...stoner style. I didn't know what the hell Pink Floyd was or what rock was, but my favorite album was Dark Side of the Moon. I used to sit and listen to it over and over. I didn't know what Dark Side of the Moon meant, or what kind of music it was, it was just music to me. So then I got the earliest albums, like Animals.

I didn't even know the names of the guys in the bands I used to like: I didn't know the band members or what types of music they played or what instruments they played. I listen to a lot of bands now and I still don't know all that stuff, because there are so many groups that I like and listen to.

I had Dark Side of the Moon on cassette and a little half-broken tape player. Whenever it broke I fixed it myself. Since that time, I liked the loudness and stuff, and at that time I wasn't speaking English, but I was starting through my dad. He speaks English and like five different languages, and he's been all around the world, so pretty much the way I grew up, I'd say it was like European, open-minded. The policy of my dad was "Do whatever you want but let me know when you get in trouble, so I can help you." That was the major rule. I had my own life and I did all sorts of stuff. And by that time I was much more into this death metal band called Sabbath.

It was hard to find metal records in Baghdad, but when I went to learn guitar I met people through my teacher, and these people have connections.

TONY: When I was four or five years old, I started listening to music. I listened to all kinds of stuff, like Michael Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, pop music. I got quite influenced by my cousins and other relatives who were older than me. That's how I started listening to music. When I was a kid I bought my first guitar but there was nobody to teach me. I was like five, six years old. It was a small guitar, made in China or something. I kept listening to music, and in the nineties I started listening to rock and metal, and reading about it, too, in magazines like Metal Maniacs and Metal Age. And the more I listened to rock and metal, the more I realized that was my favorite kind of sound. Life was hard, growing up in our environment. I was the oldest brother so I had to take more responsibility. Seeing my mother working as a housekeeper, I had to go out and find a source of income. I worked at a bakery and selling stuff on the street. The idea of my sisters working wasn't acceptable to me because they were younger. I wanted to take care of them.

FAISAL: My family led a very simple life: We didn't have that much influence from music except through listening to the radio.

My dad used to listen to jazz, but he left that when he got married and got all these responsibilities. It didn't make me interested in jazz music as much as it did in the drums. I begged my dad to get me a set and one day he bought me these little toy drums. After that day my dad spent a lot of time saying things to me like, "Shit, Faisal! I'm trying to sleep." Shortly, the drums disappeared. I still don't know what happened to them.

FIRAS: I didn't buy my own guitar until I got to learn bass, then I bought the bass guitar. My first guitar was an Aria Pro II. From that day on, I suppose the seeds of Acrassicauda were sown. Copyright © 2009 by VBS IPTV, LLC

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