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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

Metalheads, Islamic Style

Death metal isn't really my thing.  It's all distorted guitars and growls and physical aggression about darkness and nihilism.  But I think it doesn't work for me from an aesthetic standpoint.  I've come to understand the impulse - it shares a lot with punk music's drive towards anarchy.   Nihilism is easier for me to stomach in film and books.  It's less intense and single-minded when packaged with a narrative and character.  But in music, the darkness and anarchic streak is so visceral and immediate.  I can't imagine kicking around the house, blasting some death metal.  If there's an apocalypse and somehow I'm the only one left alive - me and my dog - walking through the rubble and debris shellshocked while scrounging for food and dog biscuits in torn clothing, then I could see pining for a little death metal to soundtrack my life.

Who knew I would find it comforting to learn death metal and heavy metal music are popular in the Middle East?  I like being reminded that youth culture everywhere, even under repressive regimes, is still challenging authority and creating subcultures and underground trends.  I produced a show on These Days on the topic of alternative music in Musliim countries, inspired by Mark LeVine 's book Heavy Metal Islam .  LeVine is a musician and professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of California-Irvine.  He spent five years traveling through countries like Morocco, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia observing the heavy metal (and its subgenres), hip-hop, and punk scenes to learn how these art forms play out in the context of religious fundamentalism and repressive governments.   LeVine was our guest and a fantastic interview.  He's gone to places few of us have gone and paid attention to something usually ignored by the West - and he knows how to tell a story.  When he and I talked, he told me that in Iran, you see kids on street corners rhyming, playing beats off their cell phones and staging mini battles.  When the police drive by, they disperse, running in different directions as if they were selling drugs or something.  Just like in the poor urban centers of the US, hip-hop is still the most affordable way to be a musician. 

Check out Mark's book, it's an engaging read.  Also, go here to hear some of the music Mark listened to while writing the book.  It's a great resource for what's happening in music in the Middle East.  

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And, in support of metalheads everywhere, especially Islamic style, here's a video from the Iranian death metal band Arthimoth.  The song is "Baptized."  The lead singer was jailed for making this video.  This is probably the only time you'll find a death metal video on Culture Lust , unless there's an apocalypse, in which case, I might be too busy to blog.