Friday, 10 February 2012


Folk metal at its best is a fantastic form of escapism and certainly the most evocative of all of metal's kaleidoscope of genres. It's this quality that makes Al-Namrood's Kitab Al-Awthan ('The Book of Idols') such an engaging and intriguing listen. From the first jarring note of 'Mirath al Shar' the album transports the listener through a particularly menacing vision of the band's native Saudi Arabian culture.

It's this that really sets Al-Namrood apart from the pack. The Middle Eastern influences really bring a unique and completely fresh feel to the band's familiar black metal stylings. Everything you would expect from a black metal band is present – harsh vocals, fierce blast beats and that whining guitar tone that is particular to this strain of metal – however its dark and otherworldly atmosphere is enhanced by the Arabian instrumentation and arrangement. Long after the earliest black metal bands terrified listeners with their new demonic sound, it is rare to find a band today that still sounds genuinely frightening. Satan simply isn't scary any more. The Middle East, on the other hand, most certainly is and it is this – that uncomfortable unfamiliarity – that makes Kitab Al-Awthan such a spine-tingling experience.

It is very easy to label albums that mix different styles as little more than a novelty piece (indeed, there are some who believe that all folk-inspired metal is simply a novelty, rather than a mature and nuanced genre in its own right), but it is an accusation that would be harsh to level at Al-Namrood. This album is far more complex than simply overlaying Eastern-inspired melodies on top of traditional black metal, Al-Namrood's entire approach to making music is clearly influenced by traditional Arabian music. The clearest example of this on Kitab Al-Awthan is the penultimate track 'Bani La'em', which is driven mostly by its guitar and drum work and yet still maintains its Arabian flavour just as strongly as any other song on the album, while its more understated use of traditional instrumentation make it more accessible to those who prefer more straightforward black metal.

Kitab Al-Awthan is a challenging listen and is at first slightly overwhelming. The familiar black metal influences are instantly recognisable, but often the unfamiliar melodies and song structures are surprising and, at first, slightly confusing. This album is an ideal introduction for listeners, not only to Al-Namrood, but also to Middle Eastern metal in general. However, those who are already familiar with the band are unlikely to find anything they haven't already heard on previous releases. As a display of brutal, Arabian black metal Kitab Al-Awthan is a compelling proof-of-concept, however the lack of variety on display may discourage repeat listens.

I found Kitab Al-Awthan to be a genuinely refreshing listen and one that is highly recommended for anyone for anyone who is seeking an original and interesting album, especially if your tastes are suited to the more brutal end of the metal spectrum.



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