Metal in the UAE has been around for 2+ decades (probably unexpected) but there has always been a following, from school kids to the older generation. Being a religious country, some might think that it is forbidden or frowned upon, the government does not seem to be particularly bothered by the music as long as its lyrical content does not offend a particular group or have explicit content.
The phenomenon of global metal keeps being a point of fascination for me. In the most interesting places you can find bands playing this type of music. Most people might know that metal has a place in the United Arab Emirates, so finding the band Aramaic playing this music there is not entirely surprising.
In the documentary film Global Metal by Sam Dunn and Scott McFayden the Desert Rock Festival finished up the film. It showed that metal was even finding its roots in the most unexpected places. For the guys from Aramaic this is as normal as it gets though. Aramaic has been going strong since 2011 and members of the band have worked with internationally known formations like Schammasch (German drummer Hendrik Wodynski joined the Swiss giants live) and Heavenwood (guitarist Fadi Al Shami did guest vocals for the Portuguese goth veterans), while singer Serge Lutfi moved with his other band Abhorred to London and back from the UAE.
Most interesting is that the members are all from neighbouring countries (apart from Wodynski of course). Most band members answered these questions about their band, the concept and what it is like to play metal music in the United Arab Emirates. A country known for its shining city of Dubai, but also with strong religious roots. Thanks to Fadi Al Shami, Michael Al Asmar, Ahmad Rammal and Serge Lutfi for taking the time to respond. Though none of them was born there, they all moved to the country for work and find music as well.
(((o))): Could you briefly introduce yourselves and Aramaic for those readers unfamiliar with your work?
Fadi: We are Aramaic hailing from the Levant region (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and neighbours), currently based in the UAE. If you were to describe our music, I feel we do not conform to a specific type of metal genre. We prefer to avoid restricting ourselves and having the classification done by our peers.
Michael: To give you a brief summary on the name, Aramaic is an ancient language spoken by nomadic tribesmen inhabiting areas around the Tigris River (the river flows south from the mountains of south-eastern Turkey through Iraq and empties itself into the Persian Gulf) dating back to the 700 B.C. the Bronze Age. It is from the Semitic family (Arabic, Hebrew, Syriac, Maltese and Ethiopian), and adopted by Assyrians (currently known as the Middle East, including Armenia, Cyprus, Iran and Turkey), parts of Babylonia (current day Iraq), even ancient Egypt and the Canaanites (Lebanon, Palestine and neighbours).
Serge: We however adopted the name to best represent our origins and expose the listeners to something that is not typical to modern discussions and music. History has always intrigued us, the more we researched the more fascinated and infatuated we became with this ancient civilisation, it brought us closer to our heritage and we wanted to share this with everyone through our incantations and hymns.
(((o))): How did you guys get into metal in the first place?
Serge: I have to praise my sister for introducing me to metal in 1991, started with Kiss and Danzig, moved to Testament, Anthrax, Metallica and Pantera then straight to Morbid Angel, Obituary and Entombed.
The most memorable albums that I grew up with were Testament’s The New Order, Metallica’s Master Of Puppets, Danzig’s How the Gods Kill, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power (I still have the tapes). I started playing guitar at the age 5 and by the time I was exposed to metal (as an 11 years old), my first electric guitar was bought. The rest is history.
Fadi: My first encounter with metal music was when I was 9 yrs. old by getting introduced to Metallica’s Black Album. Yet the reason I learnt guitar was Death’s Symbolic (such a master piece). I started playing guitar at a very late age (27) when I managed to spend 3 hours every day trying to develop better techniques as I moved forward in the music career.
Michael: I got into metal because I liked a girl who listened to Def Leppard and Europe and when I went to the record shop and asked for similar music the guy gave me Metallica’s …And Justice for All and Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
(((o))): What are your main inspirations for the sound of Aramaic? There’s a hint of some traditional music in your sound, how did you manage to create this mixture.
Ahmad: We all bring our experiences, influences and capabilities to the table whilst composing the music. That’s what makes it unique, from traditional Arabic music, classical progressions, instrumentals and hymns to extreme diabolical works.
Serge: The writing process takes a considerable amount of time, as we all come together to write the structure of a track and the more we embrace it, the more intense it becomes. We take our time making sure every person involved has his signature and seal on it. We also try and incorporate some native instruments to give a more distinctive element.The lyrical theme is based on myths, legends, deities and tragedies that befell the Aramaens and Assyrians during the ancient times.
(((o))): You’re name is derived from the ancient language, with that also bringing in a culture, history and people. There are a lot of directions you can go with a name like that. How did that come about and what sources originally made you want to go in this direction?
Michael: Being from the Levant region, we wanted to represent our history and our people in an unorthodox way, completely straying away from religion (of any kind). We wanted to focus on apologues, documented works and myths from that era to expose the masses to our bright and rich past.
It compelled us to dive deep into the realms of these ancient civilisations to bring forth the knowledge bestowed upon us through materials lost in time.
(((o))): I understand there’s various mythologies you use as a theme in your music. Can you tell a bit more about that and maybe share a little light on what sort of stories you really take to put to music, since many people from other places might not be familiar with them?
Serge: The songs are all story based; each journey talks about the plight and encounters of the protagonists (Sennacherib, Ereshkigal, Shamesh, and others) in our own interpretations. We will shed more light on these stories throughout the albums artwork and lyrics. Footnotes will be provided for further explanations.
We stress on this by saying that all the lyrics are based on stories we read and reinterpreted in our own way to suit the music and the image of the band. We are also using the themes to reflect on the modern and current issues of the world, as the reoccurrence of these subjects happen throughout the millennia.
(((o))): Your last record is from 2014, which is a great piece of music titled The Fallen. Are you working on something new now?
Fadi: We released a single called ‘The King’ in 2015. Currently we are finalising our debut album (title is also ready), an update will be given in due time!
(((o))): How do you guys work on new music, do you start with music or a concept and how does the process follow from there?
Ahmad: We throw ideas around, and once a riff is liked by all the members, we start working around it and adding our styles and influences. The lyrics are usually written after the structure of the song is done. We research a certain topic and elaborate on it.
(((o))): In a couple of weeks, you guys get to open for Paradise Lost in Dubai. How excited are you guys about this how and how did you end up filling this slot?
Fadi: We were contacted by JoScene, them being the organisers & promoters of the show, to take our place on the bill with Paradise Lost.
Serge: We had the seize the opportunity as they are one of the bands we grew up with and that influenced us musically. It is going to be a surreal feeling and one we have been looking forwards to since day one, even before the conception of Aramaic!
(((o))): I would like to ask you some questions about playing metal in the United Arab Emirates. For example, I’m very curious what it’s like to make metal music over there? It seems there is quite a scene going on actually. So I guess there might be quite some misconceptions about that, right?
Michael: Metal in the UAE has been around for 2+ decades (probably unexpected) but there has always been a following, from school kids to the older generation. Being a religious country, some might think that it is forbidden or frowned upon, the government does not seem to be particularly bothered by the music as long as its lyrical content does not offend a particular group or have explicit content. We have had many international bands coming through Dubai to play gigs, most without any issues.
Bands that have passed though the UAE: Nile, Mayhem, Hate Eternal, Katatonia, Obscura, Defiled, Metallica, In Flames, Testament, Sepultura, Iron Maiden, Mastodon, Opeth, Motörhead, Fleshcrawl, Megadeth, Korn, Machine Head, Arch Enemy, Yngwie Malmsteen, Epica, Anathema, Insomnium, Vader and countless others.
(((o))): Do you have all the facilities available, like access to music, instruments and rehearsal spaces? Are there venues especially for rock/metal shows and do you get foreign bands over?
Serge: In our day and age, Internet made music readily accessible and available. There are a few decent rehearsal spaces in Dubai that are equipped with good musical equipment at reasonable prices (for this city).
Fadi: Not too many venues that appreciate this type of music, but we do manage to play at various venues that are equipped to handle the heavy music.
(((o))): Do you have to deal with any sorts of misunderstanding with what you are doing? Is there any form of censorship or anything?
Fadi: As long as there is no offence against a religion or faith, or against the government, and no preaching about the devil, then we are all free to do what we do, within reason.
(((o))): So, a bit of a history question, how did the metal scene in your country get started? Who were the pioneers?
Serge: Spyne, Eskimo Disco and Abhorred (Serge’s own band, ed.) were the pioneers (started in 1997) soon came Nervecell and we all know who they are!
Nervecell is probably as big as it gets when it comes to death metal in the UAE. The band was the first ‘local’ group to play at Desert Rock Festival and is signed currently to Lifeforce Records. You should probably check them out (particularly their latest album) (Ed.).
(((o))): Any bands from your part of the world that other people really should check out (and why of course)?
Serge: Kaoteon – extreme black metal from Lebanon, it is powerful, malevolent and heavy music!
Fadi: Kimaera – death doom metal from Lebanon, heavy riffs, good song writing, catchy and heavy tunes!
Michael: Ascendant – power and heavy metal from UAE, a great bunch of musician with exquisite taste in music
Ahmad: Blaakyum – coz heavy fucking metal!
(((o))): What does the future hold for Aramaic?
Ahmad: Releasing the long-awaited Aramaic album in the near future. Of course, play gigs, and hopefully tour Europe in summer 2018
(((o))): Is there anything you would like to add that I forgot to ask?
Michael: Catch us Live on the 8th of September at the Music Room supporting the almighty Paradise Lost and on the 3rd of November (venue still unconfirmed) supporting the doom legends Saturnus.
(((o))): If you had to describe Aramaic as a dish, what would it be and why?
Serge: Lasagna, its layers and layers of intense flavours soft, textured and velvety but certainly a deliciously heavy and intricate meal, full of spice.