Metal really aint the coolest of things and word that Vice magazine were producing a film about Iraq’s one and only axe-wielding band had the same disgenuine air to it as a hipster in a Maiden t-shirt. Yet for all it’s throbbing insincerity Vice have managed to pull off a band documentary that isn’t totally insepid.
Things start out on a bit of a wobbily path as we get to meet the band in their small rehearsal room, tucked away under a store in central Baghdad. The place is bedecked with hand-penned Metallica logos and grainy A4 print-outs of James Hetfield and co rocking out. It’s all a bit ramshackle, and at that point it’s hard to see what convinced the original journo that he had truly ‘discovered’ some amazing talent.
Seeing their fans queued up outside a hotel for their exclusive ‘Vice’ gig, the angsty teenage vibe is knocked up to eleven by a small posse of young men wearing long-sleeve band t-shirts that would make even a Spanish teenager shamefaced. Not pretty. But then this is a country where such satanistic/Americanistic garb could have them thrown in lockdown pretty much indefinitely. Nothing ironic or snide here, just a big old heart for metal and big willingness to say ‘fuck you’ to the turbulent status quo.
At this point the film starts to turn, perhaps on the sight of seeing a gaggle of Iraqi metal fans go crazy for the band, moshing frantically as they are sat kneeling on the floor. It’s as bizarre a sight as it sounds, but it’s a concession to the tradition of a circle pit that hotel management wouldn’t be too keen on. The band genuinely Rawq Out, and in true metal fashion the fans end up piling themselves on top of each other. It’s more metal than you could shake two devil horns at.
The documentary narrative skips forward a year or two and we get to see the band regrouped in Syria. They play another bizarrely seated-yet-banging gig, struggle to record a demo to send to the world, and generally moan about how awful things are for the Iraqi refugees. On being shown a rough cut of the first half of the film the band members get quite emotional at being reminded of just how locked-down and broken up their home town is. Any semblance of the life they had growing up has effectively been destroyed. Their little rehearsal room has been scudded to pieces, and ramshackle as it was, it was their portal out of rather shit times. For those who love it Metal can be a fine window for escape, and in a war zone it’s the only comfort these guys had.
In the end it turns out to be a lot like Ross Kemp in Afghanistan: seemingly ridiculous and farcical from the outset, but in the end quite simple in its focus on average people stuck in an extraordinarily awful situation. No bells and whistles verite documentary making, just sincere and revealing portraits. And at its heart reminds you what metal is really about. And that’s no mean feat.