Demons, loneliness and glory of an Iraqi metal band

Demons, loneliness and glory of an Iraqi metal band

Dark Phantom was born when an American soldier gave Murad Jaymz a heavy metal record. Now his band plays in Syria and shares with local colleagues their fears, difficulties and dreams of greatness.

Demons, loneliness and glory of an Iraqi metal band

The clock strikes ten o'clock in the evening in a fashionable venue in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. The judges dictate a recess from the boxing tournament which has been attended by a young and carefree audience for an hour and a half, between drinks of alcohol. When the fighters leave the scene, escorted by their entourage, a roar takes the stage without warning. “Metal is what we do / War is what we fight / The guitar is our weapon / the microphone is our knife / The music is what we spread / The revolution is what we want / We are Dark Phantom / We will never stop”, the vocalist shouts, of rigorous black, as a business card.

The audience watches in surprise, as if witnessing a ghostly apparition on a weekend night. The glances scrutinize the members of Dark Phantom (Dark Phantom, in English), the heavy metal band from Iraq. “The reactions are very varied. They look at us as if we were drug addicts, homosexuals or infidels because we wear black jeans and long hair. Most do not understand music but there are always exceptions”, comments Murad Jaymz, the guitarist and soul of the group.

An event in the biography of this 30-year-old electrician began an adventure intertwined with the demons of the country's recent history, those who have stained Iraq with blood and rubble since the fall of Saddam Hussein. “The war was over and American soldiers were everywhere. Sometimes the troops distributed gifts to the population. I received a heavy metal CD from those soldiers . For me it was a completely new kind of music and vocabulary. I started looking for more songs and I liked them. It was then that the idea of starting a band occurred to me “, recalls the young man, pioneer and spokesman of the group, in one of the concert breaks. In his obsession, he found the complicity of his cousin Rebin Hasem. Together they undertook the dream acquiring the first guitars and learning to play them.

The following came rolled. They became fans of Metallica and Slayer and, filled with daring, vowed to follow in their footsteps. The gang was forged in Kirkuk, a city of 1.6 million souls 100 kilometers south of Erbil that claims to be “little Iraq.” Kirkuk is a city besieged by the columns of smoke that spit out the oil refineries, the miracle and the punishment that has made it a highly valued place, disputed by Baghdad and Erbil. Kurds, Turkmen, Arabs and Christians inhabit its streets and neighborhoods, not always in peaceful terms. It is the town in which all Iraqi sensibilities and their respective evil spirits converge and in which Murad built his chimera.

“The band also breathes that microcosm of Kirkuk. We speak four languages but we are all brothers . We know each other and each one knows the family of the rest. We are little Iraq. The members are Arabs and Turkmens. There were Christians but they ended up emigrating “, admits the guitarist. After the drums, the figure of Mahmud, an Arab electrician, stands out, and in the front line, Mir Shamal – a Kurdish DJ – leads the way. Dark Phantom was officially born in 2009, in the midst of a wave of sectarian violence that left thousands of dead and never healed wounds that have condemned the country to sink into a diabolical spiral. “We looked for the rest of the members on the internet. In those years we lived in a state of war and destruction. This music was capable of expressing that conflict and the rights that had been stolen from us,” Murad argues. “It gave us the opportunity to express our opinions and to confront, in our own way, political and religious extremism.”

“They are wild animals attracted to the throne, / that bite hearts like dogs crumble a bone”, reads one of the songs from his first album Nation of Dogs , a statement without mediatintas about a country trapped by sectarian troubles and in the hands of a corrupt elite feeding the seeds of extremism. “We write lyrics that talk about the issues that matter in Iraq. About radicalism, the war against Daesh [an acronym in Arabic for the self-proclaimed Islamic State] or sectarian skirmishes. Ours are not lyrics about devils or those who worship them, like some they want to believe, “Murad replies. In its bleeding darts, beats the desperation of a new generation desolate by the lack of opportunities or the temptation of exodus and suffocated by social control, conservatism, corruption and a power that combs gray hair and refuses to undertake the withdrawal.

Their bet on hostile territory – “Satan has come to town,” some in Kirkuk said when they held their first concerts – made them a target. ” We received threats from Daesh through social networks. We knew they were serious and that they knew our movements and those of our families. We stopped meeting and playing for eight months,” Murad acknowledges.

But the heavy and its power of atonement ended up winning the game. With the hosts of the extinct caliphate reduced to a network of sleeper cells that set farm fields on fire at night and carry out small blows against civilians and police, Dark Phantom has regained its rhythm. During the week, each of its members is dedicated to fulfilling their respective jobs . They meet on the holiday to rehearse in a place that they rent out of their own pockets. “We don't have sponsors. We pay for the venue, the instruments and the studio rental with our own money,” they admit.

Two years ago bowling brought him to troubled Syria. They performed alongside local bands in Latakia, a city on the Mediterranean that remained loyal to Bashar Asad's regime during the eight years of civil war. “We could not play in Damascus because they did not grant us the permits but we shared experience with other groups who have lived the same way as us, ” recalls Murad, enthusiastic about the idea of taking his art to the Persian Gulf and neighboring Turkey. Nothing seems to stop him. Not even the long history of persecution that heavy dragged in the confines of the Middle East. Since the 1990s, when a state newspaper linked music to the cult of Lucifer, Egyptian authorities have launched periodic arrest campaigns of fans accusing them of “promoting Satanism” and committing “an act of blasphemy against religion.” Concerts by local and foreign bands have been repeatedly canceled on the same grounds. In Iran, the members of the Arsames band, established in 2002, have just been arrested and face up to three decades behind bars for “satanic music”, contrary to the precepts of the Islamic theocracy. “We are not against the faith but against extremism. We are normal people who want equality and the end of wars. Metal is our way of connecting with others. We are receiving many messages of support. The community of fans is growing and they are starting to understand us “, congratulates the architect of a passion that promises new battles and conquests.

“I will not fall, / you will surely fade away, / I will not bow down, / you will surely fade away, / I let my soul burn on the pyre , / to satisfy all your desires, / a beast feeds on my flesh, / thousands of dreams they haunt me “, murmurs other of the songs with which they burst into the confusion of a weekend night. “We care about what we see and that is in our lyrics. The reality is that many people can barely survive while others live as kings and that the war has affected us to what we were. Extremism has caused brothers to kill each other. or a father is capable of taking the life of his son “, reflects Murad. Some time ago, other gangs enlightened in the Arab world decided to emigrate, to put land in the middle with barbarism and its ability to destroy the peace of entire peoples. But not Dark Phantom, despite always acting with an escort . Its musicians are determined to stand up to their ghosts, “the apostles of hate.” “We are not afraid. We have experienced worse situations than the current one and we will continue despite doing so in a closed society, full of narrow margins. I do not think that the European gangs could resist in these circumstances but we want to fight.”

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