Heavy Metal In Baghdad

Heavy Metal In Baghdad (2007)
Vice Films
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Live Performances, Booklet, Trailer

A large facet to the heavy metal ethos is that being a fan comes with a price, largely in the form of ostracizing from a central peer group. Certainly this genus of music carries with it a stand up for yourself liability that offers no compensatory damages other than the music itself. Outsider material to the last, part of the upkeep and tradition of heavy metal fanship is to hypothetically take up arms in its defense, whether you're chawing or brawling in the hallways against those who mock you or you simply write an album entitled Fight For the Rock as progressive metal pioneers Savatage did in 1986.

Of course, in the grand scheme of the heavy metal cosmos, its defenders of the faith eventually grow up and most of them grow out of the music, while the diehards cling on like sentinels of a faux-ancient order. Still, the big us versus them conflict encompassing heavy metal subculture is pretty damned silly when you stop and look at it from a much broader scope. What then, when the reality of war is actually in your face on a day-to-day basis and not just fantastically depicted on an album cover?

"Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is one of the bravest documentaries of the modern age, not just because its inherent appeal is limited to a certain demographic. The principals involved in this harrowing story dodge the bullets and the carbombs around them from American armed forces on one side, murdering activists on the other. This is the story of literally fighting for your rock, when you can go to prison for not only growing your hair long or wearing a Slipknot t-shirt, but simply headbanging because it's construed as a Hebrew form of religious expression considered taboo by post-Saddam Hussein fundamentalists. This is the story of a group of musicians who are forced to carry handguns on their way to practice out of fear for their lives. This is the story of an Iraqi band called "Acrassicauda" who not only have to obtain clearance from local police (who are sometimes rogues in disguise), but also the United States army in order to put on a concert in a shell-shocked Baghdad hotel, running their equipment on a generator that coughs out in the middle of their performance to a rabid audience now presumed dead in the center of the war's hotbed. This is the story of survivors who once wrote a song in Hussein's honor (which they admit to being complete "bullshit") at the decree of the regime and were still forced to disband from a war-torn climate, then reunite years later as near-penniless refugees in the neighboring harbor of Syria, where their listeners cherish a cover of Metallica's "Fade to Black" as if it was actually James Hetfield and company in their midst belting it out.

"Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is also the story of a pair of journalists who risk their very being to certify this incredible story through multiple visits. Flanked by a hired security force of Iraqis who were once teachers and store owners in a pre-wartime Iraq, Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi take us into the fathoms of the rubble that you'll seldom see on the nightly news. Routinely stopped and interrogated for turning camera to the war's charred claustrophobia, Moretti and Alvi override their squeamishness at possible death in the threshold of civil war to bring us visuals of a decimated Iraq, as well as an honest look at a group of musicians who make no bones about their anger of trying to live – much less express themselves – in a violent country where they've seen dead bodies on a daily basis, so much they've become desensitized to the point that playing heavy metal is their only saving grace. The members of Acrassicauda coldly state that without metal, they would impulsively embrace the annihilation around them and turn into killing machines, much as their American counterparts blindly profess under their breaths in front of their lockers or in the sanctums of their suburban (and decidedly much safer) bedrooms.

There's no way to fully critique "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" on a merit system. This film could be as shakily shot and spliced as "The Blair Witch Project" and still be compelling. It is copiously edited however, and as a result, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is a haunting and deeply suspenseful look at alternative culture through the perspective of a freedom-stricken country. As Acrassicauda dispel the myths of Jihad and the Western-publicized concept of holy war as racist propaganda, that's as political as this story gets, unless you consider that even visiting the remains of their destroyed practice space could get them shot or tossed in jail. At the heart of "Heavy Metal in Baghdad" is a group of young musicians and a pair of journalists willing to stake every ounce of their being for an ideal that most everyone else outside of the war zone takes for granted. Puts things into a deeper perspective, does it not?