Rock in a Hard Place

by , under Music

Reading “Rock in a Hard Place” by Orlando Crowcroft triggered many personal memories, as an Egyptian teenage metalhead in Cairo in the 1990s. Bartering and trading metal cassettes. Seeking friends who have relatives abroad whom we could give a long list of albums they would look up in music stores in Western capitals, in the pre-Internet age. Laughing about sensationalist media articles about “Satanists” invading Egypt with their “weird rituals involving drinking blood.” Waking up one day in 1997 to find many of my metalhead friends snatched by the police from their homes, to be abused in State Security Police facilities, on charges of “Satanism.”

These dramatic events were not confined to Egypt. The “second wave of black metal” which engulfed Europe in the beginning of the 1990s soon arrived in the Middle East. Metal music and its “extreme genres” where the music of rebellion for sections of middle class kids across the region, ruled by dictatorial regimes and facing a rising Islamist tide which dominated the university campuses and workplaces, and in some cases a full fledged armed insurgencies which targeted regimes’ officials but also secularists and society elements deemed “un-Islamic”.

In such environment, headbanging to the growling shrieks of Black Metal vocalists, with your long hair, while the inverted cross is dangling from your neck on the black shirt you were wearing that had the logo of your favorite band–could simply have cost you your life in some of the region’s countries. But the wave seemed unstoppable. In a conservative Islamic high school like mine for example, which catered for middle class Muslim kids in east of Cairo, we had one of the biggest metalheads aggregations in the capital, and black metal was our means of rebellion against the school’s religiosity and conservatism.

Crowcroft’s book is a detailed narrative of how the metal scene evolved in the 1990s in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Palestine, and to a lesser extent it discusses the rise of some Hip Hop artists alongside.

With extensive interviews with veteran and contemporary musicians, Crowcroft takes us on a journey through time narrating the difficult birth bangs of the metal scene in the Middle East and the plight of the artists who went on this venture.. How the security crackdowns in the late 1990s almost destroyed the scene and drove it underground; to be followed by a slow revival in the 2000s up to the Arab Spring of 2010. He also explains how the fight for political change in the years 2011-2013 gave a margin of freedoms for everyone, and hopes for musicians to unleash their creativity, before the defeat and the crushing of revolutions that saw a good number of musicians fleeing their home countries or giving up their love for metal.