A modern, visceral and compelling album by the Arabian black scorpions of Thrash Metal.
The story I’m about to tell you is not only inspiring, but also shows the strong and positive influence music can have on any of us, helping us face our deepest fears and overcome the hardest challenges in our path. Acrassicauda (or أكراسكودا in Arabic), the latin name of a black scorpion species known as the Arabian fat-tailed scorpion (Androctonus crassicauda), is also the name of an incredible Iraqi Thrash Metal band formed in 2000, made famous by the award-winning documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad and often credited as being the first Heavy Metal group to emerge from Iraq, who unfortunately had to undergo all the agonies and pain of witnessing their homeland being devastated by politics and war.
After being granted refugee status in the United States in 2009 and after releasing a couple of demos and one EP, the band now based in New York brings forth their first full-length album, the unique Gilgamesh, a tribute to the ancient Mesopotamian civilization using the Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient poem written in the Acadian language in the 3rd millennium BC, originally inscribed on 12 tablets in cuneiform script. With a fascinating theme like that turned into solid and heartfelt music by skillful musicians, you’ll rapidly be absorbed by the story told in Gilgamesh, going back to the start once the album is over and listening to it in its entirety again and again.
Right after the ominous and introspective intro Cedar Forest, where hints of the Middle-Eastern culture are already present, we are offered a blasting mix of modern heavy music and uprising Thrash Metal entitled Rise: the harsh vocals by frontman Faisal Mustafa have the necessary fierceness to transmit the desired message (and you’ll be tempted to scream the chorus together with him and the rest of the band), while guitarist Moe Al Hamawandi helps shape the band’s soul with his riffs and solos. In the potent and very progressive Quest for Eternity, thanks to the job done by Marwan Hussein on drums, they continue their journey through Middle-East by perfectly adding elements of their own culture to the music just like Sepultura did in Chaos A.D. and especially in Roots, while Amongst Kings and Men has a more modern sonority with great vocal lines and a progressive rhythm. In addition, its clean and backing vocals are also amazing and make the whole song even more powerful.
Shamhat, the name of a sacred prostitute who plays an important role on the Epic of Gilgamesh, is a sharp and rumbling intro that flows nicely into the following track, the superb multi-layered clash The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing, a groovy and metallic tune with an outstanding percussion, a strong message and a violent atmosphere. The entire band is kicking ass, with highlights to Faisal and Marwan who are truly electrified and end up elevating the inner beauty of this song. Nonetheless, as even warriors have love in their hearts, Acrassicauda provide the listener an awe-inspiring and touching ballad named Requiem for a Reverie, where its thoughtful lyrics and a passionate performance by Faisal turn it into one of the best moments of the whole album. Their special Middle-Eastern touch is used once again to add rage and balance to House of Dust, a Thrash Metal song that feels really fresh and modern due to the welcome addition of clean vocals, with highlights to its lyrics, which in my opinion should work perfectly when played live (“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I take my last oath / As I take my first step in your house of dust I should have known from the start / Where will it all ends? / Right here right now / Where it began / What went wrong? / And what have we done”).
I can see the fans jumping up and down to the thrilling Unity, which direct and impetuous instrumental together with some eerie passages make the final result truly interesting, followed by Elements, where the band keeps delivering high-end metal embraced by their country’s culture. Needless to say, Moe and Marwan effectively take this song to the next level so good their performances are. Uruk, an ancient city of Sumer and later Babylonia ruled by Gilgamesh in the 27th century BC, is the second instrumental track of the album, where Acrassicauda showcase their well-developed skills as Iraqi musicians one more time, enhancing your senses for the last track of the album, the startling Rebirth, a song about revolution and the fight for freedom. With its Terminator-inspired riffs and Slayer-ish vibe (especially the one found in the all-time classic “Seasons in the Abyss”), it’s absolutely impossible not to bang you fuckin’ head to it, just before everything converges to a melancholic ending.
According to the band, Gilgamesh is an ode to modern Iraq, a home from which they are sadly exiled today. As bitter as it may sound, darkness seems to be a necessary evil in the conceptualization of superior music, and if you want to come into contact with that intense synthesis of passion and sorrow you can visit Acrassicauda’s Facebook, BandCamp page and YouTube channel, and also buy Gigalmesh at their official website as a digital download or physical copy. Lastly, in order to properly finish off this review, I leave you with drummer Marwan Hussein’s own words about what Gilgamesh represents to the band and, inevitably, to everyone else that might have the pleasure of listening to it.
“The whole album’s concept is about journeys, life and death, love, the divine, success and failure, and the eternal struggle for immortality. Acrassicauda immortalizes the legacy of this character and his struggles through music, thousands of years later…” – Marwan Hussein
Best moments of the album: Rise, The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing, Requiem for a Reverie and Rebirth.
Worst moments of the album: Absolutely none. The whole album kicks ass.
Released in 2015 Independent
1. Cedar Forest 1:29
2. Rise 5:04
3. Quest for Eternity 3:47
4. Amongst Kings and Men 5:11
5. Shamhat 0:25
6. The Cost of Everything & the Value of Nothing 3:09
7. Requiem for a Reverie 4:04
8. House of Dust 4:06
9. Unity 4:01
10. Elements 2:56
11. Uruk 2:02
12. Rebirth 4:32
Faisal Mustafa – vocals
Moe Al Hamawandi – guitar
Firas Abdul Razaq – bass
Marwan Hussein – drums