Review: Al Namrood 'Diaji Al Joor'

“The press can look patronisingly at BM bands in places like the Middle East as being exotic or even funny, when, in some respects, they should be seen as the true heirs to the Scandinavians of two decades ago.”

-The Guardian

Al Namrood translates directly – I understand – as ‘non-believer’. Diaji Al Joor, the bands’ 5th full length, is rather bold thematically, a story described by their label as ‘King Nimrod bathes in his riches and all that follow him in the ways of divinity in Pagan Arabia’. Bold indeed, and grand.

With the lyrics entirely in Arabic and no translation available, I listened to this record with no preconceptions of how the story unfolded, and it was difficult. Diaji Al Joor starts pleasantly enough with Dhaleen, with howling desert winds, ouds and all sorts starting to creep in. Arabic singing features, and fills the mind with caravans, veiled shadows and the belief that this album will be something special. As second track Zamjara Alat begins, I’m still on board; the guitars get started and everything sounds very mysterious and ancient, but then, to my horror, the vocals arrive.

From this point on this was tough going. The record offers little or no dynamics, though I believe this to be as much a result of the production as the lack of genuine body in the songs. Truth be told, if the guitars were removed, and the whole thing was bass, drums and all the trad instruments used, this would have been preferable. Hawas Wa Thaur is downright irritating vocally, as it starts with a flicker of Attila Csihar’s throaty ruminations before the exaggerated R-rolling and slightly-too-chirpy remainder of the track gets underway.

Almost in disbelief that a band who struggle so much to produce their material could have possibly meant for it to sound like this, I went back and listened to their earlier works, which are weirder, more confrontational, and heavier. Adghan and Ya Le Taasatekum are a tip of the hat to the old days, with the blown out production lending it a compelling, scattergun edge, and aside from the beginning and closing tracks, this is the best bit of the record. The worst bit is the laughing, which occurs enough to warrant a mention here. This is what children and emotionally stunted teenage frontmen do when they want to sound creepy and sinister – this is unacceptable, especially for band on their 5th record.

In all honesty, I get this. I completely understand the fusing of trad instruments with metal and extreme genres, as shown by Chtonic (who had similar problems blending the old instruments with the new), and Melechesh (who circumnavigate this problem by devoting whole tracks to the old stuff), and I thoroughly appreciate that this record has had to fight for its very existence given where it came from, but despite genuinely, genuinely trying, I can find little to fill me with excitement. There isn’t enough on here to make it its own thing, and as a result Diaji Al Joor falls somewhere between black metal, Arabian folk and borderline polka, without being any or all of these.

Al Namrood are to be commended for getting this album out, as their homeland of Saudi Arabia punishes the existence of such material with imprisonment or execution. This record is average, and though it pains me to say it, the best bits are the ones where the metal is absent. A shame.

Review: John Davidson

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