At some point in the early ’90s, folk metal acts from the Middle East received the decidedly un-PC neologism, Oriental Metal. The term, implying a heady mix of thrash guitars, throaty vocals and maqam-inflected scales, fell into disuse but the relevant bands did not. In a year when the Middle East was marked with military coups, ongoing sectarian civil wars, and one of history’s largest refugee crises, metal bands stood at the vanguard — distilling chaos into chaotic music and writing some of the best albums of the year. Here are five of them:
“Let Us All Unite” (Syria)
Out of civil-war-torn Damascus, thrash metal Anarchadia opens their debut full-length album with the sound of automatic weapons and former President George W. Bush intoning a warning against terror. Nour Sabbagh’s death metal vocals underpin an album full of political awareness and hope for a better future. While “Narchaotic” bemoans narcoleptic despair in the wake of turmoil, instrumental “Elevation Call” is a gorgeous progressive ascent into transcendence.
“All is One” (Israel)
By Orphaned Land
Scene godfathers Orphaned Land open their fifth album with a twisty Arabic guitar riff and then a feel-good series of concepts about friendship and peace in the Middle East. Tracks “Let the Truce Be Known” and “Our Own Messiah” are as prog-epic as anything since their breakthrough “Mabool”; closer “Children” asks “How can we live with this horror that we bring to this world?,” lyrics laser-focused on a tribe of orphaned children living in a broken land.