Heavy metal outfit Acrassicauda are extraordinary. While bands throughout North America and Europe form or dissolve with little more than fleeting interest, this Iraqi thrash-influenced metal band has faced more controversy, upheaval, torment and attention than virtually any other act of their genre, superstars notwithstanding. The Acrassicauda saga starts in Iraq circa 2001 when the band formed as an outlet for four men ― vocalist/guitarist Faisal Talal, guitarist Tony Aziz, bassist Firas Al-Lateef and drummer Marwan Riyadh ― to escape the horrors of their war-torn home. Unfortunately for them, while capitalist countries don't really give a shit about metal, Baghdad does. In a very negative way. From seeing their rehearsal hall demolished by a missile and the military's uncaring reaction to struggling to attain refugee status in order to evade persecution and death threats from Islamic followers who literally attacked them for playing the devil's music, Acrassicauda was decidedly unpopular at home.
Much of this legacy has been documented by Vice Films' feature-length account Heavy Metal In Baghdad. During the flick, we see Acrassicauda's professional and personal trials/tribulations in the pursuit of rockin' out and the difficulties faced with searching for a new home (whereby they flee to Syria and Turkey), eventually landing in the United States and beginning unhindered work on their craft. All in all, it's an insane history that has culminated in the band's first-ever official release, a four-song EP entitled Only The Dead See The End Of The War (Vice Records). Talal and Riyadh had a few moments to discuss the overwhelming life of Acrassicauda.
A decade into the band's life, you've finally got an official release.
Marwan Riyadh (MR): It's amazing; a great feeling because we're so proud of it.
What's the biggest sense of accomplishment around it?
MR: The music. It's not even the music, though. It's the process of realizing it that's important; creating something new that you love every day.
Listening back, are you surprised with what you've accomplished given the circumstances or is it exactly what you envisioned?
Faisal Talal: We have to learn from every step and we've accomplished so much. The music has been going through a lot of progress and a lot of people have been helping so far, giving us the ideas and inspiration to do what we really want to do. I guess if you go back ten years, this is exactly what we wanted to do in the first place. We're still students learning from everyone.
MR: It's always a process.
Do you feel your progression as students has been faster now that you're free from just trying to stay together?
MR: For sure. Effort and hard work have paid off. For every action, there is an equivalent reaction and what we did is seeing music from the small perspective to the bigger one. In return, we're hopefully getting better even though we're still students as Faisal said. It's all a process of learning to reach a higher goal but the process itself is fun. It's educational and inspirational ― fulfilling. We've met so many great people along the way that have helped us out or stood up for us and we learn from them. This EP is a treat overall. We're very proud of what we've accomplished so far. Hopefully after this, we'll be able to bring more to the table.
Will this generate some touring finally? You're an internationally known band but you've still only played a handful of gigs in the past decade.
MR: Exactly. We are semi-famous but we don't have a lot in the basket with playing live. Hopefully this new EP will bring some of that. We can show people what type of musicians we are. That's more of what we wanted from the start. It's more about music than the story itself. There's no schedule yet but everything we have started from a small seed of an idea so we have our fingers crossed.
You have a double-edged sword in that your personal lives are so closely tied to the saga of the band and the music. Are you worried about your life story overtaking the music? It's an atypical scenario most bands don't endure.
MR: We never worry about that. We don't sit and watch every documentary or YouTube clip about us and think about how it should have been about the music. That's one of the challenges we face: to ensure the music comes first, if not now, then eventually. All of this defines the kind of people and musicians we are. We love that. Some people get devastated and shattered from stuff like that ― when people pay more attention them than their work ― but we use it in a positive way.
A lot of bands are together for years and eventually a film is made about them. You have the alternate: your survival and extrication from Baghdad stems from a movie telling your tale.
FT: Yeah. We're not the directors of the film though. They're great guys who made everything happen to help us feel like a real metal atmosphere. We play our real characters and go on with our lives as normal. A lot of this is thanks to Vice Records. The music? That's just how we feel. We didn't choose to be in a movie. Nothing made sense at the start but it's becoming clearer now.
MR: There was no black and white in our lives. It was all shades of grey so we didn't know what was good or bad. We just had to move on even if we couldn't be objective. There was a lot of personal torment going on back then so we wanted to play music as a relief. The movie helped people notice the important thing: our music. We didn't realize we were actually doing anything other would care about. We loved it and that was it.
All the things you've endured are based on your love of metal. What is it about metal that made you dedicate yourselves so readily and to the point of danger?
MR: Integrity and honesty. While other people bullshit and lie to you, telling you whatever you wanna hear ― what their small mind thinks you want ― we show you everything the way it is: what we stand for or against. It's all about honesty and nothing but fact taken from a point of view. Metal delivers. With honesty.
How has the sound and attack of Acrassicauda changed now that you've relocated to the U.S. and face new hurdles?
MR: Brutal and stronger to the roots. It's been few thousand miles and a few years but we understand ourselves better as musicians and as humans. It's been a journey. We've seen many sides of stories that give us perspective on how things shape in both worlds. We miss our homeland but this music is what we grew up on. Now we sound ethnic but brutally ethnic. For some reason, we're even more pissed off now that we can see things from new sides.
FT: We want to be as passionate and brutal as we can. We wasted a lot of time in the different countries we had to visit so now we've rushed into this with four songs ― a minimum base to expand on. We'll come out with more songs or a new record soon.
MR: Like Faisal said, we wasted too much time with bureaucracy. Hopefully this next year will be the one to really move forward and this EP is the start of it all.