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For I Am King: the death metal band offering hope for refugees everywhere

Alma Alizadeh had to take some huge risks to become part of the metal scene. Born in Iran, she became a political refugee at the age of nine, escaping to the more liberal surroundings of the Netherlands, where she has lived ever since. In fact, the For I Am King frontwoman may never get the chance to see her native land again – fronting a death metal band could lead to her arrest, or worse, if she should ever return. 

Though many years have passed, there are memories that still echo in her mind, proving a lot for the frontwoman to bear. “I remember living on a farm with my family,” she recalls of her homeland. “I remember that my parents had to move away because of political reasons but I didn’t really understand any of that when I was a kid. When you see people leaving their country or their homes on the news, not everybody can understand just how hard the reality can be. I haven’t really talked about it a lot. It’s still very difficult to tell anyone what I went through.

 

“When we arrived in Holland, I noticed that everything was much bigger and people were dressed differently, but I felt so at home here,” she continues. “I remember learning the language quickly and one of the reasons why was because the people helped out so much. I feel very lucky to be living here. I can listen to metal whenever or do whatever I want to do. I wish everybody could have the same experience and the same feeling as I did when I moved here.”

 

Though she bashfully admits to her love of the Backstreet Boys when she was growing up, her tastes ultimately took a much heavier route, culminating in the volatile melodeath ferocity of For I Am King. If Arch Enemy were in a relay, this five-piece would be the next contenders to pick up the baton. 

Alma tells Hammer that metal was non-existent in her life back in Iran. “I didn’t hear any metal before I left home,” she explains. “I didn’t know anything about tattoos, heavy music or anything like that when I lived in Iran. But I remember my mom and dad would play Abba, Bee Gees and Queen a lot. Those are the first bands I remember who weren’t Persian. System Of A Down was the first of the heavier bands I started to listen to. Then bands like Slipknot came along, with Metallica and Iron Maiden. When I met Jurgen [van Straaten, FIAK bassist], he introduced me to more hardcore and metalcore music like Underoath, Hatebreed and especially Walls Of Jericho, who were a huge inspiration to me.”

The Netherlands’ attitude towards refugees continues to be progressive, having accepted around 60,000 asylum seekers back in 2015 at the height of the Syrian crisis. Talking with Jurgen, this was a situation he and his family couldn’t ignore.

“I think for Alma, this situation still hits home on a daily basis. It really opened my eyes. There are a lot of refugees around here and my family tries to help where they can. I also try to help by driving people to their families who have been separated. Overall, the political side of the Netherlands thinks we should help each other out, no matter where you are from. We’re all human, we are all the same.

No other song on latest album I reflects more on Alma’s childhood experience than Home. With the record being the band’s most personal release yet, it’s on this track in particular that Alma makes her stand and shares her message to the world.

“The themes on Home were very close to me, but they can relate with anybody. I wanted to write a song that wasn’t especially focused about my journey or my experience. It’s more about the people around you who help you, who make you feel at home. That’s what I experienced when I came to Holland. Not everybody is lucky enough to have had the same opportunities or have such wonderful people around them as I had, which saddens me. So, this song has more importance to me personally, but this album as a whole is very important to us.”

Since they formed in 2013, the band’s fanbase has steadily grown internationally, including a dedicated small number of fans from Iran. However, being a metalhead in Iran can have serious repercussions. Bands like Tehran’s Confess face impossible odds daily – they narrowly escaped the death penalty back in 2016 for writing songs that were considered blasphemous by their government.

“It’s crazy and I can’t imagine myself doing that,” Alma admits. “If I was still living in Iran I don’t think I could do what I’m doing now with my life, at all. We do have a lot of Persian fans who contact us through our social media. 

I have Iranian friends who’ve told me, ‘It’s so awesome that you’re doing this.’ They look up to you because we’re playing this kind of music.”

If by some miracle this makes its way into the borders of her birthplace, what message does she send to our metal brethren out there?  

“Keep doing it; keep on going! Music is so important, it brings everybody together. Iran is a beautiful country and there are so many people out there who love to listen to music and there’s lots of people who love metal in Iran. I couldn’t imagine a life without listening to music, or making music, writing songs or going to concerts. It’s a privilege and it’s a shame it’s not possible everywhere. Metal gives people hope.”