Metal Takes A Stand: Meet The Bands Making A Difference

Al-Namrood
Al-Namrood are taking a stand against their homeland's religious regime

Metal is awash with great bands standing up and making a difference. Here are a few fighting the good fights – and how you can help them.

AL-NAMROOD

Meet Saudi Arabia’s first black metal band – and why they’re risking their lives to fight a religious regime.

It’s easy for us to take our civil liberties for granted – most of us can openly speak against the government, religion and ruling powers without fear of being dragged from our beds in the night. For Saudi Arabia’s black metallers Al-Namrood, however, there is no such luxury. Which is why their decision to persevere with playing gnarly, anti-religious noise is a gleaming symbol of metal’s power, but even more so, the power of standing for what you believe in.

“None of us thought to meet a like-minded person in Saudi,” says guitarist Mephisto. “It was a plain coincidence that we all met at the same party. There, we discussed our goals of creating a metal band.”

While they knew that creating such an abrasive style of music together could draw the ire of a radical Islamic state, the trio felt that the opportunity to make something special couldn’t be ignored. Wearing masks and going under pseudonyms so as to go under the radar of the Saudi authorities as much as possible, the threesome set about merging the traditional sounds of their homeland with the crusty racket of black metal. Al-Namrood was born.

“Publicly playing metal here is forbidden,” explains the axeman. “Metal itself is considered a taboo, and if someone was revealed as having an involvement with metal, they might face charges. If a judge so decides, someone could be sentenced to imprisonment and hundreds of lashes…or execution by beheading. So, we have to avoid getting caught.”

Al-Namrood are taking huge risks to craft their art

Al-Namrood are taking huge risks to craft their art

“We focus on anti-religious lyrics because religion directly impacts our lives,” states Mephisto flatly. “For you guys in the UK, religion might not affect you because it’s not a regime or an imposed system, and your constitution covers freedom of religion and separation of religion from state. We have consistently been abused by religion; controlling our lives, restricting our freedoms and providing clear injustice in the jurisdiction system.”

So far one member of the band – completed by Humbaba (Vocals) and Ostron (Keyboardist) – has been arrested, though Mephisto won’t reveal who or what happened with the case, but he and his band’s brave, audacious mission remains undettered.

“Simply, we want to be free to tour the world,” he concludes. “This struggle in Saudi makes us appreciate freedom even more, so when that day comes, we will value the true meaning of freedom.”

To read more on the situation in Saudi Arabia, head to www.freedomhouse.org

Against Me! The changing face of punk

Against Me! The changing face of punk

AGAINST ME!

The punk rock rebels are led by Laura Jane Grace - an advocate for the LGBT community

You might rarely have read of her band’s music in this magazine, but chances are, you recognise the name Laura Jane Grace. For almost two decades she has been front and centre of one of punk’s most brilliantly consistent, inspiring and, most importantly, politically challenging groups, Against Me!. But what sets Laura apart from her bandmates and peers is the openness and bravery she displayed when transitioning from male to female in 2012. Since then she has become a major voice and campaigner for the LGBT community – a voice she believes has always been inbuilt into her.

“I don’t look at it as, ‘Why do you speak up about these issues?”, she tells us. “More, ‘Why aren’t more artists using their voice to say these things?’. It was always something that I took for granted – that that was the ‘roll’ of rock ‘n’ roll. Rock ‘n’ roll is protest music. That’s always how I saw it.”

And these are no words of empty sloganeering or rebellious rhetoric – only hours before we talked to her, Laura took to her social media to tell of her intentions to go to North Carolina to play in protest against the state’s controversial new HB2 legislation that requires individuals to use the public bathrooms corresponding with their biological sex.

“I got the call after Bruce Springsteen announced that he would be cancelling his show,” Laura says. “When my manager asked me if I wanted to cancel, I said ‘Fuck no!’ I want to go there and be visible, because this directly affects me, and I feel very lucky that I have a platform where I can go and make this statement and try and open this up to an audience. That makes what I do feel real.”

Few would argue that Laura isn’t channelling the true spirit of rock, metal and punk in the most vital way possible.

To find out more about LGBT issues, go to www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights

Thy Art don't tolerate religious intolerance

Thy Art don't tolerate religious intolerance

THY ART IS MURDER

The Aussies’ Holy War has rattled a few cages

When Thy Art unleashed their crushing third album Holy War last year, its controversial artwork – featuring a young child suited up as a suicide bomber – became symbolic of the battle between religious oppression and freedom of speech. “It’s getting to the point where you can barely criticise religion without being labelled a bigot yourself,” says guitarist Andy Marsh. “It’s really slowing down intelligent discussion on the matter”. Insisting that the album is about opening a platform for debate over attacking religion for the sake of it, Thy Art remain determined to stand by their cause.

IFRC provide disaster relief without religious discrimination. See www.ifrc.org

Saving animals, death metal style

Saving animals, death metal style

CATTLE DECAPITATION

Saving animals, death metal style

Cattle Decapitation’s gore-drenched artwork and brutal, grinding death metal heavily rotates around issues of animal rights and the destruction of the environment. “Animals don’t have rights,” argues frontman Travis Ryan. “Humans have seen to that. Animals are all part of this world with us, so I don’t understand why we have to be so destructive. I’ve taken it upon myself to speak up for the underdog – for lack of a better word!” As for how we can all tackle such issues? “Think and act locally. Adopt from animal shelters. Cut the fuck down on your waste. Donate to animal rescues!”

Check out Cattle Decapitation’s local animal shelter at www.ferdinandsfamilia.org

Metal's Loud Mouth is taking on US politics

Metal's Loud Mouth is taking on US politics

COREY TAYLOR

The Slipknot frontman is aiming crosshairs at American politicians

Why are you digging into American politics with your new book?

“It’s pointing the crosshairs at American /everything/, to be honest. It’s cultural, it political, it’s very biting. For everything I love about my country, there are so many things that I hate about it. I’m going to talk about everything from what I call ‘modern conservatism’, that really started with Reagan, to the rise of racism and brutality that’s going on.”

What side of the political spectrum do you fall on?

“I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I borrow from both parties; I believe in certain things about both and yet for the most part it’s a pissing contest with them. When they go at each other all they do is hold us back.”

Political/social messages often creep into Slipknot’s music. How do you feel about music being a vessel for change?

“I think it’s great. Not enough people are saying enough; I don’t think that music is just something you can use to get your next Pepsi endorsement – it should help change or guide people towards doing the right thing.”

What do you say to people who don’t believe we can make a difference?

“That’s a great way to talk yourself out of a life of freedom. With the way that certain things are, especially from Trump, there’s a hint of fascism there. Y’know, ‘Build a wall, throw all the Muslims out, strip journalists of their right to critique!’ – the next thing you know it’s, ‘Get rid of the black people!’, ‘Get rid of the Irish!’ That’s the road that he’s taking us down, and that’s going to lead to revolution.”

Corey’s new book, tentatively titled America 51, is due out later this year.

Napalm Death stand for many important causes

Napalm Death stand for many important causes

NAPALM DEATH

If there’s a cause worth fighting, chances are the grind legends are on it

“Women’s sexual health rights, animal rights, all refugees to be welcomed with the dignity afforded to anybody else, no compulsory ‘academisation’ of schools, re-separation of religious institutions and state, workers worldwide protected against human rights abuses, the annexation of Palestine to be stopped…”

Ask Barney Greenway what causes he feels most passionate about today and he’ll have your ear for hours, so it’s hardly a surprise that Napalm Death have endured not just as one of the most important bands in extreme music history, but a beacon for political awareness and using a platform to do great things. Great things that, recently, include ND’s latest album, Apex Predator – Easy Meat dissecting the issue of workers’ rights, and Barney himself writing an open letter to Indonesian President (and Napalm Death fan) Joko Widodo to spare the lives of three drug smugglers facing execution.

“Whether we’re a ‘political band’ is always open to debate,” argues Barney. “We’re just attempting to reinforce general ideas of humanity. Napalm is just a small musical fish in a massive general pond, but that pond, as it swells, has the potential to become a tidal wave.”

You can find information on human rights causes around the world at www.amnesty.org.uk

Serj Tankian is fighting for his past and his future

Serj Tankian is fighting for his past and his future

SERJ TANKIAN

The SOAD legend continues to fight for justice for his people

System Of A Down have long fought for the recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Armenian Civilians. Last month, Serj Tankian’s score for a film inspired by those horrific events was released, and he hopes it will continue to raise awareness for an event which has damaged generations. “To my knowledge, 1915 is the only film ever made that deals with the diasporan trauma of the Armenian Genocide,” says Serj. “I liked the script because it was moving; an ‘artsy’, yet modern, interpretation of loss, both personal and universal.” he adds: “There is a huge history of great artists who have stood up for what they believe in. It is not today’s norm. and that is a shame.”

You can read more on the film at www.1915themovie.com, while further info on the Armenia Genocide and its effects can be found at www.facinghistory.org

In Hearts Wake aren't hugging trees - they're planting them

In Hearts Wake aren't hugging trees - they're planting them

IN HEARTS WAKE

The Aussie crushers are a lean, green environmental machine

“From day one we put so much time and love into our music, and we decided that we needed to speak about what was important to us,” says In Hearts Wake frontman Jake Taylor of the Aussie metalcore crew’s dedication to raising awareness of environmental issues. “That passion drives us for something greater than ourselves. In Hearts Wake has become our vessel to share a message – one amazing project we got to work on was teaming up with Carbon Neutral, who planted a tree for every physical pre-order of our album Earthwalker album. We ended up planting a whole forest Australia!”

Check out the great work Carbon Neutral are doing for the environment at www.carbonneutral.com

Mike Shinoda was horrified by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004

Mike Shinoda was horrified by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004

LINKIN PARK

LP’s Music For Relief charity helps support countries ravaged by disaster

In 2004, having recently returned from tour, Linkin Park found themselves looking at the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami and decided they had to act. “We had just toured in the region,” recalls Mike Shinoda. “We thought of all the fans that had come to the shows, and what their life must be like at that moment, and felt like we had to do something.” So, the band set up the Music For Relief foundation, which has since helped raise funds and support for regions around the world devastated by natural disasters. “Since then, MFR has partnered with the UN Foundation, Oxfam, Save The Children, WWF and International Medical Corps,” adds Mike.

For more on Music For Relief and their partners, head to www.musicforrelief.org

BTBAM: clever metal, clever lads

BTBAM: clever metal, clever lads

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME

Sticking up for animals…prog style

Being one of the most forward-thinking and intelligent metal bands in the world, it’s hardly surprising that Between The Buried And Me also fight for some respectable causes – chiefly that of protecting our animals. “I got into animal rights from going to hardcore shows in the late 90s,” explains bassist and proud vegan Dan Briggs. “There were always tables set up with pamphlets on going vegan, the fur industry and animal testing. My music isn’t politically driven, but I think it’s great people have gotten into the music and then dug deeper to find out individually what we’re all about.”

To look into going vegan, check out www.thevegansociety.com

Rammstein are leading the charge on free speech

Rammstein are leading the charge on free speech

RAMMSTEIN

Taking no shit from The Man for over two decades

Rammstein have long stood as the quirkiest and yet, perhaps, most important bastion of artistic expression heavy music has ever produced. Recently, the teutonic titans proved this once again by taking out a legal case against their own government, suing the German authorities for €66,000 in damages after claiming that they sustained lost income after 2009 album, Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da, was ‘indexed’ by the Federal Department for Media Harmful To Young Persons. The ruling meant that the album couldn’t be advertised and was sold under strict conditions, with the decision overturned after six months when a Cologne court said the classification was unlawful. The case rolls on.

For more info on the case, stay tuned to www.metalhammer.com

Walls Of Jericho: throwing their weights behind great causes

Walls Of Jericho: throwing their weights behind great causes

WALLS OF JERICHO

Candace is lifting weights and raising funds

When she’s not scaring the shit out of us fronting metallic hardcore mainstays Walls Of Jericho, Candace Kucsulain can be found fundraising for Relentless – a powerlifting event that raises money for families with children diagnosed with cancer and other serious diseases. “Men and women from all over the world come together for these meets twice a year!” she explains. “To date we’ve raised over $500,000 for these children and their families.”

To find out more about Relentless and their work, head to www.relentlesspowerlifting.com

OL just want peace on Earth

OL just want peace on Earth

ORPHANED LAND

Twenty five years of preaching peace and unity

Orphaned Land have long promoted a message of peace and understanding – most notably within the Middle East, where their Israeli heritage has caused them to become metal’s own poster children for an end to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. “Orphaned Land is more than a band,” says singer Kobi Farhi. “The music is just a platform for us to transfer our messages. I played in Germany recently and Syrian refugees came to the show and gave us flowers. Governments are telling us that we are different and that we’re ‘enemies’, but they are corrupt.”

To read up on the Israeli-Palestine conflict, head to www.amnesty.org/issues/israel-and-palestine

Nergal won't bow down to religion

Nergal won't bow down to religion

BEHEMOTH

Nergal has lead the fight against religious censorship

When Behemoth frontman Nergal tore up a Bible onstage at a gig in Poland while calling the Catholic church “the most murderous cult on the planet”, he knew he was risking the wrath of the heavily religious Polish authorities, but he was determined to fight to his right for freedom of expression – at all costs.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” he notes today. “Obviously, the people who were offended weren’t even at the show, which I still find totally surreal. It led to a long court case, and it was up and down. At the end of the day, we won, and it was a victorious ending to a fucking stupid situation.”

While Nergal may have won that battle, he knows the war against oppression is far from over, and he’ll continue to use his platform to speak against the Powers That Be. “It feels like it’s getting darker and darker when it comes to the politics of a lot of European countries,” he adds. “You also get the fucking Presidential campaign in the US, which looks fucking scary. The stage, movies and theatres, these are going to be the temples of freedom. Art will provide the places encouraging people to speak their minds and stand for themselves. And I can see that what I do has a liberating factor for the world - a rebellious value!”

Behemoth play The Satanist in full at Bloodstock

Enter Shikari might not be the heaviest band going, but the might be the most politicised

Enter Shikari might not be the heaviest band going, but the might be the most politicised

ENTER SHIKARI

The electro-core heavyweights have mobilised a generation

Why have politics formed such a core part of what Enter Shikari do?

“Music is a ridiculously powerful tool because we’re all inherently vulnerable to it. By default, music is a naturally unifying force because we all react similarly to its presence – we’re /all/ affected by it. For these reasons, I see music as a force to unite, to fuel activism, to celebrate and support peace and humanity. I sound like a fuckin’ hippy here don’t I?!”

Do you feel like you’ve helped to make your fans more aware of what’s going on in the world?

“I’ve certainly spoken to hundreds of people around the world who have thanked us for opening their eyes to certain things and even encouraging them to protest. It really is quite disconcerting to hear that we have such a power, to be honest! I remember how Rage Against The Machine, Refused, Sick Of It All and many many other acts made me intrigued about various issues growing up, and hopefully we’re continuing to hold that torch now.”

Why do so many bands shy away from being described as ‘political’?

“I think a lot of bands shy away from addressing important issues because of the pressure to be liked by many. ‘Why would you put your neck on the line to stick up for something that’s unjust if it may lose you followers?’ And let’s be frank: ‘Political’ is a boring term for the youth to hear. Politics to most people is crumpled, weathered old men bickering about budgets – it’s far removed from everyday life. If you describe a band as ‘political’ people will have their own preconceived notions as to what that will sound like.”

Does music still have the power to force change?

“Absolutely. It’s a fuel. It can create community where there is none, it can promote important issues, it can inspire pivotal life changes and decisions. I’ve seen it all happen.”

Enter Shikari have spoken out about protecting the NHS from privatisation. Check out Unite’s Save Our NHS campaign at www.unitetheunion.org

They may be heavy, but Arch Enemy have heart

They may be heavy, but Arch Enemy have heart

ARCH ENEMY

Alissa doesn’t just roar like an animal – she’s fighting for them

When she’s not blowing eardrums fronting melodeath icons Arch Enemy, Alissa White-Gluz is busy campaigning for animal rights – a cause she has fought behind all her life. “I’ve been vegan for 17 years and vegetarian since birth,” she explains. “Animals don’t communicate in human language, so they need spokespeople among their oppressors. I refuse to contribute to unnecessary suffering, it’s as simple as that.” For her, this isn’t just a lifestyle choice; it’s a necessary step to saving the planet. “It takes more land and water to raise livestock than it does to farm crops,” she notes. “With all the plants used to feed animals to feed humans, we could instead directly feed the world’s starving nations!”

Head to www.peta.org.uk to read more on animal rights campaigning

SFTP: bringing politics back to punk

SFTP: bringing politics back to punk

STRAY FROM THE PATH

The New Yorkers are keeping punk’s political heart beating

“Political awareness is what punk was founded on,” insists Stray From The Path axeman Tom Williams. “Hardcore and punk shows were founded on being able to get in a room with your friends and people with the same interests and unify on things politically…now it’s more important how many Instagram followers you have.” Undeterred, the metallic hardcore mainstays have spent over a decade proudly and loudly keeping punk’s politicised traditions alive. “We just write about what’s affecting us,” Tom adds. “We speak about relationships and personal stuff, but we also speak about the state of the country, corruption and murdering bastard cops. We want to use the platform we’ve been given to speak about things that are important to know.”

Check out your local listings for a charity punk show near you

Hexvessel are in touch with their roots

Hexvessel are in touch with their roots

HEXVESSEL

Finland’s nature spiritualists fight to preserve the wilderness

Go to a Hexvessel show and on the merch stand you’ll find something quite unique – the opportunity to buy and preserve a plot of ancient, Finnish forest, courtesy of the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation. “Their aim,” explains frontman Mat ‘Kvohst’ McNerney, “is to let nature go back to its natural state. I think that’s the most direct activism you can do.” As he explains, it’s not just an act of spiritualism – causes like this could save the human race itself. “The untouched forests are becoming extinct, and if they go, we’ll never be able to get them back again. For future generations, we lose our connection with where we are in the world, and what connects us to it. If you don’t have a planet, you don’t have any politics, so for us, this takes priority over everything else!”

Discover more on the Finnish Natural Heritage Foundation at www.luonnonperintosaatio.fi/en

Chthonic: Freddy is bringing people power to Taiwan

Chthonic: Freddy is bringing people power to Taiwan

CHTHONIC

After recently winning a seat in Taiwanese parliament, we catch up with Freddy Lim to see how his new job’s going

How have your first few official weeks in office been?

“At the end of the day, my life before was much more free and leisurely; now all my time is on a fixed schedule. I’m still getting used to it.”

What have you most enjoyed?

“Learning to write my ideals into proposed law!”

What’s been the most surprising part of your new job?

“I have been most surprised by the current state of our bureaucrats, as well as their ability to avoid responsibility…”

How do your fellow MPs feel about you?

“Since I’m usually in the office by six and stay until evening a lot of my fellow MPs think that I’m really enthusiastic!”

What are you hoping to achieve in your first year in office?

“In the first year I’m hoping to push for laws related to deepening our current democracy including reforming the referendum, voting for impeachment, laws regarding freedom of assembly and protest or demonstration, reformation of Parliament, transitional justice, etc.”

To find out more about Freddy’s New Power Party, head to www.ivotefreddy.com

For more on the Metal Takes A Stand campaign, check out www.metalhammer.com