We’ve long been proponents of the potential which non-English languages have for metal. Beyond “just” novelty, these languages offer different timbres, rhythms, and even sounds to play with. This stems from the, somewhat obvious, fact that each tongue places a different emphasis on certain parts of the sentence, contains different kinds of sounds, and prefers a certain kind of sound. The obvious examples are Scandinavian or Germanic languages, which have long impacted metal’s sound and evolution. But if you look a bit farther than just a different subset of Western Europe, you can find even more interesting permutations and potentials for the way vocals work in metal.
Aeternam are a fantastic example. This veteran, melodic death metal band have been making epic, Middle Eastern influenced music for a decade now. But on Al Qassam, their latest release, these influences are even more prominent. Their vocalist, Achraf Loudiy, includes Morocco in his geographical history and, throughout Al Qassam, lets Arabic either influence his inflection or even flat out sings in the language. Even where that’s not the case, the music is intimately influenced by musical conventions from the region, incorporating flourishes, ideas, and progressions from Middle Eastern music. Last, but not least, the lyrics on the album all revolve around Middle Eastern mysticism/religion.
While this is not exceptional per se for the band, since they’ve had plenty of tracks in the past which dealt with Middle Eastern ideas and aesthetics, it is even more prominent on Al Qassam. Tuning in to the very first track on the album should tell you how much more prominent. Not only is this the very first track, it is also self-titled and sung entirely in Arabic. The track also references multiple Middle Eastern characters, like Moses. The aforementioned musical influences are also clear to see, especially on the drums, which take their meter and style from the darbuka drum, an instrument central to Middle Eastern music. This is married with some incredibly engaging, melodic death metal riffs to set the stage for the album as a whole.
But listen to how the more guttural sounds of Arabic blend so well with the distortion of the guitars. Their timbre has the same kind of rugged tones that the guitars do and thus, everything gets amplified to one, epic whole. Even better, this kind of contrast is not a gimmick; Aeternam are sparse in using this contrast, repeating it only once, when Orphaned Land singer Kobi Farchi makes a guest appearance on the moving “Palmyra Scriptures” (alluding, of course, to the ancient city of Palmyra, shamefully defaced by ISIS in the recent decade). Indeed, Aeternam are careful to not fall into a trap by referring constantly to the same heritage; Hebrew, Japanese, and Latin are all used on the album, alongside references to the respective cultures’ history, mythology and mysticism.
All of this makes Al Qassam way more than just an album featuring a track in a different language. Instead, it’s an exploration of the potential which other, non-European cultures have to bring to metal’s established sound. It’s definitely an Aeternam album; if you’re after their established sound of massive riffs, blast-beats, soaring vocal lines and choruses, you won’t be disappointed. But I hope you’ll also take the time to dig deeper and explore the ideas, timbres, and rhythms set out by Aeternam on this album and the potential that these different schools of music might have for what is, undeniably, a Western dominated genre today. Also, the breakdown on “Ascension” is fucking sick. There’s that as well.
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Aeternam’s Al Qassam was released on March 27th. You can grab it from the band’s Bandcamp above.