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Metal Goes Middle Eastern

by Chuck Eddy

Metal Goes Middle Eastern

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Metal will take its myths and legends -- and its riffs, too -- from anywhere, as long as they seem sufficiently ominous, mysterious and all-powerful. Norse gods and goddesses from the land of ice and snow have generally been first in line. But metal has also nurtured a long-running Middle Eastern (sometimes bordering on Far Eastern, Eastern European, Indian and/or Mediterranean) undercurrent, dating back most obviously to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" in 1975 and, even before that, to supposedly "psychedelic" drones initiated by bands like The Yardbirds and The Velvet Underground. Iron Maiden made metal's Egyptology explicit on the sphinx-and-pyramid cover (and, some say, the title track) of their 1984 album Powerslave. And since the '90s, the South Carolina death-metal band Nile has made it their whole concept.

Actual Middle Eastern bands -- most notably Israeli prog-metallers Orphaned Land and Assyrian-Israeli (but now Netherlands-based) black metallers Melechesh -- have turned folk influences from their part of the world into heavy, bludgeoning rock. To a lesser extent, so has System of a Down's Lebanon-born Armenian-American frontman Serj Tankian; even if metal fans aren't aware of him, so has the great France-based Algerian rai singer Rachid Taha. Countless other metal artists have incorporated Middle Eastern rhythms, melodies or themes as well -- sometimes on purpose, sometimes maybe inadvertently. This playlist offers 25 examples.

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