Our new Fresh Act Blaakyum hails from Beirut, Lebanon, not quite the nicest place for Metalheads … find out what official news media won’t tell you, what was a culture shock for the band, what scares them and what’s going on in the Middle East underground.
Hey guys, I stumbled into your Tuska gig by accident and totally liked it – but I don’t know anything about you, and I assume it’s the same for most of our readers, so could you please introduce yourselves: who are you, how have you met and got the idea to form a band – was it difficult to find band members?
Bassem Deaïbess: Hello, thank you so much for checking us out! We are just regular dudes with irregular lives The band’s history is too long and I would not want to bore you with the details. I formed the band in 1995, before the existence of social Media, so finding members was an exciting adventure. My neighbour and I wanted to form a band, and we started looking for members, my neighbour remembered that his classmate was into Metal and was learning guitar, so he contacted him, and this is how we met Jad Nohra who is a co-founder of the band and was the lead guitarist. Few weeks later we found a drummer called Jean Saad right before our first gig that we did for the Church! And then one of my brothers, Samer Deaïbess, joined on Bass… this was the original formation. From then up until 2001 Blaakyum passed through 5 major line-up changes before I called it a day.
I then reformed the band in 2007 with new musicians. One of them is Rany Battikh, the bassist, who is the longest lasting member in Blaakyum other than myself. Also from 2007 till 2016 the band had many line-up changes. It is not an easy thing, and sometimes not even fun anymore, to be in a Metal band in a regressing country like Lebanon. The formation that recorded our recent album Line Of Fear was: Rany Battikh on bass, Jad Feitrouni on drums who joined the band in January 2009, Rabih Deaïbess on lead guitar, who happens to be my younger brother and who joined the band in 2012 and myself. We have also Elie Abou Abdo on Tabla (Lebanese Percussion) who joined as a sessionist in 2015. Sadly Jad Feitrouni had to leave the band because he is immigrating to Canada, and was replaced by Hassan Kheder, who is from Saudi Arabia and recently moved to Lebanon. Also Rany Battikh at the moment can’t perform with the band due to his sporadic work schedule and his preparation for marriage. Pierre Le Port, who also moved recently to Lebanon from France, joined just few months ago. This is the formation that performed at Tuska Open Air.
In the past it was much easier to find musicians. Today it is like looking for water in a desert!
How did you get into Metal music, and when did you decide to become musicians, was it a particular song, or a band?
Bassem Deaïbess: Music has always been part of my life, thanks to my visionary father, who raised me on classical music, and fuelled my imagination. During my early teens I was interested in Pop and breakdance. I was introduced to Metal music through our national radios in Lebanon, prior to the ban on Metal after the mid-90s. I had just started to learn guitars, and needless to say, I couldn’t figure out how to dance to that music!! (laughs) I tried, believe me, but to no avail, also I was not able to play the pop music I used to listen to on the guitar, just didn’t seem right!
Thanks to mainly my cousins and my French teacher, I was oriented in the right path. First with Bodycount, since I was still into Rap and hip hop back then, and that was a nice transition from Pop, and the Scorpions. Then I bought my first ever Metal cassette tapes, a double tape of Lose Your Illusion I and II, and Metallica’s Black Album and AC/DC’s Ballbreaker. Few months after that I saw a Les Paul guitar for sale in a tailor’s shop!! It was a cheap brand, and I was thrilled. As a typical dream of a late-teenage-years beginner musician I wanted to form a band. Finding a vocalist was out of the question. Where I lived I was probably the only Rocker there. So I started to sing as well. I cannot say there was a single song or band that inspired me to be a musician. I was into the performing arts from a young age, as I organised dance shows at my school. It is just that Metal was able to reach my inner emotions like no other music did… except Classical music. I just didn’t want to follow the flock. Metal became a good means to express myself, in an ultra-Christian conservative environment. Although I was a Christian believer back then, Metal represented the critical-thinking breather that was absent from our education system and our traditional social norms. It was in Metal that I felt I belong.
Rabih Deaïbess: The fact that my brother formed Blaakyum when I was at the age of 6, made me want to become a metalhead, and mainly Symphony X’s album Divine Wings of Tragedy was what made me want to form a band.
Hassan Kheder: I came across the games “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band” when I was 12. After completing those games, in the hardest level on the drums, I was already introduced to bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden. And I started watching every possible drum video I could find on Youtube. I was mesmerised. I then begged my parents for a drum kit, and they got me an electronic drum set. I started learning on my own, as there are no drum teachers in KSA. And I started getting interested in heavier bands.
What does the band name mean, is there a story behind it?
Bassem Deaïbess: I think I was 14 or 15 when I first came up with the name, so even before I formed the band. One part of the story has to do with Christian connotations… another is that I have always been fond of shapes that translate into sounds and that look and sound cool! Also being into Metal and loving the colour Black, which I see as elegant and neat, I combined these two elements, Black and –ium, the suffix used for Metal elements in Chemistry such as Uranium for example. Now making it Blackium did not look appealing to me, BLAAKYUM had more symmetry and balance, it looked cooler, and… well and other stuff
What are you doing ”in real life” – as I assume it’s the same for you like with most Metal bands, that you cannot make a living from it?
Bassem Deaïbess: I studied psychology, and now resumed my studies as I am aiming to ultimately get a PhD. But I never worked in the field, nor am I intending to. I do want to become a researcher, the scientific aspect of it appeals to me more than the practice. I had many jobs throughout the years, I owned a Metal pub for few years, between 2006 and 2009, prior to that I worked as a VJ in clubs, later I became a Rock Performer in a prestigious Club/Venue/Label called Music Hall Beirut. But that had a bad effect on the band as I was bonded by the contract and was not allowed to perform outside the Venue/Label events. So I quit! That was in 2011, after that I decided never to take on a job that would hinder the band. Not an easy thing to do, but I am managing! I sometimes give music or vocal lessons, but mostly now my income comes from writing articles, and teaching private lessons.
Rabih Deaïbess: I manage a pub in Lebanon, I teach music and guitars, and I’m the president of an NGO that takes care of Syrian refugees.
Hassan Kheder: I am currently doing my freshman year at university.
How did your style develop, what are your major influences?
Bassem Deaïbess: At first I was into Heavy Metal, stuff like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Warrior, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Manowar, and Dream Theater and Symphony X. After Blaakyum split in 2001, I started singing with a cover band called Communion, which opened my ears more to Classic Rock and Hard Rock, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Kingdom Come… etc. After I reformed Blaakyum I was fanatically a Thrash and Heavy Metal listener, but as I grew older, and angrier, Death Metal, Technical Death, Black Metal and Grind/Death made it into my daily listening sessions. Of course Classical music has always been my favourite and modern Classical music or what is known as Film Music as well. I am into World music, ethnic stuff, mostly Celtic and European medieval, maybe because I was a huge Powermetal fan for some time. Classical Arabic and Middle Eastern music especially Andalusian music that we call Mouwashahat, traditional cultural music of the region such as Kodoud Halabia, and our own Fairuz and Al Rahbani music, as well as some leftist political oriental music like Marcel Khalife… I mean I can go on and on… As for Metal, today I can say my main influences are Onslaught, Testament, Overkill, Sodom, Kreator and Cryptopsy.
Rabih Deaïbess: My style developed from Alternative to Rock to Metal, though I started as a Symphony X fan, but as I grew up I went more into the likes of Creed, Stained, and such Alternative bands, while my favourite band was and still is Led Zeppelin , Pantera was the band that got me back into Metal and specially Thrash.
Hassan Kheder: The bands I was interested in were very unorthodox. They are part of the Avant-garde crossovers between many Metal genres, very technical and very weird; for instance, Meshuggah’s Tomas Haake was a major influence on me. Although I did watch a lot of drums videos on YouTube, I did not try to watch any drum instructions videos, I preferred to learn on my own by trial and error. So I guess I developed a personal style, for better or worse.
Who is the most popular musician / band in your home country, which style do they play? Is this ”the music played in hell” for you, or would it be worse for you to listen to US radio pop or central European Schlager / so-called-Folk music (just google the German term ”volkstümliche Musik” and listen to the stuff …)?
Bassem Deaïbess: I checked volkstümliche Musik! It’s bad, but not half as bad as our own Arabic pop. YES the most popular music here is “the music played in hell”. Disgusting talentless shallow idiotic music called Arabic Pop. Such as the despicable Elisa, the worthless Haifa Wehbe who is loved more for her disgusting boobs rather than her non-existent singing voice, Najwa Karam, who has an incredible voice but sings the most idiotic lyrics to the most recycled talentless music, and the most useless form of entertainment. So no, listening to US Pop, and Central Europe pop is comparatively much less painful, but only if we exclude mainstream R&B that is as much a disgrace on humanity as Arabic Pop, and of course if we exclude manufactured sounds that some people call music such as Justin Bieber and One Direction who split up recently, and hopefully forever.
There is almost nothing that I know about the Metal scene in the Middle East, except those troubles people encounter just being Metal fans (people who live here now told me), or troubles bands get into (e.g. Swallow The Sun were not allowed to play at a festival in Dubai) and stuff from Sam Dunn’s documentary Global Metal …
Bassem Deaïbess: To be honest, the Swallow the Sun incident in Dubai was the result of one envious promoter contacting the authorities claiming he is a concerned parent and claiming that Swallow the Sun’s lyrics are degrading to the “national morals”. But other than that the only Metal band that was not allowed in Dubai was Saxon during the Desert Rock Festival era, and that was because of their song Crusaders that was considered offensive to Islam. Otherwise Iron Maiden, Metallica, Black Sabbath just to name few are some of the bands who have performed in Dubai, Maiden performed more than once there, Megadeth, Machine Head… all made it to Dubai with no problems. In fact Metal in Dubai is freer than anywhere else in the Middle East.
Egypt on the other hand has the worst recent record of oppressing Metalheads. Lebanon passed through hard times especially during the two major crackdowns on Metal in 1996 and 2002 and the last attack we faced in 2012 which did not last as long as the first two waves. The Syrian regime cracked down on Metal after 2003, following in the Lebanese authorities’ footsteps, but mostly not because the music is considered “Satanic”, but because it was seen as “propagating the immoral western culture”… whatever that stupidity means. Also during the 90s Morocco’s Metal scene faced persecution but it was supported by the educated population and journalists, unlike in Lebanon and Egypt where journalists are those who initiate the attacks.
In Lebanon things are never certain. We have had two major crackdowns on Metal that reduced the scene that used to be relatively big to a very small scene struggling to survive. But the worst place is definitely Saudi Arabia, followed by Iran. Syria and Iraq are all but destroyed so there is little we can say any more about that, but in Iraq also a few Metalheads were executed because they were accused of witch craft. Similar things happened in Iran and Saudi Arabia but rarely ever make the news especially in KSA which doesn’t allow the news to be spread.
… in Iraq also a few Metalheads were executed because they were accused of witch craft…
So how ”dangerous” is it to be a Metal band in Beirut? You mentioned 2 times jail in your biography – has anything changed to the better since then or is a Metal fan still ”one foot in jail” in your country? How ”underground” is the Metal scene in your home country?
Bassem Deaïbess: Definitely the situation in Lebanon today is better than before, I do not know if the reason is that the Metal Scene has shrunk considerably to the point where people do not notice us, or because some people got some sense into their heads. But as the 2012 Massacore incident showed us, we can expect things to blow up at any moment. The problem is that the Church is very strong here and controls a lot of aspects of daily life. And so do other religions that are intricate in our sectarian political system. And journalism in Lebanon is of a very low disgraceful standard, and usually initiates the “witch hunts” through making up fictional stories, and sadly in general the Lebanese people are not well educated about this and are very religious and believe whatever the newspapers and their clergy tell them.
But as well, we have a small margin of freedom, or semi-freedom. When the church, the mosque, the journalists and the government are busy with their own feudal conflicts, they forget about us. Metal shows are frequent these days, although sadly the attendance Is nowhere like the old days. In 1997, a big rock Festival was held in Beirut, although was called Rock Concert I… yeah we had no reason to come up with names :P, it was a purely Metal festival that had around 15 local metal bands, and in 1998 again we had the second version of that concert which had around 20 Metal bands. The attendance was between 1000 and 1800, then in 2001 we had our first recurring Metal festival called Rock Nation, with an attendance that went up to 2500. Rock Nation remained a yearly event from 2001 till 2008 except in 2002. Also we had two other major events organised by RockRing, which is a local Rock and Metal promotion company, they were called Back To The Roots, and Summer Fusion. In 2009 Summer Fusion gathered around 2000 attendees, and in 2010 around 1700 but then stopped. Between 2011 and 2015 we only had one major Metal festival called Beirut Rock Festival that had two editions, that’s when To Die For, Anathema, Moonspell and Katatonia came to Lebanon.
The problem is that most major Metal gathering places were shut down, I closed my Metal pub that I had running since 2006, and the major venue we used to have our gigs at was demolished and turned into a parking lot. So the scene gradually diminished. Summer Fusion was revived in 2015 with an attendance of only around 300 people sadly. But at least gigs are being held on an almost a monthly basis. Metal is underground in the sense that it is not mainstream, we have no radio or TV coverage, and no one would sponsor a Metal event, they prefer to sponsor a Psytrance or Electronica events. But that is about it, we are not underground in the sense that we hide or anything. At least not any more. How long till the next witch hunt? No one knows.
Hassan Kheder: I wasn’t around when the Metal scene was alive in Saudi Arabia as I was still young. But the early 2000s were the peak for the Saudi Metal Scene as there was the possibility to hold few concerts a bit far in the desert without the authorities knowing. No tickets were allowed to be sold, so these were not proper events, they were just gatherings far out from the cities that only Metalheads knew about and that were actual free concerts, so pretty much underground. The last successful concert was in 2007. But the organisers did two mistakes, they sold tickets and the event was mixed, as in males and females, which is illegal. So the religious police cracked down on the event, and arrested as many people as they could. They were accused of witchcraft and devil worshipping. As far as I know, no one was executed, but many remained in jail for years. This was the last ever event in Saudi Arabia outside closed residential compounds.
Is your country the worst or is there even some worse situation in neighbouring countries?
Bassem Deaïbess: As I said, compared to other countries in the Middle East except Dubai in UAE, we are way better off. At least we do not get killed for being Metalheads like in KSA, Iran and Iraq. Also sadly Egypt that has a huge Metal scene is always under the scrutiny of the police, and allegations of Satan worshiping never cease there. Apart from occasional police suspicions and short questioning at checkpoints, as well as few religious hate speeches given either at school or in places of worship, we have not had any major incident in Lebanon since 2012. And although there is no law against Satanism, and in principle our constitution grants freedom of religion, albeit in the mentality of the majority of Lebanese, this is only limited to be free to choose one of the 18 approved sects in the country, being an atheist is practically not accepted and even if you are an atheist, you are obliged to be registered under a certain religion, we have no civil personal status law that is independent from the religious courts. So practically Satanism is not illegal, what is illegal is blasphemy, and it is punishable by law. So Metalheads, goths, hippies, and people with “suspicious” looks and lifestyles are always under scrutiny for Blasphemy and insult of religion. Also we are suspects of drug abuse, usually we would be stopped randomly on the streets by the police to check if we are using or carrying drugs!! If you are wearing a suit, you would never be frisked. So things are on the edge, but we are being left alone for the time being.
Hassan Kheder: I think Saudi Arabia is among the worst when it comes to Metal music. Since there are no more concerts in KSA, all active bands such as Creative Waste for example, are trying hard to perform outside of KSA, they are paying a lot of money and struggling just to be able to do that. And they are excellent musicians that are completely self-taught which is the case for a lot of musicians in Saudi Arabia, as there is nothing interesting for Metalheads to do in KSA. A lot of these bands spend a lot of time at home perfecting their craft.
What is it like for female Metal fans in your country – because that’s probably the big NO-NO … or are there even any female Rock / Metal musicians?
Bassem Deaïbess: Of course there are female Rock/Metal musicians, for example BandAge is a Rock/Metal act that has been around for the past decade fronted by Ms. Nathalie Jeha, it is mainly a cover band, but one of the most popular. Also Ms. Jeha is extremely active in both the Rock and the Metal scene. We also have a band called EPIC which is a Hard Rock band fronted by Mrs Tanya Rizkala. We have Zix, a Heavy Metal band that was fronted by Ms. Maya Khairalla who is an incredible Metal vocalist, although they parted ways now, Zix are still fronted by a female vocalist, and Maya is still active in the scene. Also we have female growlers like Ms. Paula Wihbe, who is also a Metal Radio DJ and is very active in the scene. We have a lot of female musicians, drummers, guitarists, bassists etc… Also in general unlike a lot of other scenes, females are as many as males in Metal events, this was true when the scene was big, and is still true today. Also now we have two ALL females bands, one is called IKLIL that plays Rock, and one is called Slave To Sirens which is a Metal band.
Hassan Kheder: There was an all Saudi female rock band called The AccoLade VIDEO HERE. But they have to preserve their identity so as to not get into trouble, so I have no idea who they are. And they are no longer active. But there are female Saudi musicians that I know of but none that are actually playing in a band or trying to make it, it is just a hobby thing.
unlike a lot of other scenes, females are as many as males in Metal events
Did you have to break ties with your family for being a Metal musician, or do you have full support of your families?
Bassem Deaïbess: Depends, although personally I had my share of quarrels with my family during my teen years, which was centred on the idea of “don’t let this hobby affect your studies” I am blessed with the full support of my parents and family, they realise that it is important for me, and they see the art in it and they appreciate my talent. Some parents here do oppose their children to be a fan of Metal or a Metal musician, so usually the person is forced to do it in secret, but rarely did I hear of anyone breaking the ties with his family to be a Metal musician here.
Hassan Kheder: Luckily my parents are supportive, as my dad bought me my drum set. But I realise that such parents are a minority in Saudi Arabia.
Is it difficult to play live in your home country, do you have to organize gigs yourselves? What are the major challenges, the equipment or legal issues (you don’t get permission to play at / rent a venue and the like)?
Bassem Deaïbess: It has become increasingly difficult to find a proper venue. And the experience of playing live in Lebanon is rarely pleasant due to the lack of proper sound engineers. But other than that, we do have regular gigs, in the past we had much more, and we had more options for venues. Up till 2010 we had two main clubs in Lebanon that had regular Metal shows, Nova Club which used to host Metal events from time to time, and Cherry’s Pub which I owned and was mainly a Metal Club. And we had one indoor venue that we used to always rent called Tantra. Sadly Nova no longer accepts Metal gigs, Cherry’s closed in 2009 and Tantra was demolished in 2010. We still find small venues to do small gigs, although sometimes the venues are not prepped for a Metal atmosphere. And we do have some open air spaces we rent to make bigger gigs. In clubs we do not need any permission, in open spaces depending on the place, if it is a resort like a private beach we do not need permissions, if it is a Municipality theatre or a certain building with a big space we get permission to hold a “party/show” from the municipality. We do not need to specify what music we are playing, in Lebanon it is much easier to get a permit than in Egypt, and requires much less paperwork and producers than in Dubai for example.
We do have few small organisations that organise concerts and gigs such as RockRing and Metal-Bell, with Metal-Bell also being our major Lebanese Rock and Metal Webzine currently. We also have Independent organisations that work in entertainment but are owned by Metalheads such as YM Events and thus they support and organise few Metal events. We have one big entertainment company called 2U2C, who was founded by Mr. Jyad El Murr the owner of NRJ radio and who is a rocker himself, 2U2C organise, among other events, Rock and Metal events such as Beirut Rock Festival. But lately it is becoming more frequent for bands to organise their own events, in the past there was always a person who dedicated their time to such things, but now bands are faced with the problem of the lack of events and are doing their own small gigs. As for equipment, we have few music instruments stores, but the choices are extremely limited.
Hassan Kheder: There is no one that is willing to take the risk any more to organise an event in Saudi Arabia, after the horrors of the 2007 concert. In fact Saudi Metalheads are deeply frustrated with and disturbed by the society and the culture. They are just trying to make ends meet. Pretty depressing shit.
Can you describe what ”a typical day for your band at your home town” looks like – how often do you rehearse, where, did you have to build your own rehearsal place / studio?
Bassem Deaïbess: A typical day would be that we meet up at the rehearsal studio, we rehearse, we finish, then we spend around an hour chatting discussing stuff either band related or not. Most of our communication is on social media and especially Whatsapp, even when it is not band related, we keep in contact there, because mostly everyone’s private life outside the band is a bit different than the others’, since some of us are married, some are still at university, and some have jobs they hate!
In the 90s, Blaakyum did build its own rehearsal studio, as we were given a small part of a big building basement that belonged to our drummer’s father. We did have primitive rehearsal rooms, mainly just an empty room with horrible acoustics and poor ventilation. But today band rehearsal studios are very common, especially in big cities like Beirut, Zahle and Tripoli, and in touristic towns such as Jounieh, Byblos and Batroun.
What I noticed are your ”political” lyrics and very clear statements– not so many Metal bands here speak of political / social issues directly, they rather wrap it into dystopian future scenarios or the horrors of the past. How do you perceive the Western Metal scene – in Finland it has become mainstream, and also elsewhere a bit of this ”revolutionary touch” has been lost, perhaps?
Bassem Deaïbess: Yes we do notice that. This is why we make a point of reminding the Metalheads whenever we play in Europe to always realise how lucky they are not to have the amount of problems we do, and we urge them to keep in mind that anything can change so fast, as we are witnessing all these political changes, especially in Europe and USA. These changes frighten us, with the rise of fanatica and racist nationalism, it feels that the whole world is in a state of regression, Europe was a place that represented for us the faith in Humanity and at some point we feel we are losing that. Not all bands have lost their revolutionary touch though. Bands like Kreator, Nuclear Assault and Megadeth are still very much political and have straight messages as well. But through our experience in Europe and especially in Finland we realised that Metalheads are very eager to receive unpolished and untoned down political messages, they do relate. I believe Metalheads are the first to feel the blow of the conservative politics that is creeping back into Europe. Being politically correct was never a Metal thing and there is nothing we enjoy more than being politically extremely INcorrect
these changes frighten us, with the rise of fanatica and racist nationalism … I believe Metalheads are the first to feel the blow of the conservative politics that is creeping back into Europe
What is your major concern for the (near) future, a terrorist group like IS or a person like Donald Trump, something else?
Bassem Deaïbess: I see both ISIS and Donald Trump as a threat to our liberty, the first through terrorism and the second through idiocy, bigotry and utter disconnection from reality, in the end without the likes of Trump and the many equally horrible American politicians we wouldn’t have had Al Qaida and IS. But what I fear the most, is the return of the Conservatives to Europe. All this blame game that is being thrown on immigrants and the segregation that this is creating, the politics of paranoia and the industry of fear that feeds the new political sphere is frightening to say the least. We saw the first example in Brexit. We are witnessing great and modern nations shooting themselves in the foot… or head if you want. Regardless of all its problems and certain level of corruption or misleadership the EU had something beautiful, and maybe for some this might seem insignificant but for me personally I used to see it as a step forward in human history: the abolishment of borders! The idea that a human being had the right to go from his home in, let’s say Paris to a friend’s house in Warsaw without passing any borders was… incredible. Maybe because I live in a country where getting a visa is a time consuming and humiliating process! But I always dreamt of a world without borders… Maybe I am naïve.
Rabih Deaïbess: Donald Trump.
If you could be presidents of your home country and change everything, what would you change first?
Bassem Deaïbess: I would tax the religion institutions. And make it illegal to practice religion publicly. And although you didn’t ask, but the very next thing and the most crucial is a total reform of our educational system: create an independent technocratic national organisation that handles educational laws and separate it from the government and religious institutions. YES no more catholic or Islamic schools, if you want to learn your Quran or Bible go to your clergyman not to a school.
Rabih Deaïbess: Ban religion from politics.
Hassan Kheder: Saudi Arabia is a country with lots of resources and connections, but they are trying to expand in the scientific field, while completely limiting and oppressing artistic expression. For me this is very hypocritical; as I see it, the two go along together. So the first thing I would do, is give liberty to every single person, females and males, to express their right artistically.
What is a stereotype about Western culture you discovered is totally true, and which stereotype other people have about your culture is annoying you the most?
Bassem Deaïbess: I discovered, although never had doubts, that in general Western culture is an individualist culture. And I like that a lot.
As for stereotypes about Lebanon… hmm.
Other than thinking that Lebanon has a desert?! Hmm… the idea that Lebanon is an Islamic country, it seems a bit hard for people in the west to realise that Middle East doesn’t mean Islam. Which is extremely annoying.
Rabih Deaïbess: About the stereotype about Lebanon: The fact that people think that we live in a desert and that we don’t have smart phones (Laughs)
You have played abroad already in the past (Metalcamp etc) – do you have a funny or weird story to tell, e.g. mishaps, or some cultural clashes and the like?
Bassem Deaïbess: In 2012 we organised our own tour in Europe, meaning the tour was made casually by us, as in simply we bought plane tickets, reached Europe and just took trains and public transportation to go from venue to venue, dragging our luggage and instruments along the way. We were going from Slovenia to Slovakia; we arrived late to Ljubljana central train station and it was closed so we couldn’t book the whole trip. We were told by people there on the platform that we could just go on the train and pay inside as long as we knew which train we need to take. Luckily we had already printed out the route, so we knew which train to take. We hopped on the first train from Slovenia going towards Slovakia that included passing through Austria and Czech Republic.
The first two train switches went smoothly, apart from the fact that we had to be quick with the entire luggage, instruments and locating which platform we needed to be on before the next train leaves. The third connection we had only 5 minutes between our arrival and the departure of the next train. So we went down and quickly asked which train we should be on; the train was pointed out to us and they asked us to hurry as the train was leaving. The luggage and instruments alone needed 5 minutes to be carried from one train to another. So we rushed. We were happy we made it on time and sat in our seats. The ticket inspector came, and we did as we were doing before, tell them we do not have a train ticket and that we want to buy them on the spot. So the inspector told us “you cannot buy train tickets here, if you do not have a ticket each should pay 60 Euros fine!” That was bad news as we did not have that money; we only had enough money to finish the tour and go back home. So our drummer told him “But we have been paying for tickets like this before” so the inspector said: “That was in Slovenia, here it is Austria, and it is different”.
That was our first shock as it was the first time in our lives we cross borders without seeing an actual border check, we had no idea that we were in a different country now, it felt so surreal. Upon waking up from that shock we tried to plead with him not to fine us. I asked him: “we do not want to pay a fine and we do not have the money to pay the fine, we are tourists, we did not know that. What can we do?” So he told us that we have to buy the tickets to the whole journey at the next stop. So the next stop came and he said: “you have to go down and buy the tickets, you have one minute”. ONE MINUTE!!!
It was not enough, I couldn’t possibly go down, in a place I had never been to, not to mention that we have no trains in Lebanon, so it was my first experience with trains, which meant I needed to go around trying to locate the conductor, or the desk where I would need to explain where we are going, no idea if there would be a language barrier or if they would understand English, and get the tickets and come back all in one minute?! Already sometimes it would take us around 5 to 8 minutes just to cross from one platform to the appropriate one! So I said: “one minute is not enough” so he said: “then you need to go out”. Our drummer said to me: “No we will not move this entire luggage out, just go get the tickets I will hold the door and won’t let it close” This can be considered a cultural clash thing as well, because in Lebanon we are used to always going around things, we always find a way to override the system. So our drummer thought that train doors would not close if you put your hand out, and trains won’t leave if doors are not closed so he could buy me time. I was against the idea, but time was running out. So I jumped down and ran towards the desk. But less than 15 seconds later I hear the sound of the train leaving!! I turn around and see my drummer long faced, pointing to the door! The door closed and he couldn’t do anything about it. Now here is the thing. I had all the money, and they had the phones. So they were left without money and I was left without any means to contact them.
It was the most stressful moment of the tour for me. I just sat down not knowing what to do. Till a sweet Austrian guy saw me and asked me what the matter was. Once I explained, he was extremely sweet and offered me his phone to call them. Problem is, it was an international call, and none of them had roaming on! So I did the only thing I could think of: Call the drummer’s girlfriend (now wife) and tell her that if our drummer contacted her, to tell him to remain in whatever station they are at and I will find them. Then I bought a ticket to the next station, I thought I will keep hopping from one station to the next till I find them. I took the train to the next station, extremely stressed out and feeling down. As soon as I got there and went down, and walked a bit along the platform I saw them there stranded with all the luggage and the instruments. Now I was stressed out. But them? THEY WERE FUCKING LAUGHING, turned out they were just joking around waiting for me to show up! They were shooting videos, making silly jokes and just having fun. They ran towards me and hugged me mockingly! They had received my message and were waiting for me.
I assume it was your first gig ever in Finland. How did you get here, how did you like Tuska, the Metal fans, the people, Finnish food and customs? What was the weirdest ”cultural shock” here (for me it was this Finnish candy Salmiakki)?
Bassem Deaïbess: OH YES, the Salmiakki was so weird for sure. For me the fact that Metal was mainstream was so weird. I still cannot grasp the concept that Metal is a norm in a whole country, that’s fucking heaven. The best thing about it is that it still feels so damn Metal, you would think being mainstream would make it change. The Finns know their Metal pretty well. Another thing was more a geographical shock rather than cultural. The fact that the sun never really sets! That was a bit uncomfortable for me as I do not really like the sun at all. But then I was thinking: in winter there will be barely any sun? It sounded like heaven in theory, although I have no idea how much that will affect me if I had to live it.
We got to Finland through Toni Törrönen. We met him in Wacken as he was the Finnish Metal Battle Organiser and a Judge. He was impressed by the fact that we came from Lebanon and was too kind to offer us to come to Finland.
I absolutely loved Tuska, the fact that all stages were close and we didn’t have to walk for miles to get to another stage. The fact that the schedule was so well done that we did not have to miss any band, and the high level of organisation, the lovely spacious backstage, the extremely friendly crew. The nicest people you can find. The Metalheads there are so friendly and nice. The fans were incredible; we have never felt so welcomed. The Finnish crowd gets it. I dunno what it is about them but they just know their shit.
Rabih Deaïbess: To be honest it felt much better than home, the people are so close to the heart, and so full of Metal and I loved that.
What I like about Finland, is that EVERYONE respects Metal whether they listen to it or not, and yes the candy was horrible :p
Hassan Kheder: I am still in a state of disbelief, I never thought I would ever play live in such an event AND watch some of my favourite bands live, such as Cattle Decapitation and Behemoth and Gojira… Finland was absolutely beautiful, it is my first trip to Europe.
Bassem Deaibess: I think Hassan dealt very well with the cultural shift he had to go through, from living all his life in KSA to going briefly to the USA, then coming to Lebanon and suddenly finding himself in a major Metal festival not watching but performing as well. I think this is due to his calm nature and regular meditation sessions. (ROTFL! the ed.)
What is coming up in the near future – a tour, a new album? How do people get your records?
Bassem Deaïbess: We will be on tour supporting Onslaught, Mors Principium Est and No Return in the Thrash Mercenaries tour, around Europe DETAILS HERE . We also started messing around with few riffs and melodies for the next album. Already we have one full song written and 3 others almost done.
People can buy our albums from online stores such as iTune, Amazon.com, Spotify and a lot more other online outlets. For a physical CD we will be bringing some with us while we are on tour.
And finally – what would be an interview question you have never been asked before but would love to answer?
Rabih Deaïbess: What would you think will happen to Metal in 30 years?
I think this is a major concern to me as the big bands will stop playing in time, and a lot of styles don’t have new big names in them like Iron Maiden ,the Thrash scene, Heavy metal scene, I think we should start searching for the new band leaders to come.
Photos: band, Wojtek Dobrogojski & Paweł Wygoda – Fotoszot(y)