DVD review: “Heavy Metal in Baghdad”


“We are living in a heavy-metal world,” says a member of Acrassicauda, Iraq’s only metal band. Hard to argue with the dude, as he and his crew dodge shrapnel and see their basement rehearsal cubicle blasted to rubble amid his country’s occupation/civil war.

Since New York documentarians Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi had to keep their heads low themselves while collecting footage for their project, we gotta forgive them for failing to answer some obvious questions. Why are Acrassicauda the only metal band? Are they the only headbangers who can afford the gear? (One runs an electronics store.) What are their family backgrounds? Do they have religious convictions? How did they get into metal? How did they learn to play?

But whatever Moretti and Alvi omit ranks as insignificant compared to what they commit to film. “Heavy Metal in Baghdad” is a story of metal music and metal determination, but mainly it’s a valuable peek into what’s happening to the people whose lives this war has destroyed.

Our musicians are a lovable bunch -- hard-working, short-haired to avoid persecution, able to communicate in English with de rigueur metalese slatherings of the F-word. When they claim they’d be criminals and killers if they didn’t have metal as an outlet, we can only smile; we root for them as they put together rare basement shows for a few dozen testosterone-charged youths (no Islamic chicks allowed) and try to keep their thing together.

Conditions continue to deteriorate, though, as does the band’s sympathy with the occupiers (“F*ck this democracy”) and with the Americans at home who remain willfully blind to the plight of the millions of Iraqi refugees (“F*ck you”). We like to think life goes on with a semblance of normality for many in Iraq; no doubt it will be a disappointment to discover that it doesn’t, not even for the educated and relatively affluent.

Some surprises emerge. One band member, a Shiite married to a Sunni, claims there’s no real sectarian conflict in the region (!). It’s educational to learn that you can hire a mini-army of unemployed Iraqi engineers and bookkeepers as armed bodyguards, translators and drivers for only $1,500 a day total. And did you know that in Syria, the prime destination for the Iraqi exodus, public singing is banned?

Hey, when it comes to the brand of vocal woofery that Acrassicauda practices . . . you call that singing? Just kidding, their music is good; I’d buy it if they had distribution. Check out the band’s blog and other info about the movie at www.heavymetalinbaghdad.com.