Movie note: Heavy metal (the musical kind) in Iraq


“If you wanna know the attraction, look around. We’re living in a heavy metal world,” Iraqi heavy metal band Acrassicauda band members told the directors of Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Some people may think being a heavy metal band in Iraq is “really fucking stupid, but you know…heavy metal rules!”

Heavy Metal in Baghdad, a documentary film directed by Suroosh Alvi and Eddy Moretti. Screening at the St. Anthony Main Theater on October 28 (7:15 p.m.) as part of the Sound Unseen film festival. Admission $8. For more information, see

Acrassicauda (Iraqi for “the black scorpion”) persist in playing the heavy metal music they love, inspired by Metallica, in spite of increasing difficulties. This is an exciting film, a great story depicting Acrassicauda’s ordeal of a band who have to carry guns to their practice space. Major tragedies and small triumphs occur over years of their young musical career, as the story of Firas (bass), Marwan (drums), Tony (lead guitar) and Faisal (rhythm guitar) comes to represent the untold tale of what it means to be Iraqi civilians and rock ‘n’ roll refugees.

Living in a police state, facing the constant threat of being shot or bombed every minute they set foot outside, makes it nearly impossible to practice, let alone perform shows in public (one show is immediately shut down when fans began headbanging). The risk is only exacerbated by being subjects of a documentary film. In the six years chronicled by the film, the band perform only five times.

According to the U.N., 75 singers have been killed in Iraq since the beginning of the war. Music-filled parties and all kinds of singing are banned. There’s been an exodus of 2.4 million Iraqis to other countries, mainly in the Middle East—700,000 to Jordan, 1.2 million to Syria. Only 466 have been allowed into the U.S.

Syria is where the members of Acrassicauda gradually move to, where they become “rock ‘n’ roll refugees,” and things there are only somewhat better—they have one live show, and can’t call it “heavy metal.” Like so many Iraqis, they have to leave behind relatives and friends, perhaps forever. (There’s a tragically poetic scene of a graveyard in Syria filled with graves of Iraqi refugees, located just a couple blocks from the bus stop where Iraqi refugees set foot in Syria.) After Acrassicauda’s first ever recording session, a landmark in their career, they are exhilarated but cannot celebrate knowing how hard the lives are of the ones they’d left behind. Also, they are not given the same rights as other foreigners in Syria. “We are less than foreigners here,” says Faisal. “We are less than zero.”

In their early years as a band in Iraq, they didn’t sing political songs. “We don’t give a fuck about news,” they said. In the face of obstacles, they rapidly become more cynical and angry. By the end of six years, they are singing songs about the war: “Massacre,” “Between the Ashes,” and more.

“No one expected heavy metal could exist in Baghdad,” says Faisel. “We changed that.” Viewing the band’s hope, resilience, and determination to play heavy metal at all costs makes the viewer really feel the costs of war. This extraordinary film will show you that music is a privilege never to be taken for granted.

Cyn Collins is a Twin Cities freelance arts and culture writer. She is the author of West Bank Boogie, a substitute programmer at KFAI, and an assistant producer of Write On Radio.

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