Metal as a movement has grown into a global phenomenon since its initial inception in Birmingham, England decades ago, with bands popping up in practically every nation on Earth and developing their own scenes and style over time. This is one of the aspects of the genre I love the most, as it leaves a lot of room for exploration into what underground acts all over the world do with the shared vocabulary of metal. Granted, more often than not it ends up being a band just following in the footsteps of bigger bands from their region or the global stars that everyone knows when talking about metal, but there are always those bands that incorporate their own culture into their music, whether lyrically or through the use of the musical traditions of their region, and I'm always up for finding bands who do that.
That sentiment is part of the reason why I decided to take a promo from a band called Mulla, who claim to be a black metal project from Iraq that sings exclusively in Arabic. As it turns out, the album ended up being fairly standard second-wave black metal with little to say about it, but I decided to read up a bit on the band to try and make it read a little less negatively. After all, they hail from a region where making music like this is difficult even in the best of times, so I at least wanted to look into their background and give them some credit for putting in the effort in spite of not being impressed with the results.
However, as I was researching the band, I discovered that there was some controversy over their background, mainly that there was overwhelming evidence to suggest that the band was lying about their country of origin. I brought this up to some online metal groups I'm a part of, and one of the members there pointed me in the direction of someone hailing from Saudi Arabia who is familiar with the Middle Eastern underground scene and was kind enough to serve as a consultant and a translator. After reading their lyrics, he noted that not only were they barely coherent rants about nothing, but also that the Arabic itself was literally written backwards, a common mistake that you often get using Google Translate. This confirmed to me that Mulla were, in fact, lying about their origins, but that led me to wondering what led them to do so. I decided to research the band further, along with other examples of this practice I could find, and because I already operate under the delusion that people read my normal output of reviews, I've decided to share my findings here, along with my thoughts about them.
The most notorious example of a metal band pulling this shit involves the black metal group Ghost Bath. They initially claimed to originate from Chongqing, China, going the extra mile and using Chinese characters for band pics, song titles, and the like. It wasn't until an interview with Kim Kelly of Noisey in 2015 that the band revealed they were actually from North Dakota. They go on to claim that they wanted to keep their actual location private but needed to give Bandcamp a location so they could publish their music on the site, so they decided to go with a country that they considered beautiful. However, a later interview with Black Metal Chronicles shows band leader Dennis admitting that there was no concrete reason for choosing China besides it just being the first place that came to mind, so I wouldn't be surprised if the reasons given in the previous interview were just the band trying to sound artsy in order to justify the decision to her, and maybe the audience overall. It's pretty clear from the first half of the article that Kim found Ghost Bath quietly posing as a Chinese act to be in poor taste, and that may well be the case. Still, outside of a single album cover and band photo with Chinese characters, they never really leaned on their backstory in their promotion, so while it was fair game to call them out, I can't say their lies were terribly exploitative or worth getting too worked up over.
That makes bands fabricating their background sound like a notable exception, but it really isn't. In fact, it's not uncommon for a band to make up stories about where they come from as a form of branding. While branding comes in many shapes and forms, in this particular case, it can generally be boiled down into a handful of categories.
Comedy is a pretty common reason for coming up with some bizarre location to hail from, for the stranger the location and the sillier the reason behind it, the better the odds of it actually being funny are. The first really big instance of this in metal was Gwar, whose backstory describes them as a group of intergalactic pirates sealed away in a temple in Antarctica before being unearthed by a sleazy business mogul and beginning their quest for world domination shortly afterwards. Sure, it's goofy as all hell, but that story does a good job establishing what the band is all about and even how they approach their music. Gwar are easily the most successful example of this kind of branding (financially speaking, if nothing else), but there is no shortage of bands who make up their background just for laughs. This can range from other big names like Type O Negative and their fictional homeland of Vinnland to the myriad of small joke bands that exist by the dozen, like the DSBM group Bussy...A Case Study and their claims of coming from Gaylord, Michigan (I bring up this band in particular because I found them early in my research and refuse to be the only one forced to know they exist).
Another reason for this kind of obfuscation is to create a sense of mystique around your band. This is most common among projects who wish to be as obscure as possible, whether it be for privacy or to appear mysterious and cool. Many of these bands claim to hail from Antarctica on account of it being devoid of life, which is also handy because you're less likely to step on toes doing so (who are they gonna offend, penguins?), but really, any location will do if you're vague enough about it. One of the more prominent examples of this is the Funeral Doom group Ea, a band so mysterious I can tell you literally nothing about them other than they claim to sing in a language reconstructed by archaeologists and have claimed to come from Russia, Wyoming and Antarctica over the span of their careers. You can find other bands with a similar approach to their location, such as the Black Metal band Escapade to Serenity and their point of origin bouncing from the Philippines to Belgium to even North Korea, but you're probably lucky if you find a band with this motive that even bothers giving you that much.
The biggest reason you find for bands doing this, so much so that it tends to encompass the previous points, is for grandeur. Put simply, every Metal band out there wants to look badass in some form or another, and what's more badass than claiming you come from somewhere cool? You can find Bandcamp Black Metal bands by the dozen who dubiously claim to hail from Norway for this reason, and every now and then you even find a something as grandiose and badass as the story behind the epic metal duo Doublegeddon, who claim to be a couple of Sumerian demigods from the 7th dimension that now hail from Antarctica and the Moon. Either way, a big part of metal is pageantry, and setting is an important component of that so, of course, a band would go out of their way to come up with one that makes them seem as awesome as possible.
I've given a fair bit of focus on this aspect of this practice, and that's mostly to make it clear that I don't have a problem with it on principle. Theatrics have been a part of the genre since Sabbath wanted to scare the shit out of people with their music way back when they started making metal, and a group claiming they come from somewhere else to tie into those theatrics is generally pretty reasonable. Most of the cases I've discussed so far I'd personally consider to be harmless, and even the Ghost Bath story isn't what I'd consider harmful, even if it is stupid. But then, I didn't decide to discuss this topic solely out of curiosity, I did it because I discovered bands whose apparent motives for lying about their backgrounds are irritating and genuinely insulting. So, with that in mind, let's take a look at some Global Posers.
The earliest of these Global Posers I can find are all part of a group known as the Arabic Anti-Islamic Legion, or the AAIL for short. They were a coalition of Black Metal bands that formed in the early 2010s that all claimed to be from countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The first and most infamous of them was Janaza, who gained notoriety and even some media attention from The Atlantic for their claims of being the first one-woman Black Metal band from Iraq run by a woman, who went by the name Anahita. The story Janaza fed to people was one steeped in tragedy and bloodshed, claiming that her family was killed by a suicide bomber in 2005 and that her music is an expression of the rage she has against the religion of Islam, which she denounced after "...reading some scientific facts and how Islam doesn't make sense at all with the current science, and they use the method of 'brainwashing' to convince people about Islam". She would go on to form the group Seeds of Iblis with like-minded individuals, who themselves had projects like تدنيس (pronounced tad-nees, which is Arabic for "desecration"), مسجد الشيطان (Mosque of Satan), and False Allah, thus forming the AAIL.
At least, that's the story as they tell it. It wasn't long before people started poking holes in the claims of this group, many of which can be found in this old article by Metal Illuminati. They note that various commenters pointed out that the bands in question stole many of their band photos from various sources, with Seeds of Iblis stealing an image from the band Vulture Lord, Tadnees from the Nazi band Morke (no, really), and most infamously of all, Anahita's picture being a plagirization of the photo made by photographer Raúl González for his Black Metal Barbie project.
You could argue that was all done as an extra measure to protect their identities, but that's not even scratching the surface on the evidence against them. The Illuminati article goes on to point out that many aspects of the band's backstory doesn't add up, such as the band trying to find a label for their music while residing in war-torn Iraq (you can ask actual Iraqi Metal group Acrassicauda how easy that is to do) and various members allegedly immigrating to the region to start Seeds of Iblis, which is patently absurd on the face of it.
Even then, you could argue that it was a blind passion to make Metal that drove them to it, but perhaps the most damning point against them is one raised by Metal Skunk in their article on the subject: the bands in question knew jack shit about Islam. Specifically, rather than say anything specifically critical about it, they just used the typical anti-Christian imagery common to Black Metal and slapped surface-level Islamic imagery over it. For example, you get song titles like "Inverted Hilal", presumably meant to evoke the image of an upside-down cross despite the fact inverting a hilal has no significance, and "Black Quran", which is supposed to be the equivalent of a Black Mass despite the fact the color black doesn't even have a negative meaning in the religion.
All of this information by itself is probably enough to show without a doubt the AAIL were lying sacks of shit, but I decided to go one step further and dig more info myself. After a little digging, I found a long-abandoned YouTube channel under the AAIL name and noticed a couple of Windows Moviemaker-grade videos entirely in Arabic. With the help of my translator, I confirmed that they were poorly cited rants against Islam that were once again written backwards. He would go on to comment that "it was very edgy and emanated European vibes."
As for the other two bands in the AAIL? Well, from what I can tell, they never actually existed in the first place. I can find their names mentioned on Metal-Archives and some RYM lists, but nothing outside of that. I guess there weren't enough people stupid enough to pull this kind of thing, so they had to make a few bands up to make themselves look more legitimate.
Interestingly enough, Seeds of Iblis are still actually around, apparently the only band from the AAIL that's still active. Their Bandcamp page is pretty adamant about their claims of being from Iraq in both English and their poorly translated Arabic. Hell, they even have a community post about it.
I have to say that even with everything I've dug up against this supposed legion, this right here might be the most pathetic thing I've seen from them. It shows that they're so desperate to keep up their lie that they let it slip that they only know how to talk about Iraq in the context of Islam and literally nothing else, which is pretty much the one glaring fact that makes it clear that they only claim to hail from the region just to gain sympathy and attention as they piss on it. So, with that in mind, should any of the members of Seeds of Iblis or the AAIL be reading this and wish to contact me with some kind of counter-claim against the fact that you're clearly liars and frauds, do me a favor and chug a gallon of tepid piss instead of wasting my time.
Of course, most of this is old news at this point, so let's return our focus to Mulla, the band that led me down this road in the first place. I've already noted how their lyrics are written backwards, and what I mean is that Arabic is meant to be read right to left, whereas Mulla writes left to write because they just slap their lyrics in Google Translate and call it a day. Hell, the band admitted it themselves in this screenshot, which also shows one of their labels dropping them and their vinyl reissue of their debut.
Of course, this is information I received only after the initial translations. Before that, the most immediate mark against the band I found is how doing a reverse image search on any of their album covers takes you to already existing images, whether it be the cover of their debut being a poorly cropped image taken from an old Daily Star article to the album I received taking its cover from a freaking stock desktop background image. I mean, I can see an underground band not giving a shit about copyright pretty easily, but the idea of a band from Iraq using something so lazy for their album covers is something I have a hard time buying.
Thankfully, those two pieces of evidence aren't all I have. Turns out there are several report threads on Metal-Archives dealing with this band's horseshit, most of which involve trying to figure out where the hell they even come from while a sole commenter who appears to have connections with the band defends them. Initially, a screenshot is shared suggesting that the band actually comes from France, but this is dismissed as "sarcasm" from the person posting in Mulla's defense. In a later thread, however, screenshots are shared showing the band admitting to their old label that they actually hail from Kazakhstan, which is believable since the image shows the email address is from Russia and the surrounding text is Russian. Despite all this, I'm still not willing to say for certain where they actually come from, but it sure as hell isn't from Iraq.
This leads to the big question: why? Well, as was the case with the AAIL, it seems that Mulla are mostly just taking the piss. A good example of this is a Bandcamp message from the band discussing how to order their debut album
The biggest red flag in this message is the email address given, as it comes from a now-defunct label of the same name that specialized in NSBM. They also appear to have had a BlogSpot, but that's been taken down and no screenshots of it appear to be available. Regardless, the idea of a band with claims like Mulla's would end up on that label is laughable at best.
Further, even their language is really suspect. After showing this image to people I know that hail from the region, they noted that even the most devout Muslim wouldn't say shit like "If Allah Commands" or "If you are pure of heart". It could be argued that it's meant to be sarcastic, and I'd believe that, just not for the reasons anyone actually from Iraq would have.
With all of this in mind, it's clear to me that Mulla are pulling the same shit the AAIL tried and failed to get away with nearly a decade ago, only they seem a little more motivated by profit. I did actually try to contact the band to ask them about the gaps in their history, but they responded to me in their broken Arabic that they didn't take questions while thanking me for covering their album before saying thanks in English.
You'd think this would irritate me with how obnoxious it is, but all I could do was laugh. Like, they didn't even think to take their bad Arabic and reverse engineer it to bad English to keep up the ruse, and then they just wrote out in English at the end anyway. They can't even lie properly, and that above all else is what made this part so easy to write.
Thankfully, I couldn't really find any other instances of a metal band trying to claim they reside anywhere that's genuinely dangerous to make metal in, likely because most people aren't dumb enough to even think of trying that, let alone believing they could get away with it. With that said, I wouldn't be surprised if many of you reading this wonder what the big deal is here? After all, I said myself that this practice is generally harmless, and even the bands I'm railing against haven't actually hurt anyone. The thing is, when bands like Mulla spin bullshit like this, they show utter contempt for the people that do struggle to make the music they love in a place that's hostile to it, along with whatever hardships people face in those regions every day. They don't care about what they claim to preach, they don't care about having basic integrity, hell, I wouldn't even say they really give a shit about metal outside of using it to rant about things they don't understand and to look like tough guys as they do it. They are worthy of that same contempt, and I'm not one to let it go by without saying my piece.
So, for any young bands reading this, go ahead and posture like you're the most evil and powerful shit in the world, but know that going about it like Mulla, the AAIL, or even Ghost Bath only makes you look like fucking idiots and should be avoided. Spin all the tales you want about coming from the pits of the underworld, the blasted surface of a distant moon, the frigid wastes of Antarctica, or even the small town of Hell, Michigan, and I won't judge you for it as long as you make music as cool as your backstory. If you decide to ignore everything I've said and talk about how you lost your family in war-torn regions you've never even seen, however, understand that you are no longer simply posturing. At that point, you're just posing.
The Metal Crypt - Crushing Posers Since 1999
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