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Natalie Khairallah 21 Jul 2015

Blaakyum To Become First Lebanese Band To Play At Wacken Open Air Metal Festival

This moment is 20 years in the making. Lebanon’s oldest metal band, Blaakyum, will take its powerful catalog into new and unforeseen territory as the very first Lebanese band to perform at Germany’s Wacken Open Air—the world’s largest metal festival, set to take place on July 29.

The band consists of Bassem Deaibess on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Rabih Deaibess on lead guitar, Rany Battikh on bass guitar, Jad Feitrouni on drums and percussion, and session musician Elie Abou Abdo on tabla and oriental percussion.

Blaakyum formed in the summer of 1995 and was at the forefront in the battle to prove that heavy metal could exist in the Middle East. Its sound is a unique blend of thrash, heavy and groove metal, infused with Middle Eastern and Levantine folk music vibes. The band draws on inspiration from Metallica, Testament, Overkill, Slayer, and Iron Maiden, as well as from traditional Lebanese and Arabic folk, including Fairouz, Sabah, Marcel Khalife, Muwashahat Andalusia, and Roudoud Halabia.

Lebanon is tiny. And so is its metal scene, right? Wrong, says frontman Bassem Deaibess. With a population estimated to reach nearly six million by the end of 2015, small gigs around the country can draw in as many as 300 people, said Deaibess in a 2012 interview with Invisible Oranges. Moreover, there are over 50 bands covering all kinds of genres, including post-rock and post-metal, he said.

But times weren’t always so rosy for the band. Deaibess had been arrested on two separate occasions for simply participating in the metal scene—once in 1996 and again in 2007. By 1996, the government had begun persecuting metal fans: “People would get caught simply for having long hair or dressing in black. A blacklist of most metal bands, along with Nirvana, was established by the Lebanese control committee, and suddenly it became ‘illegal’ to buy or possess metal,” said Deaibess.

Blaakyum is but one example of the Lebanese metal scene’s struggle against discrimination and cultural terrorism, be it religious or political, says Deaibess. In an interview with Echoes And Dust, he explained that metal in Lebanon, just like the majority of the Middle Eastern metal scene, “is the product of the suffering of youth and generations who have been living for so long under horrible circumstances.”

Despite discrimination and alienation, the band continues to grow; it has toured both regionally and internationally, including performances in Ukraine, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Poland.

Most recently, in 2015, Blaakyum became the Middle East winner of the Wacken Open Air Metal Battle. The group will have the opportunity to take Lebanon, for the very first time in its history, to the festival’s international finals in Germany. “It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out at Wacken,” said Deaibess, in a recent e-mail exchange. “But heavy metal is a universal language of defiance so we’re in no doubt that we’ll have an amazing connection with the crowd over there.”

Today, Lebanon has become a less threatening environment for its metalheads, becoming one of the very few countries in the Arab world where fans and musicians alike are freer than ever to participate in the country’s metal scene. As for Blaakyum, says Deaibess, “we have been around for a long time, and we are not going anywhere. We will remain a thorn in the side of bigotry and ignorance.”

Blaakyum will perform at Wacken Open Air’s Metal Battle on Wednesday, July 29 at 12:40 P.M. on the W:E:T stage.

[Images via here and here.]