Metal dreams lead band out of Iraq

Not that long ago, he and his bandmates were powering their amps with gas generators because of a lack of electricity, carrying guns to rehearsals and receiving death threats for playing what was seen by some as Americanized devil music.

Even headbanging could have landed them in jail because of its perceived resemblance to Jewish prayer.

This was the life of a metal band in Iraq, whose daily existence was as brutal as their tunes.

This struggle was captured in the acclaimed 2007 documentary “Heavy Metal in Baghdad,” which followed the considerable trials of thrashers Acrassicauda, generally seen as the first band of their ilk in their native country.

It was an often tragic, yet ultimately galvanizing story, as the band weathered the bombing of their practice space, where all their instruments were destroyed, eventually becoming refugees in Syria and Turkey, leaving family members behind, to finally record their debut EP, “Only the Dead See the End of War,” and make it to America, where they now reside.

They did it all for the love of playing music, turning their harsh surroundings into angry, unforgiving art.

“We came from a Third World country that had been torn by wars, and we use that, turning this whole negative energy into something positive that people can actually learn something from,” says bassist Firas Al-Lateef.

On Saturday, Acrassicauda will hit Vegas for the first time, playing at the Bunkhouse, and as the band tours the States, Al-Lateef admits that the group is still getting accustomed to U.S. culture.

“It’s tough,” he says. “We were in our mid-20s when we got here, so it was kind of hard to forget about everything you learned and just adapt. You can still keep Eastern culture within you and the way that you’ve been raised up.”

The biggest difference? The pace of life here.

“Everybody’s busy,” Al-Lateef says. “Back in the Middle East, we’re super laid-back and we take everything like super easy.”

Al-Lateef’s comments seem a little ironic, seeing as how when he left Iraq, merely going outside for a walk in a Slipknot T-shirt could lead to trouble. But perhaps that’s beginning to change, thanks to a band like Acrassicauda. One of Al-Lateef’s proudest moments in the band, he says, was when he saw a report on the growth of metal in Iraq on the “Rachel Maddow Show,” where his group was cited for helping to start it all.

“This was a huge credit to us, not because it was on TV but because these kids in Iraq are now starting to do it,” he says of playing music. “It really touches our hearts.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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