On July 5, we tried a little experiment. Indulging in the same kind of presumptuousness that motivates people to tweet about their latest meal or the last time they washed their underwear, we just described the music we’d randomly checked out that morning — whether it was good, bad, or indifferent. None of the bands was known to us, and we didn’t actually like everything we found, but we wrote about all of it anyway — just because that’s what we heard.
A few readers actually seemed to like the idea, and we’re desperate for approval, so we’ll do it again. But not today. Today, we’re doing something that’s a little more focused and we’re exercising a bit more judgment. But in a way, this post started just as impulsively as the one on July 5.
We were over at Steff Metal‘s blog and got into a sick mixtape she had created (here), the subject of which was music with an ancient Egyptian theme (though not played by bands from Egypt). That got us to thinking (always a dangerous pastime) and we realized that we knew very damned little about Egyptian metal bands.
So, we started exploring, and the path we wandered hooked us up not only with some really good Egyptian metal, but also with metal from some other North African countries — Tunisia and Morocco, to be precise. We found enough interesting shit that we’re dividing this post into three parts: One band today (Scarab) and the next three over the two following days.
To be clear, we’re not pretending this is some kind of authoritative survey. We didn’t do in-depth research, and we didn’t listen to dozens of bands and then selectively whittle down the group. We’re way too half-assed for that. We just jumped into the fast-moving current of the internet and waited to see where we’d be washed up on shore.
And by sheer chance, we wound up with a little bit of everything — some death metal, some oriental black metal, and some progressive/folk metal — but what we found was awesome. So open your minds and your ears and we’ll show you what we found. (beginning after the jump, of course . . .)
Scarab is a death metal band from Cairo, Egypt, formed in 2006. They released a three-song EP in 2007 called Valley of the Sandwalkers and recorded a debut album in 2009 called Blinding the Masses, which was released early this year in the West.
Last year was a turning point for the band. Not only did they record their first full-length, they also won a contest called “United We Rock,” beating out 160 bands from other Middle-East and Pan-Arab nations. That helped land them a spot on the bill at two international music festivals — With Full Force XVI 2009 in Germany, playing alongside the likes of Amon Amarth, Carcass, My Dying Bride, and Dimmu Borgir, and Dubai Desert Rock Festival 2009 in the UAE, opening for Motörhead, Opeth, Arch Enemy, and Chimaira.
We’ve been listening to Blinding the Masses, and let’s just say they belong in that kind of company, because this album hits like a Category 5 hurricane. This intense music reminds us of bands like Behemoth, Immolation, and Italy’s Hour of Penance, but with a marked use of oriental melodies in the riffs.
Songs like “Valley of the Sandwalker” and “Leaders of Agony” barrel ahead with rapid chainsaw grinds and insanely fast, inventive drumming. “Blinding the Masses” crashes headlong into tech-death territory, with darting changes in tempo and time signatures, staccato bursts of guitar fury, and strobing drum tones from every skin in the kit.
“Eye for Sanity” is one of the few songs on the album to feature tremolo picking, blast beats, and prominent double-bass kicks, and the result is a mordant slice of blackened death metal that will suck you into a vortex of indigo calamity.
To our Western ears, the songs that most overtly feature oriental melodies are “Ankh”, “Devourer of the Unjustified”, and the closing track, “War to End”. All three songs include flashes of solitary lead guitar establishing an exotic melody and passages where Scarab takes their foot off the accelerator long enough to hammer home the minor-key message of the music in ways that resonate with new power.
While most of this music is the sonic equivalent of a jetting flame-thrower, lyrically the songs dwell not on death and destruction but on the irrepressibility of life and spirit, on the throwing off of shackles, on the power to rise above the domination of external constraints.
And while we’re on the subject of lyrics and the vocalization of them, Sammy Sayed gives Behemoth’s Nergal and Immolation’s Ross Dolan a run for their money. His bestial gutturals are galvanizing at all times, and at the best of times, they open up like the roar of a desert lion in the night. His vocal ability is matched completely by the instrumental extravagance of his bandmates. To a man, they are superb.
Here at NCS, we do tend to go overboard on bands we like, but seriously, truly, trust us on this one: Scarab is hot shit.
Here at NCS, we’re also fanatics for good album art. The striking Scarab album art (including the cover at the top of this post) is by an Egyptian artist named Mohamed “Bombest” El Sherbieny. And guess what? He’s also the bass-player for this band. Kinda makes us feel puny.
Bombest also created the art used in the design of the band’s MySpace page, which is worth a look. And we’ll show you more of his Scarab-related creations at the end of this post.
Scarab’s 2007 self-released EP, Valley of the Sandwalkers, is available for free download at the band’s MySpace page (click here). It’s a 3-track release, and two of those tracks are on the album Blinding the Masses, though to our half-deaf ears they sound like they’ve either been re-recorded or re-mastered on the full-length.
The new album is self-released but available from Amazon.com and, in Europe, from Osmose Productions. You can hear five of the songs on the band’s MySpace, but we want to give you some samples right here.
First is a stream of the song “Ankh”, which you can access via the link below. And then after that we’ve got a video of the band performing the album’s title track at that German festival (which follows a brief interview of the band).
We promised you some more of Bombest’s artwork, and we don’t lie. So, here you go, including a complete fold-out of the album insert:
Thank you very much for discovering this great band. By the way Barzakh and Odious, which you recommended to Steff are totally worth checking out too… I apreciate that you help to build my musical horizon.
Please keep up the good work!
Thank you for saying that! By the way, the reason why this post is in 3 parts is that we’re also going to write about Barzakh and Odious, plus a band from Morocco. This music is really broadening my horizons too.
You guys really ought to stop finding new awesome bands for me to get hooked on because, as luck would have it, my bank account is draining. Joking aside, thanks for the review. Awesome stuff.
Thanks Misha! Wait ’til you see what’s coming the next couple of days.
I’m with Misha, with all the awesomeness you’ve posted as of late, my funds are in danger of disappearing once I get around to music shopping. So many bands, so little time, not enough money. And it’s hard to keep up with it all, both new stuff (or new to me) and stuff I’ve been wanting to get my hands on for a while.
Regarding the artwork, this is a prime example of the fact that the art of putting together an albums (that’s not the music itself) is far from dead, especially in heavy metal. This is something that gets lost in the digital formats, although some bands/labels do make the effort to provide what they can. But this is something I’d rather have in front of me in my hands, not on my monitor.
I guess it’s obvious, but I couldn’t agree more about the artwork. I’ve got friends who don’t understand why I spend money on CDs as opposed to just downloading (with or without paying) and that’s my main answer. Also agree that the amount of good music to be heard is truly overwhelming. I can barely make a dent in what I know I want to hear — and then to compound the problem, I constantly get side-tracked by things I wasn’t even looking for (like Scarab, Byfrost, and about half the stuff I’ve written about on NCS). Sheesh.
Just wait until I compile that list I was thinking of making for you….
And it’s not just the effort that goes into the album art or liner notes, sometimes the packaging itself is a step above and beyond. Maybe it’s just for limited/collectors’ versions, but even some “regular” releases take the extra step, while some bands try to put together something unique when shipping out demos; Metalsucks has several posts about that. Of course, pretty packaging can’t save a shitty album, but they can help make a good/great/awesome album more impressive. And more so than artwork/notes and whether a download includes anything besides the songs, this gets lost in the transition.
Since I listen to very little non-metal, it’s hard to say if any of this continued effort exists outside of our circles, but I’d guessing it’s safe to say that it’s nowhere near what goes on with metal releases. Mega-props to everyone who makes it happen; it’s not just the band, label (if any) and album artist. There are people that have to to the copywriting (not to be confused with copyrights), layout, printing, distribution and promotion.
While digital sales and promos may reduce the overhead for a label/distro, it also means we tend to miss out on a great deal. In the reviews I do, I wish I could mention the artwork/layout more often, but none of the promos I’ve downloaded have much, and the iPool pages don’t really have much else to offer. Aside from that, there are only a couple purchases (these being from iTunes) that have had anything beyond the songs and an image of the album cover. I’m not saying every album should come with a complete set of liner notes or whatever in image or PDF form, but it’d be nice to have something more. Fortunately, it does seem that some bands, when dealing with them directly, do try to offer a bit more.
But anyhoo, that’s another topic altogether.
Ultimately, it comes down to having some killer tunes. Having something decent to look at/read is just a bonus.
One thing I’ve noticed that seems to be increasing in popularity (or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention) is the release of actual LP records in fancy pressings with art on the records and the dust jackets. I’m sure that’s geared almost entirely to collectors. I bought the super-fancy collector’s copy of Ares Kingdom’s album “Incendiary,” just because it came with so much artwork, which I thought rocked (and I love th emusic too, of course). I did that even thought I don’t own a turntable. Talk about a totally geeked-out move by yours truly. But to see what hooked me, here’s the link:
Their label, Nuclear War Now!, seems to do a lot of this kind of thing.
Yeah, it is kinda cool to see vinyl getting a surge. It never completely went away, but it’s now been given a second life. Sure, a lot of it is for collectors, but the quality of the records themselves are better these days, and with a proper turntable, stylus and needle, they provide for a nice experience that’s hard to match, although whether they actually have a better sound than a CD is debatable, and dependent on your audio equipment. 180 gram seems to be the standard now, made with virgin material instead of melted down and recycled records and are often cut at 45 RPM instead of 33 1/3, which itself makes for better quality overall.
I don’t know if picture discs or variants (colors, shaped, etc) are of better quality these days – they used to be more on the novelty side and not very good for playing. Still, there were some interesting things done with records that weren’t the standard black.
And there’s nothing like the smell of a new record. And with the larger size of the outer jacket, the dust liner and notes, a lot more can be done, and quite frankly, some of the packaging of records is amazing and in the right hands can rival that of the best done CD’s. Very few cassettes (or even 8 tracks, but that’s going back more than a little) that I can think went beyond what most people expected, and any that did were probably standard fare in a larger box that had a little more thought to it.
As far as buying records goes, I think Metallica had the right idea with Death Magnetic. I got the 5 LP version (one song per side), which also came with an MP3 download (encoded at 320 kbps) to listen to right away and the box came with the CD as well, but in a sleeve instead of the coffin/vagina packaging that the retail copy had. More bands and labels should do something like this, especially if vinyl comes with a higher price tag. I have seen the some online stores do offer a digital copy free with a purchase of the physical copy, so that’s progress. Still, what Metallica and Warner Bros. did with Death Magnetic should be the norm IMO when you’re buying records.
I’ve only bought a few records over the past few years, plus I’ve picked up some others here and there, but without a decent turntable, I’m not playing any of them. Wouldn’t want to do any further damage to the older ones and don’t wanna start on the new ones.
I’ve read elsewhere claims by people that the sound produced by modern vinyl and a good-quality turntable is better than digital. Hard for me to imagine, but I’ve certainly never made the comparison myself. I do like the idea of being able to get an immediate download plus a physical copy when you order, whether it’s a CD or vinyl.
Wow. Fucking. Unreal. I love this! Just bought this online. It is fucking amazing.Keep up the excellent work!
Thanks man! Hope you like the rest of the bands in this series as much as Scarab — though they are a very tough act to follow.
I watch this video every day … Sammy sayed is one of my favorite Vocalists . Um Besis From Alex .A death metal Vocalist too 😀
and I like the Band <3 u Scarab ..
Go ahead scarab … don't give up
Thanks for the comment — and if you come back to this page, feel free to leave a link where readers could hear your band’s music.