Rock in a Hard Place

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Metal as a genre of contemporary music is still derided across the world, despite being one of the most commercially successful styles of popular music since its birth in the late 1960s.

Orlando Crowcroft details what this most demeaned style of music continues to mean to fans in six of the most war-ravaged and hostile countries: Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Palestine, and Syria.

As a long-time metal fan myself, it was great to read something that celebrates the positive aspects of the music and its multiplicity of sub-genres, as well as the fans and musicians who have created scenes in places like Iran and Saudi Arabia with the scarcest of resources but also with the maximum of commitment.

Rock in a Hard Place emphasises the stories of metal fans from everywhere in the region, their introduction to metal bands like Opeth and Metallica and to hip hop artists like Tupac Shakur and Eminem, and how that influence fuelled their struggle to make music of their own.

Crowcroft weaves a skilful narrative, drawing on the history of metal’s evolutions and controversies to give a wider sense of the world, illustrating just how many regimes and societies are still actively hostile to metal and its fans.

The chapter on Egypt is the most riveting of the book, demonstrating just how much was gained by millions of people during the Arab Spring of 2011, and how one metal fan’s contribution to it — the anti-Mubarak song “Irhal” (Leave) — became the anthem of Tahrir Square.

Elsewhere the scale of state repression felt by metal fans is graphically brought home by an account of an Iranian metal musician receiving 100 lashes at a public flogging and being threatened with death by clerics.

For all the vitality and energy shown by fans during this time of political ferment, the deadly business of counter-revolution and war is a constant presence, and so many of the chapters culminate with stories of fans fleeing their native countries into an enforced exile at the hands of murderous armed forces.

The trajectory of Syrian Adel Saflou from avid metal musician in Aleppo to terrified refugee in a sinking boat in the Mediterranean is just one of the horrifying stories that has haunted me since reading it.

Those who are the most politically direct seem to be fighting back the hardest, examples of which include the acclaimed Palestinian rappers DAM and the ferocious Saudi black metal group al-Namrood (“Non-Believer”).

Rock in a Hard Place is a true testimony to the resilience of this most outcast of fanbases and the music that they love.