It’s often said that metal is a way of life, and for many within the metal community this holds true. However, how many would continue if it meant risking imprisonment or even facing the death penalty? You have to admire and respect those whose passion for metal, and their drive to continue making their music, means they are truly driven into the underground, having to protect their identities and being unable to play any shows for fear of facing these punishments in their home theocratic states.

This is the case for Saudi Arabian black metal entourage Al-Namrood who are remarkably (given the difficulties they face) celebrating their tenth anniversary this year and to mark the occasion they have re-recorded a selection of tracks from their back catalogue.

‘Estorat Taghoot’ wastes no time opening with a galloping riff, soon to be joined by a typically Arabian sounding instrument setting out the stall for the whole album where a black metal foundation is augmented by Eastern and Arabian instrumentation such as the oud and qanoon (I think but I am no expert on this area!), often with a spiky edge. The vocals soon kick in, as gruff as they are abrasive, with a punk sense of rebellion coming across.

The pace drops a little for ‘Fe Al Diaji’ from 2009 as grating deranged vocals are half spoken and half growled over hypnotic beats and melody. This theme continues on ‘Hayat Al Khlood’ from 2012, albeit slightly more upbeat with some clever use of Arabian style percussion.

A foreign spoken word intro leads into ‘Al Jahliyah’ before more galloping, alluring Arabic percussive melody, interspersed with more grating vocals. A traditional intro leads into ‘Endama Tuqsaf Al Rous’ but it was at this point that my attention began to wander, and the vocals started to sound out of place as the song plods to its close. A gong chimes to herald the opening of ‘Asdaa Al Dmar’ reeling me back in before some heavyweight riffs gatecrash proceedings. The trademark gruff vocals soon add the next dimension to the track as it trundles along.

The album is brought to a close with the most recent track ‘Atbaa Al-Namrood’ from 2013’s ‘Jaish AlNamrood’ which continues the formula of crunchy riffs, gruff vocals and Middle Eastern instrumentation.

This album is challenging to review. If I was being harsh I could focus on the dodgy production and mix, or the way that the vocals seem displaced from the music, but then I think about the fact that this has been written and recorded in the face of huge adversity, and that although the recording isn’t perfect, it has the same atmosphere as some DIY punk releases from decades ago which suits the rebellious nature of the band and on reflection an over sanitised recording might not seem quite so relevant.

This is not an easy listen – It will confront you and challenge you, but if you stand toe to toe with it, you will break it down and start to understand its art.

(7/10 Andy Pountney)