Only The Dead See The End Of The War EP
15 March 2010
by Tom Dare
No band better embodies the spirit of metal than Iraq’s Acrassicauda. They had their rehearsal studio bombed, their lives were threatened because of their music and they had to flee their country and become refugees. After surviving life under Saddam Hussein, invasions, insurgencies and even an airstrike on their instruments, they finally got to safety in America, and have now released their first professionally-recorded EP.
Having been brought to the world’s attention by Vice Film’s Heavy Metal In Baghdad documentary, the band undertook an exodus that took them through Syria and Turkey before they reached the USA. Welcomed in America by James Hetfield no less, and with Only The Dead… produced by Alex Skolnick, the guitar genius best known for his work in Testament, there was more than a little pressure on them to deliver musically. Acrassicauda’s story is inspiring, but few bands have ever received as much attention with virtually no recorded output.
The stylistic influences on Acrassicauda are pretty clear from the outset. Opening track, ‘Message From Baghdad’ is a ‘Peace Sells-tempo thrash song complete with punishing double bass kicks, chugging riffs and rapid lead lines and solos that immediately remind the listener of classic Megadeth and Testament. ‘Garden Of Stones’ displays a Slayer inspiration that is actually refreshing – insofar that it has tones of ‘Dead Skin Mask’ and ‘Seasons In The Abyss’, making a change from the countless bands content just to rip off ‘Angel Of Death’ or ‘War Ensemble’. The distinct mood running throughout all four tracks is far more specific and focused than the stand “Destroy Everything” feeling that so much thrash revels in; here it is a simmering rage, boiling just beneath the surface.
While the opening pace of the EP may trick you into thinking Acrassicauda are Just-Another-Thrash-Revival band – albeit a good one – ‘Garden Of Stones’ and third track ‘Massacre’ show there is something else going on here. There is a more progressive and melodic angle than is initially apparent, and while at times this feels a little drawn-out, it does show there is a talented group of songwriters lurking beneath the media coverage.
Acrassicauda’s background may be both their biggest strength and an obstacle. There are a few too many obvious references to Slayer, Testament, Megadeth and Metallica for it not to be noticeable. While their aggression has clearly got plenty of fuel, listening to Only The Dead… does make you wonder at the depth (or lack thereof) of influences they have – after all, the range of bands releasing metal records in Iraq in the past twenty years is not great. Having said that, the distance from any kind of scene has left them with a sound that is a little more original – they’ve taken thrash as a starting point and gone their own way, rather than merely trying to be an Iraqi version of Death Angel. It’s given them a strong foundation and allows them to strike their own path.
Watch the trailer to Heavy Metal In Baghdad:
What is important is that their music is genuinely good. The last three tracks take several listens to break through due to the progressive nature, the unconventional structure and the infrequency of vocals, but when eventually they make their mark the hooks truly sink in. Balanced by an instant opening track that gets the toe tapping and head nodding in seconds, there is more than enough potential on display here, and the short nature leaves you eager for the band to get back into a studio and record a full album.
While being the single most obvious embodiment of the spirit of metal (even more than Eddie) gets you attention, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll sustain it. Hopefully, Only The Dead See The End Of The War will keep Acrassicauda in people’s minds enough for them to get a debut album released. Forget the story for a moment: the music’s good enough to stand up on its own.
Sounds like: Testament, Slayer, the rage and pain at having your home bombed
Top tracks: Message From Baghdad, The Unknown
Acrassicauda- Only The Dead See The End Of The War EP tracklisting:
Message From Baghdad
Garden Of Stones