Metal has never had it easy in Syria, often perceived as «satanic music» by society. With the start of the war, organizing and playing Metal concerts became increasingly dangerous. Monzer Darwish’s compelling documentary Syrian Metal Is War captures the story of how the Metal underground in Syria seeks to survive – and much more, says Anna Trechsel, who links the film to personal memories. Screened on January 12, 2019, at the 9th Norient Musikfilm Festival in Bern, Switzerland.
Damascus, summer of 2006. I’m sitting in a café in the old city, sipping on a water pipe and a refreshing mint lemonade, hanging out with some people I’ve met through a mutual friend. There’s a war going on in neighbouring Lebanon: Israel is fighting the Shiite Hezbollah militia.
The group of people I hang out with have nothing to do with politics: they hate war, they hate violence. The guys wear their long hair in ponytails and their clothes are black: they’re metalheads. Muslim, Christian, Alawi – they don’t give a damn about religion. But they love music. This is something their families don’t understand – and Syrian society doesn’t, either. «Satanists», they’re called. «What a load of bullshit», one of them says as he drags on his cigarette. They’re outcasts, outsiders – and a bunch of truly lovely people.
Another Syria from What Was Before
Only five years later, war comes to Syria and utterly destroys and ravages the country. I don’t know what has become of Anas, Michel, Lamya: the people I’ve hung out with five summers ago. Are they safe? Have the guys been conscripted into the army? I don’t know, and I won’t know: I haven’t kept in touch with them. But I think about them, and I wonder.
How does war affect people, what does it do to you? As a privileged Swiss, I might never truly know. What we see and hear and read about the situation in Syria is mostly about politics, a lot of which hasn’t anything to do with Syria at all. We also read about the humanitarian crisis, a human tragedy so intense it is hard to grasp. We see Syria through a lens that makes us see it as a country full of hatred, full of misery, full of violence and death.
That’s not the Syria I know, not the Syria I’ve grown to love – not only for the beauty of its sights and its nature, but also for the kindness of its people.
A Call for Creative Freedom
A human side of Syria that we rarely get to see anymore: that’s exactly what the documentary Syrian Metal is War shows us. It’s a deeply moving portrait of the Syrian Metal scene during the war that is so much more than a film about Metal musicians in Syria: it’s a film about passion, resilience, and the importance of art – or music – to the human condition.
The filmmaker, Monzer Darwish, is himself part of the scene, so his film can also be seen as a tribute to his friends and musical family. Monzer filmed the footage between 2013 and 2014, mostly on a mobile phone so as not to be discovered. Being a metalhead and a filmmaker in Syria carries a huge risk. He has since left Syria and lives in the Netherlands with his wife Lyn, adapting to life as a refugee and an immigrant. Not an easy life, but at least a safe one.
In 2015, Norient Musikfilm Festival screened a rough-cut of this film. In exile, Monzer Darwish has finally been able to edit the footage from back then and finish the movie. In its full length and intensity Syrian Metal is War offers a unique view of Syrian metalheads – and of Syrian human beings. Amidst the chaos of war, the brutality and violence, it also offers a glimmer of hope.
Read also this article by Monzer Darwish on Norient: «Syrian Metal in the Civil War».
9th Norient Musikfilm Festival 2019