Metal band Smouldering in Forgotten’s Mohammed Ishaq talks importance of music festivals

UAE metal festivals have helped bands develop across the region, says a member of the Bahraini group Smouldering in Forgotten.
The Bahraini metal band Smouldering in Forgotten. Courtesy Chris Barnett
The Bahraini metal band Smouldering in Forgotten. Courtesy Chris Barnett

“It was definitely the best I’ve felt after a performance in a long time,” says Mohammed Ishaq, the drummer with Bahraini band Smouldering in Forgotten, of last month’s Resurrection Fest in ­Dubai.

“The turnout was about 500, I think. The sound was amazing and, forgive me for being arrogant, but I really think this particular performance was our best to date.”

Ishaq, 28, works as an IT manager by day, but for 12 years he has been known — by his nickname Busac — as a driving force in Bahrain’s metal scene, playing guitar and drums, engineering albums, acting as a sound technician at shows, managing groups and even learning how to repair ­instruments.

He has recorded two albums with Smouldering in Forgotten, and two with his other group, Narjahanam, as well as lending a hand to many other bands.

Those who are unfamiliar with all the intricate subgenres that have sprouted from rock’s most theatrically morbid offshoot might be tempted to write off metal as nothing more than dumb, noisy rage — but Smouldering in Forgotten demonstrate how the conventions of the genres can be used to create an effect that’s clever and playful, as well as cathartic.

Yes, fans at the show in Dubai got plenty of demonic roaring, distorted guitar riffs, screaming and jackhammer beats — but they also got insanely fantastical ­spoken-word stories, operatic drama, musical elements from the classical western and Arabic traditions, mid-song gearshifts and complicated drum beats. “More and more people are starting to appreciate that it’s a valid form of music that promotes a positive attitude as a community,” Ishaq says about local attitudes towards metal.

It can still be tough to arrange shows, in Bahrain and elsewhere in the region, because venues distrust metal bands and their often rambunctious fans — but the community has come a long way since Ishaq first formed a band, Morgue, at the age of 16.

Back then, the only way to see live metal was to watch the occasional covers band play at a hotel’s battle of the bands night, but since then, the number of metal bands in Bahrain has grown, as has the size of their creative ambition and their ­audiences.

Now, Ishaq says, “almost every independent metal band is heavily focused on writing their own music and getting their performances noticed. Many of them are still the same musicians who were around 10 years ago, but there is a big wave of newer bands emerging”.

The Bahrain scene has also merged with what’s going on in nearby countries, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Ishaq has previously told how this regional community is so tight-knit it’s almost like a family.

The first time Ishaq and his friends set up a show for a Saudi band in Bahrain, a decade ago, was a watershed moment, as was the first Desert Rock Festival in Dubai, at around the same time.

“Naturally, we wanted to meet the people that made it all possible,” he says, “then we were able to stay in touch online. Through social media sites we’d see how each country started progressing and embedding their unique sound into the metal world. We became good friends who meet whenever there’s a good event happening anywhere.”

These friends include the UAE bands Nervecell and Perversion. What sets the Emirates’ metal scene apart from others in the region, Ishaq says, is its diverse mix of nationalities.

“This is what gives them the huge variety in sounds and the ability to organise bigger events,” he says.

He’s keen to continue helping “to establish the proper environment” in Bahrain to help musicians grow. In addition to organising gigs, this means making practice and rehearsal space available so that the bands can develop material in the first place.

“I personally was fortunate enough to be able to record at home and meet a lot of new musicians, many of whom have a real, genuine talent and so much love for the music,” he says. “I hope to try to take my home studio and be able to help as many of these musicians as possible. I definitely see great things happening in the future.”

Also on the agenda is setting up Bahrain’s first metal festival.

“It’s something that seems impossible right now, but I do believe it can happen,” he says. “All these festivals started somewhere that wasn’t ready for them, but they pushed and persevered until they made it ­happen.”

Published: April 20, 2015 04:00 AM


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