Lebanese metal band Kimaera release album one month after frontman's death

Jean-Pierre Haddad was the singer and chief lyricist of the group regarded as pioneers in their country's death metal scene

Members of Kimaera, from left, Charbel Abboud, Patrick Estephan, Jean-Pierre 'JP' Haddad and Pierre Najm. Photo: Kimaera
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The death of Jean-Pierre “JP” Haddad last month rocked the Middle East’s heavy metal scene.

Since stalwarts of the genre Kimaera announced that their frontman and guitarist had died aged 39 of asphyxiation resulting from a natural gas leak in his Cairo apartment, the community has rallied to hold remembrance events in Egypt and in his native Lebanon.

It was in the latter where fans heard his last batch of recordings as part of the official launch of Kimaera’s fourth album, Imperium.

The late Jean-Pierre Haddad performing with Kimaera. Photo: Charbal Abboud

Speaking to The National, keyboardist Charbel Abboud confirms the release was recorded and mastered a fortnight before Haddad’s death.

“In a way that gives me and the rest of us that sense of comfort because JP heard the album and was satisfied,” he says.

"After all the work that we did on it for two and a half years, to have him listen to it, enjoy it and say how proud he was of our achievement is something I will always remember and hold on to."

Songs of empire

Haddad’s contentment was certainly deserved, as Imperium, which was released last week, is Kimaera’s biggest artistic statement to date.

Inspired by the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the nine songs explore aspects of the heady period, from Rome’s war with Gaul, the constant political intrigue of the senate and the rise and fall of Emperor Julius Caesar.

According to Abboud, the subject matter was inspired by Haddad.

"I remember a few years back when JP had this new obsession with the Roman Civilisation," he recalls. "He would watch every single movie or television series related to it and he would tell us how amazed he was at how the Roman Empire survived for so long."

Since Haddad was Kimaera's chief lyricist, Abboud and his bandmates realised the subject would undoubtedly form the basis of an album.

It meant stepping things up musically to match the majestic subject matter.

Imperium is not so much bombastic as it is grand. Its songs are laced with cinematic orchestral instrumental passages that feature strings and piano.

"We were even precise in the choice of instruments. So if we were going to be composing a song about ancient Egypt, which was part of the Roman Empire, we chose oriental instruments," he says.

"We want people to feel like they are journeying through different locations by listening to the album."

While Imperium achieves Haddad’s ambitions, Abboud admits some of the songs feel different now that his bandmate is gone. One is the thundering Ides of March, detailing Caesar's eventual assassination by his colleagues in the Roman Senate.

"Whenever the band listen to it we get goosebumps because of the way JP sings it," Abboud. "Especially in the lyrical part that says: 'So let it be done. His dreadful end has come. His body struck down. Betrayed by his own.'”

A lasting legacy

One track that has inspired an unlikely mass reaction is the album’s closer, Ya Beirut.

A death metal interpretation of Majida El Roumi’s Beirut Set El Donya, the song was initially released in 2020 with a music video broadcast on the Lebanese television channel MTV.

While the track resulted in the group's first and only brush with mainstream attention in their 22-year career, it earned the ire of El Roumi who filed a copyright claim against Kimaera for what she alleged was unofficial usage of the song.

With both parties coming to an agreement requiring the official video be taken off the band's social media channels, Abboud says Ya Beirut achieved its purpose in showcasing the artistic value of death metal, a genre long derided in Lebanon.

“This was something JP always pushed for and what he has been doing for over 20 years, and that's 10 years before I even joined the band,” he says. “I remember when my father saw the music video on TV he cried.

“He was able to appreciate what we did to the song and not be influenced by some of the misconceptions that people over here have about metal music in general.”

Abboud confirms that Kimaera will continue. However, talk of a replacement for Haddad remains premature.

"It is still very sensitive for us and the whole scene," he says.

"Whoever might someday replace JP has to be up to it not only musically, but also carry a certain weight within the scene to be accepted. That will be a very hard decision that we will eventually have to make."

That said, Haddad has left behind a legacy and an approach to life that guide Kimaera in these uncertain times.

"We learned a lot just by watching him. We learned that whenever we want to do something we should see it through until the end," Abboud says. "JP never wanted to do a sloppy job. He pushed us to keep going no matter what the obstacles. This is what we did and what we will do."

Updated: March 29, 2022, 5:23 PM