“The government always check the CDs, and if they got me they would kill me.” It’s an extreme statement, but then Janaza, lead vocalist of black metal band Seeds Of Iblis, is in an extreme position. To say her situation is delicate would be an understatement, since Seeds Of Iblis’ lyrics are heavily anti-Islamic in content. For a female vocalist based in Iraq, things could hardly be more risky.
It took a few months to track Janaza down properly. Every person who she discusses her music with has to be able to guarantee their support. In order to operate in the underground of Iraq, explicit trust is necessary in her peer group. Janaza started listening to black metal back in 1998 with innovators such as Marduk and Mayhem taking the majority of her time, but since then her circle of friends has only widened minutely. Now, some fourteen years later, those she knows in Iraq who share her interests hardly reach double figures: “we are one group, two girls and eight guys, we share the same musical and thinking passion”. This would make most of us concerned for what her immediate family think of her pursuits, but she tells me candidly, “I lost my parents in the war”. Her musical peers now seem to form the bulk of her brotherhood.
‘Janaza’ is Arabic for ‘funeral’, a pseudonym which the vocalist has adopted for years. The word is a respectful term not just for the funeral ceremony though, but for the cadaver itself. Death is not only a heavy theme in Janaza’s lyrics, but a cold reality. If the authorities were ever to discover her true identity or her whereabouts, she admits she would do whatever’s necessary: “I will kill myself” is her frank reaction to the hypothesis.
Janaza first started playing music in the now defunct heavy/thrash metal project Desertor. The band came to an end in 2008, a tragic year in her family, but it was also the year that things started to make a creative leap forward in her life. “I’ve been always anti-Islamic, but my work [in] anti-Islamic black metal [started] in 2008 when I moved on with my life without my parents and when I had some help from my old heavy metal band”. After the tragedy of losing her parents in an explosion, her musical output became blacker and more vitriolic in tone. “After I lost my parents I knew some good friends, and they introduced me [to] black metal music in a very expressive way, so we did that and we express all of our emotions and hatred in it”.
By 2010 Janaza had abandoned thrash altogether and released her first demo EP “Burning Quran Ceremony” on the Columbian label Black Metal Rituals, taking care of all the instrumentation herself. Predictably the lyrics were hatred-fuelled, spiteful attacks on Islam, a religion which she constantly refers to as spouting “stupidity” and “lies”:
Arise… and fall… with fake… history
Rage… the wars… will start… soon
Scream… the truth… of gods… and fables
Remove… the thoughts… of religions… and lies
I shall peel your god!
With a middle finger in his eyes!
I shall fuck his mind!
And burn the Mosques of Islam!
Janaza certainly pulls no punches. If anything her dislike of Islam only seems to have intensified over time. “Burning Quran Ceremony” is replete with examples of her acidic dislike of Iraq, with burning mosques, the Holy Book and chants of “Islamic lies” being the staple of the lyrics. Soon it was time for things to expand, and merely a year later she had formed Seeds Of Iblis with Epona, one of her closest friends from Desertor, drummer Younes and guitarist Yousef, who also runs the Saudi Arabian black metal project Tadness [تدنيس]. Seeds Of Iblis set straight to work and in no time had released their first EP, “Jihad Against Islam” through the French label Legion of Death in 2011. I notice the impressive photos of the physical edition and wonder how the hell she managed to get them pressed or imported to Baghdad, to which she replies, “the label made the CDs and sold them around the world, but for me I can’t get my copies because it’s too hard… the borders won’t let them get inside”. Of course, she hasn’t even seen a copy of her own record.
All this underground networking doesn’t mean that Seeds Of Iblis hide their light [or darkness] under a bushel though. The band do play the occasional live gig, but of course, entry is exclusive. Up till this point I didn’t even know there was an Iraqi metal underground, but Janaza assures me that lashings of corpse paint guarantee her idenity isn’t exposed. According to her, Iraq is no less strict than Iran when it comes to dealing with the heterodox, or as she puts it, “the same shit is everywhere here”. I mention that it’s nigh on impossible to get unbiased news coverage of the Middle Eastern situation in the West and ask what it’s actually like in Iraq at the moment: how much have things really improved since the toppling of Saddam? Her reply is much as I expected – “everything here is fucked up, no safety and no money, and we always look at [the] West as the people [who] want our oil and people [who] always like to capture our land.” I posit, with total neutrality, if there’s a feeling of dislike to each country in the West: “for me I am in love with Westerners because I think they love freedom of thinking and living, but for Iraqi people, they dislike and mistrust the Westerners.” Once again, Janaza shows herself as being in the independent, strong-thinking minority.
So what now for these ambassadors of Middle-Eastern resistance? It’s still very early days, but at the time of writing, Janaza has just completed vocals for Seeds Of Iblis’ second EP, “Anti Quran Ritual”. She’s been trying to secure a label deal but doing so seems difficult, for as she says, “no-one seems to be interested in it because it’s from Iraq”.
I’m sure it won’t be long until somebody picks it up though. What’s most important – and most lacking – in the underground is a sense of genuineness. Whether you agree or disagree with the anti-political and irreligious message that Seeds Of Iblis are putting across, as a listener you could hardly ask for a project born from greater sincerity. The bile in their sound is irrefutable, their motivation unignorable. As black metal becomes ever more an affectation, Seeds Of Iblis represent the true underground in a country which would damn them – and greater – if they were discovered. The inner voice of dark music is anger and repression, and no-one holds the right to these more than the Anti-Islamic Legion. As long as they can continue their legacy of secrecy, this has the potential to be one of the most interesting projects black metal has seen for quite some time.
Interview by Lysander