I mention the words “Iraq”, “thrash” and “death” in one sentence, and chances are you’re not thinking about metal band genres. Well, think again, bitch, for before me lays now the debut album of Kirkuk’s finest: Dark Phantom. Beginning in 2007 as a heavy metal band, living through some rather stressful circumstances implied by a somewhat confused biography published on their label’s website, the band finally found their home in aggressive death/thrash territory. Nation of Dogs is the fruit of what sounds like rather miserable years of labor, so let’s hope it’s good.
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. Leaning to the thrash side, sometimes building riffs somewhat similar to Kreator with a more modern production, Dark Phantom is still surprisingly brutal. The death metal aspect of the music is most obvious in some magnificent guitar leads, calling to mind 90’s Scandinavian death metal acts, and also in the overall harshness of sound. And the vocals, dear God, what vocals. grunting, yet with a thrashy edge, they are among the better ones we’ve encountered in a while. The band’s heavy metal roots also shine through at times, with a few solos and more melodic riffs, that complement the rest of the mix very well. There are also a couple of clean vocal parts that I could have lived without, but won’t die from either.
The track length is a bit on the short side, with the longest song a mere 4:19. This works out fine, though, because it adds a slight sense of urgency and intensity. The lyrics deal more or less directly with war, religion and politics in a way that would feel more cliched were it not for the unusual circumstances under which the band members operate. Western “radical” bands often go far beyond cringe worthy with their political stances. Rage Against the Machine’s insanely embarrassing tribute video to the Colombian Narco-terrorist gang Shining Path is one case in point, while the war fetishism of many black metal bands, in so far as it is in earnest, at least indirectly point to some of the downsides of prosperity, boredom and consumerist decay. If you live by a friggin war-zone, neighboring the Islamic State, your observations about violence and some dangers connected to weaponized organized religion do gain at least 28% credibility. In a bizarre twist, the band’s take on Islam (as expressed in “New Gospel” and “Judgement Call”) would normally condemn them to a life on the far Right fringes of Western discourse, but as things stand their albums are distributed for free at pro-immigration demonstrations in Europe. Make of that what you will, we will make nothing of it at the moment.
While Middle Eastern extreme metal bands will always get a little extra attention simply because they are rare, and at least in some countries face especially difficult circumstances, in the end it is about the music. Dark Phantom deliver in that department, combining the right amount of melody with the right amount of brutal thrash and a strong taste of death metal, only rarely losing their way. Nation of Dogs is well worth a listen and, perhaps, a purchase.