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Simply got to be heard.

Byline: Tridwip K Das

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Imagine a toad. Not any, a very angry toad. If you pinned it to a dissecting board and very slowly sliced its stomach, whatAEs the sound it would make if it could?

We imagine it would sound like the vocals on a song by Arabia. But thatAEs not to say this black metal band - the one and only of its kind in Oman - is bad. In fact, itAEs good. If you like this kind of a sound, youAEll be impressed. Metalheads tend to call these guttural animalistic growls aekiller vocalsAE. Killer, we suppose, because they assault the senses of ordinary mortals.

But as with most other aspects of this extreme form of music, black metal finds takers in the most unlikely people.

Like Anne Otari, 61. This French woman and Muscat resident recently bought a copy of ArabiaAEs self-released debut album, The Black Pearl, after hearing about the band and even got it autographed by frontman Shabeeb al Harmi.

Anne insists she didnAEt buy the album for her sons, aged 20 and 23, but sheAEd like them to meet the band when the two come visiting her. Arabia reminds her of Deep Purple, one of her favourite bands, but thatAEs a compliment ShabeebAEs probably not looking for. Deep Purple is an entirely different categ-ory of metal afterall. oBut ArabiaAEs vocals are much harder,o Anne says.

Besides their music, Anne was also pleasantly surprised on meeting Shabeeb. oTheyAEre nice boys, not like their music. Very polite,o she recalls. Her meeting with the band came about because they canAEt sell their album in shops. To do that, an album must go through censors and thereAEs none for this kind of music in Oman. So the municipality has given Arabia permission to put up posters of the album in shops with their contact details. You call the number on the poster and the bandAEs merchandise manager, Mazin al Sabiri, will deliver an album at your doorstep. If youAEre lucky like Anne, Shabeeb may come along too.

Shabeeb looks like a regular bloke. No leather, metal or chains in his attire. Not even long hair. ItAEs only when you start a conversation with him that you realise that heAEs not the regular kind. The first thing thatAEll strike you is his usage of the word aemanAE. He pronounces it with an inflection of aeoAE and punctuates every sentence with it.

Shabeeb, 30, grew up wanting to be a chef and worked in the Arabic kitchen of Grand Hyatt Muscat. Two years ago, an accident took his left eye and he was asked to give up his culinary career. oI can do everything other than stand in the heat in front of a kitchen stove, mon,o he informs.

But the seed for Arabia was sowed many years ago. oIAEve been working on this band for seven years. WeAEre finally getting somewhere, mon,o he says, with what sounds like a hint of relief. The moneyAEs not too good, but it takes them through. Unreal as it may sound, Shabeeb claims theyAEre not in it for the money in any case. oWe just want to be heard, mon.o To keep afloat, two band members - bassist Kumail al Lawati and keyboardist Said al Mahmoody - work.

Said is an electrician while Kumail mans the front office of an oil company. The fourth member, ShabeebAEs nephew Tarik is studying to be a pilot in Dubai.

But despite these circumstances that are most unconducive to any band, theyAEve stuck on. oWe practise whenever possible, when all the band members are here, which is not too often, mon.o Practice sessions happen in an outhouse of ShabeebAEs family home in Seeb. The outhouse has a small wooden consol partitioned in two - one for drums, the other for vocals - a 16-channel mixer and a book, The Illustrated Home Recording Handbook.

Thanks to these facilities - a joke by any standard - the outhouse is converted into a recording studio. ThatAEs when ShabeebAEs family, which is generally supportive of his every endeavour, wonder why his music has to be so aeheavyAE.ItAEs this kind of music that UK-based Zero Tolerance (ZT) magazine focuses on. Sold in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, ZT describes itself as othe only magazine in the world which represents the views of a like-minded musical collective - an indestructible literary commune of musicians, writers and artistes who work towards a single goal - to represent the sonically unacceptableo.

And Lisa Macey, publisher of ZT, is impressed by Arabia. oConsidering it was conceived by individuals residing in an area that isnAEt generally thought of as having any kind of notable extreme metal scene, I was really impressed when we received ArabiaAEs The Black Pearl demo.o

oThe band takes an almost primitive black metal sound and adds light to it with an almost positive message, which is quite different from the majority of black metal we encounter,o Lisa observed. ThatAEs an aspect Shabeeb has been quite particular about. Aware of the negative connotations in the themes of most songs within this genre, Shabeeb consciously moved away from it and makes it known upfront that they are a god-fearing band. ThereAEs even an auspicious crescent moon in the bandAEs logo to ward off any misconceptions.

About their music, Lisa is quite upbeat. oThe Black Pearl is a little rough around the edges, but that almost adds to its appeal for me and I am looking forward to hearing the progress the band makes over time,o she said.

SheAEs including ArabiaAEs demo in a CD full of demos that the magazine receives from bands across the world for distribution with every issue of ZT. oItAEs to make it possible for bands without a record deal to get their music heard. The track The Black Pearl appears on our next covermount CDa I am sure there will be a number of people wanting to find out more about the band once they hear it,o Lisa said in an email message.

ThatAEs the kind of support Arabia needs. And ShabeebAEs hopeful of a positive response to the ZT covermount CD. oItAEll really matter to us, mon. WeAEd like to inspire other people the way others inspired us. We want to do something that nobody in Oman has done before. ItAEll be a long journey, mon,o he says, well aware of what lies ahead.

A[umlaut] Apex Press and Publishing

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Publication:The Week (Muscat, Oman)
Date:Jun 30, 2008
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