Release date: 01.04.2023
Versions: Digital / Stream
Stil: Progressive Extreme Metal from Iran with a strong melodic and rhythmic Arab Folk vibe
Since a long time and beyond our self-centred perception, metal has already been a global phenomenon, but even though this view is slowly widening, it is still a very European/American centred affair. Especially countries that for whatever reason, be it political, religious or social, differ a lot from Western countries and are also not the typical tourist destinations, fall through the cracks of attention of fans and labels alike. Iran certainly is one of the places about which we know and hear the least about, but of course there also enthusiastic metal fans and skilled musicians are living and playing heavy metal, even when this is not officially supported. ANOUSHBARD from the capital Tehran are some of them who could change our perception of Arab music, and put their country on the world map of metal.
Founded 2017 by the two guitarrists Siavash Motallebi and Sherwin Baradaran, the latter also perfoming all vocals, the duo released their debut ‘Mithra’ in 2020, already displaying their characteristic mix of prog metal melodies with driving, extreme, both thrash and death metal riffing and rhythmic elements, all combined with Persian folk influences and wonderful clean vocals as well as guttural growls. Whereas their first record gave a great insight both into their metal influences (think groovy SLAYER riffing meets NEVERMORE drive and complexity, and a lot of stark contrasted, mid-era OPETH fandom) as well as their penchant for 70ies Prog-/Art Rock, but was clearly the work of guitar-focussed musicians and songwriters, the band has now developed into a ‘heavy string quartet’ with Arman Tirmahi on bass and Nima Seylani on Oud, which both contribute to a much fuller and riper sound. Although I’m mainly reviewing their new album ‘Abandoned Treasure’, I very much recommend to check out the outstanding debut, too, especially when you are into epic, more than ten minute longtracks with unexpected turns and many oriental elements!
On ‘Abandoned Treasure’, ANOUSHBARD explore new territories, by focussing more on refining their distinct style. The eight songs have become shorter, more to the point, the rhythmic and melodious parts complement each other much better, and are much more balanced regarding the blend of metal and Persian folk music. Persian, not Iranian, because the main topic of the band is Persian history, philosophy, mysticism and the religion, founded by Zarathustra aka Zoroaster or Zardoscht around one thousand years BC. Thus, the first three songs of the album, the suite ‘The Righteous Ardaviraf’ (Preparation / Journey / Return), narrate the experiences of Wirāz, a Zoroastrian priest, exploring what is happening after death. The band explains:
“The song describes what our ancestors thought and believed about life after death. It happened many centuries ago: In the book ‘Arda Viraf’ the story of the upright and meaning-seeking Wirāz is written down. Wirāz was a fervent, deeply devoted priest of the ancient Zoroastrian religion, who was chosen to go on an afterlife journey – to find out what really happens to a person and his soul after death. This was celebrated in a very special ritual intimately, with appropriate, solemn clothing. Thereby the holy book of the religious cult was read, the ‘Arda Viraf’. The traveller was given three goblets of wine, which, by means of a special addition, caused him to fall into a death-like sleep for seven days. When he woke up, he could tell his experienced story. We strongly recommend our followers and fans to read more about this truly famous story, especially in its country of origin, Persia, which is set several centuries before Dante Alighieri’s kindred ‘Divine Comedy’.”
Listening to ANOUSHBARD opens up a gate to a culture we barely know much about, even though it has shaped the world we all live in enormously – and this really is an invitation to learn more about it!
Whereas the ‘Ardaviraf-Suite’ is a solemn and very intriguing spiritual journey into a mystic past, already in its last part a more rhythm and riff-based sound emerges, which will take complete control in death metallish monster ‘Destructive Spirit (Angra Mainyu)’, whose angry dynamics, harsh, but understandable vocals and oriental grooves remind of MELECHESH, ORPHANED LAND and Swedish Melodeath at the same time. At this point it becomes clear that ANOUSHBARD will have to find a permanent drummer who is able to deal with their thunderous rolling sound. Growling continues in ‘Tower Of Silence (Dakhma)’, and is impressively immersed in a multilayered, complex song full of twists and turns, and lots of fascinating details. To this point it should be clear that we have to deal with professional musicians in ANOUSHBARD who have a broad and deep background not only in metal, but also in their own folklore. The titel track reminds of Polands RIVERSIDE and their Prog- to Art Rock predecessors, thus beautifully showing the range of influences the Iranians draw from.
The single ‘Blacksmith’s Apron’, the longest song on ‘Abandoned Treasure’, is showing off the majestic soundwriting of ANOUSHBARD and also their classic, mainly IRON MAIDENish NWoBHM-influences, fusing great guitar solo and oud-work with ritualistic Arab percussions. I would wish for more of these epic tracks (and real longtracks again!) on their next release, as their storytelling music, although it is anything but easy listening, has such a lively lightness that one just enjoys to listen to it without ever getting tired. On the contrary, it captivates you so much that you have to press the repeat button again and again. It is a real pity that the band cannot perform live in their home country, as heavy metal is completely banned and criminalised in Iran. Nevertheless, there is a thriving scene with quite a few bands (Metal Archives lists around 140 bands alone…), which, however, is completely dependent on foreign labels and venues to perform and distribute their music – and last not least on the fans all over the world! So it’s no wonder that the band chose exactly this name for themselves:
“We named the band Anoushbard, which was a political prison in the Sasanian Empire (224 – 651 AD) and which means a place where you forget your identity and disappear forever. As a band, we call ourselves that because we are very interested in the history of our country and in our Persian roots.”
Just think about how much they risk only to be able to play the music they love… this is unimaginable for Europeans who never experience real governmental censorship, let alone legal interventions. They deserve our full support by buying their stuff and spreading the word about this phenomenal band! Maybe this will help them to play live in a place near you soon – it’s in our hands!
ANOUSHBARD are Sherwin Baradaran (Vocals, Guitar), Siavash Motallebi (Guitar), Arman Tirmahi (Bass) and Nima Seylani (Oud).
Mithra (2020, LP)
Abandoned Treasure (2023, LP)