Posts tagged with " Mark Levine"

Book Review: Heavy Metal Islam

Monday, 23/02/2009 ≅10:15 ©brainycat

I recently read the book "Heavy Metal Islam" by Mark Levine via mobipocket book format. I didn't know anything about this title before I selected it for download from my local library, but being a longtime headbanger and blessed(?) with enough brains that I can't help but be politically conscious, it seemed like it would be an interesting read.

I was not disappointed. Mark writes in a personable style that feels more bloggy than journalistic. Additionally, he has quite the insider's understanding of the scenes he visits. The scope of the book, however, seemed too broad forĀ  memoir styled prose. Between paragraphs, he switches from impartial, objective reporter trying to provide a global perspective to a concerned fan explaining his best friend's new album. All the while, the stories and attitudes he imparts broadened my horizons immeasurably. I still can't pretend to know what life is like for people like me in the islamic world, but I have a strong outline and it isn't pretty.

Most of the artists he interviews don't really share any political insight. This may very well be for their own protection, as most of these people risk being arrested and charged with "satanism": a catchall crime that includes any behavior, dress or attitude that is contrary to the ruling class. Don't laugh, it's happened in Morocco and Egypt recently. The book reads like a "working holiday" travelogue, broken into chapters by the countries he visits. I had the sense that the book does not follow the chronological order of his trips, as events that seemed important enough to galvanize the islamic world resonate heavily in some countries but not in others. Mark knows his metal, but does not seem to put any effort into conveying the sound through words. He seems content to compare the bands to western bands, and mentions numerous middle eastern bands and performers that I've never heard of before. I finished the book with no sense of the music at all, but with a deep appreciation for the feelings and hardships of the performers.

The biggest drawback I felt was the lack of interaction with the fans. Mark appears very well connected throughout the Middle East, as he spends most of the book interviewing succesful recording artists. In his recount, he often went on stage with his friends for both huge festivals and tiny jam sessions. Perhaps this is why we don't hear from the fans, Mark was backstage during all the shows. As most of the artists explained, the fans drive the music. But we never hear from the fans. I don't know anything about their lives; I read the whole book and I don't feel any closer to my bretheren across the globe.

There is an appendix at the end of the book that lists contact information for most of the bands he interviews, and I plan on looking them up and checking out their music. Apparantly, EMI has been leading the west by signing Middle Eastern metal bands. I look forward to hearing the music that comes from such stiflingly oppressive socieities.

I would recommend this book to more than headbangers. Anyone interested in an insider's view of the contemporary Middle East would be interested in this book, as would any musicians interested in the traditional sounds of the region. Additionally, political activists won't find themselves any more motivated, nor will they find any new informaton, but they will read about kindred spirits.

Heres I rate the book, on my nonfiction scale of 2-7 cats :

  • readability: 6 cats
  • edification: 7 cats
  • relevance: 5 cats
  • accuracy: 5 cats
  • human interest: 7 cats
  • leftistness: 6 cats

for a grand total of 6 cats, a very solid recommendation.

If I were a total blogging whore, I'd have a link to buy from amazon and make me some scratch. But I'm not yet motivated to setup an account like that with amazon that kind of person.