Sound: I came across Scarab when I looking at international festivals and saw that they played at Desert Rock in 2009. They got a spot there by winning the United We Rock competition over 100 other bands, so I thought I'd check them out. Their album, Blinding the Masses, was released to the west in June of this year, and I was pretty impressed.
Being a band from Egypt with a name like Scarab and playing death metal, they can't help but be compared to Nile. They're not as technical, as they seem to be drawing from a range of influences from the genre, and this album offers plenty of variation because of it.
Blinding The Masses has the staples of death metal blast beats, the occasional tempo change and growls (no clean singing). However, some songs, like Ankh, introduce oriental-sounding riffs that are created without resorting to traditional instruments so the album doesn't stray into folk metal. The opening track, Into the Dunes, is a bit different though. It's an instrumental that is reminiscent of the sombre ambience of Nile's Hall of Saurian Entombment.
Not everyone can live the dream of getting rich from death metal, but Scarab's day jobs luckily overlap with the creation of many aspects of the album. For instance the vocalist, Samy, writes and composes music for Egyptian movies, so you could see Into the Dunes opening a sand-swept, ancient-Egyptian fantasy film, and Mohamed (bass) is a graphic artist and is responsible for Scarab's excellent myspace page and art.
According to Marzeban, Scarab's guitarist, the band's musical influences include Opeth, Morbid Angel, Nile, Bolt Thrower, Immolation, Behemoth and Vader. Hearing Scarab among that mix will not throw out your playlist. // 7
Lyrics: The vocal work is a real standout. It's not completely incomprehensible, and every now and then (especially in Blinding The Masses) it hits a tone that reminds me of Dying Foetus.
As for the background to their lyrical themes, Samy has said that, the Scarab lives in shit, and that's how we see the place we live in today, going through hard times.
According to Marzeban, We speak about the past, comparing it to the present and predicting the outcome in the future grasping all that has been imprisoned and releasing it to the fans hoping for an evolution.
Scarab have said that bands in their part of the world shouldn't relate, music with religion and politics, it will create a negative effect in the middle east, write about history and change.
Upon hearing that last one I was very disappointed because that sounds like a compromise to me, and compromise doesn't sound very metal. I changed my mind when I read through their lyrics and thought about what it may be like living in a country that has a precedent for beating and jailing fans of metal. It's true that a main theme is about the power of the individual to change the world around them, like in Ankh;
All the animal instinct
Inside of us
All the walls of flames
In front of me
Prevent my deeds becoming true
However, I don't think it's true that they steer clear from politics and religion, regardless of what they say in interviews. A band dealing with the themes of oppression and blinded masses can't help but address those two things that don't make for good small-talk.
Here are some lines from Blinding The Masses;
Wake up now and face the massacre
or run away and hide in a place where you can find your need.
But if you want to stay then subversion is the only solution for your evolution
And, from War To End, Soul destroying obsolete philosophies leading to the curse of martyrdom.
Any creative writing is a window into the thoughts of the person behind it and is a real truth-detector. It can be seen everywhere, like, for example, The Lord of the Rings. Even though Tolkien seemed moderate enough, he makes it clear who the kingdoms of the west' have to be afraid of by having his bad guys' speak and dress a different way to the good-guys' (Orcs=working class folk, Haradrim=North Africans and Arabs, and Easterlings=Far-Easterners like the Japanese) which is why it's no wonder Varg Vikernes loved it so much. So I think the lyrics in Scarab's songs don't match up with what they say about trying not being negative and avoiding religion and politics. To me, Scarab could be compared to the great Arabian poet, Al-Ma'arri, who was a blind, anti-religious, free-thinking, anti-tyrant vegan in the 11th century. Even though he occasionally praised his rulers for his own safety, he never relented from sticking it to the man through his poetry. // 9
Overall Impression: After giving Blinding The Masses a few listen-throughs, I've come to really appreciate it. It's title track repeats blinding the masses' a bit too often, but Scarab obviously want to reinforce what the song's about. Overall, I think it's an excellent debut album and I'll be following Scarab to see where they go to from here.
Scarab have already made a name for themselves throughout the Arabic east because, technically and creatively, their music stands toe-to-toe with some of the big international acts. They also stand out by focusing their lyrics not on religion, like a lot of metal bands, but on the oppressed masses and their need to shrug off tyranny (which, actually, is an indirect attack against religion).
There is a rawness to it as well, like static that creeps around the edges in the quieter parts, and it makes it seem like they've engineered the album themselves. Because of this, Scarab really do seem like a bunch of guys that practice what they preach and make things happen through their own hard work. I can't help but compare this scene to Norwegian black metal in its early days an underground sound that was breaking boundaries in controversy for its homeland and morphing a genre into something new that they could call their own and Scarab are a part of it. // 8