When Acrassicauda drummer Marwan Hussein found out on July 9 that his heavy-metal band had successfully raised $37,383 via Kickstarter to record its first full-length album, he says his reaction was elation tempered by “a sense of guilt.”
The elation: Acrassicauda’s three original members are Iraqi, and as they reached out to fans via the crowdfunding site, donors from all over the globe responded with pledges that exceeded the band’s original $33,000 goal. “I’m still in shock,” says Hussein. “It’s the first time we’ve ever had money in the band bank.” The guilt: Their success came just as the jihadist group ISIS began violently seizing large swaths of Iraq. “It escalated so fast,” says Hussein, who has nine family members in the country. “They used to say, ‘Don’t worry about us, we’re okay.’ Then they began to say, ‘If there’s any way you can get us out....' That’s when I knew it was serious.”
Formed in 2001 in Baghdad, the members of Acrassicauda -- a reference to A. Crassicauda, the Latin species name for the extremely poisonous Arabian fat-tailed scorpion -- had braved bullets, bombs and persecution for their art, as depicted in the 2007 Vice documentary, "Heavy Metal in Baghdad." After fleeing to Syria, then Turkey, the band found asylum in the United States in 2009. (They currently reside in Brooklyn and New Jersey.) In March 2010, Vice Records released their U.S. debut, the EP "Only the Dead See the End of the War," which was produced by Testament guitar virtuoso Alex Skolnick.
Despite the band’s cult fame, fortune did not follow. Hussein explains touring led to “culture shock. We got here thinking, we have a documentary, Metallica wants to meet us -- we’re going to play arenas, ” he says, before noting that Acrassicauda’s first U.S. gig took place in the basement of a Brooklyn metal bar. While touring in 2011, both Hussein and guitarist Tony Aziz lost their fathers and Aziz departed the band. Two more guitarists were added, and the band toured again in 2013. Hussein says Acrassicauda’s last live date was in October, “where we spread the word about Kickstarter.”
The band turned to crowdfunding “because we are broke and our day jobs hardly support us -- and it was about time after 14 years with no record,” Hussein says. Acrassicauda had also parted ways with Vice Music after their contract ran out. “We’re 100 percent independent now.”
While band members scramble to bring their relatives to America, Hussein, vocalist/guitarist Faisal Talal and bassist Firaz Al-Lateef plan to begin recording their album on Aug. 1.
Titled "Gilgamesh," it is based on what may be the oldest work of literature on earth, "The Epic of Gilgamesh," a proto-"Iliad" from Mesopotamia that depicts the adventures of the historical King of Uruk. The concept album will be a “modern interpretation,” he says, shaped by recent events in Iraq.
During their time in Baghdad, Acrassicauda’s members -- who were Sunni, Shiite and Christian -- wrote mostly apolitical music for obvious reasons, and, with family still in harm’s way, Hussein’s comments about the situation in Iraq are similarly wary. “Our fans, our friends in Iraq, they're saying it's really bad,” he says. “I don't think we're ever going to recover from this one.”
Since Acrassicauda left Baghdad, Hussein says he has not heard any other heavy metal coming from Iraq. “But there are bands from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East that we are in touch with,” he says, adding that Acrassicauda is exploring ways to team up for a concert in collaboration with the Brooklyn-based arts and media organization Humanitarian Bazaar.
“I do dream of playing Baghdad again,” Hussein says. Until then, he explains, “The most aggravating thing someone can say to me here is, 'I'm sorry’" for America’s involvement in Iraq. "It is not your fault," he says. "We've never been victims."