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Rock and a hard place

Jordanian heavy metal bands find the public ill-informed about their music.

Jordanian heavy metal musicians: (left to right) Rami Haikal, Hani Abadi, Zaher Siryani and Muhannad Bursheh. Jordan's heavy metal scene suffers from many misconceptions, including that such music glorifies Satan. (Tom Peter/GlobalPost)

AMMAN, Jordan — Muhannad Bursheh hardly seems like the kind of guy who would be viewed as a troublemaker. He’s an audio engineering student enthusiastic about ancient Middle Eastern mythology and he lives with his family in Abdoun, one of Amman’s upscale neighborhoods. But Bursheh is also the member of three heavy metal groups.

Though they don’t sing about Satanism or anarchy — most of his band’s songs are about Mesopotamian and Nabataean legends — his group, Tyrant Throne, is at odds with many Jordanians who believe they are Satanists, so like most heavy metal bands they have a difficult time playing in Jordan.

In one of the Middle East’s more liberal countries, heavy metal music has become a flash point for freedom of expression. Though most groups popular within the subculture don’t sing about anything contrary to the government or religion, they’re unable to book gigs in Jordan because of misconceptions about metal.

"It comes and goes. You have two years of total freedom of metal in Jordan and then three years of nothingness, which is where we’re living now, with no gigs or nothing, so all you do is work for yourself and promote yourself outside Jordan," Bursheh said.

In the 1990s, Jordan had a respectable metal scene. It wasn’t major, but there were regular concerts and several specialized shops that sold albums and paraphernalia by the likes of Iron Maiden and Twisted Sister.

But some time around the late '90s without any clear explanation the shops were closed and concerts weren’t allowed. Since then, acceptance of heavy metal has varied from year to year, leaving metal heads only to speculate.

Most recently, heavy metal shows were tolerated for much of 2005 and 2006, but in 2007 acceptance of metal declined and now groups say its impossible to book concerts in Jordan.

Part of their trouble may have to do with the widely held public perception that heavy metal music is a form of satanic worship. Throughout Jordan rumors circulate that metal heads do everything from drink cat’s blood to inject themselves with a magical green liquid that allows them to play the guitar perfectly. Many of these stories are printed in major newspapers.

“The most dangerous thing to metal in Jordan is bad news articles,” said Rami Haikal, a guitarist for Bilocate.