Report: 'Underground' Heavy Metal Is Alive And Well In Iran

Scott Peterson of The Christian Science Monitor reports that in East and West, the language of rock 'n' roll is one of rebellion and pushing the limits. And in the Islamic Republic of Iran, musicians like guitarist Nurick Misikian and bassist Babak Riahipour are creating a parallel reality that could not be further removed from Friday prayers and routine calls for revolutionary sacrifice and waging war against the West.

Could there be life without their music? "No way," says Misikian, a veteran of more than two decades at the guitar, shaking his head. "We'd be dead," concurs Mr. Riahipour matter-of-factly.

Many Iranian youths today are disillusioned with politics and the stalled reform movement of President Mohammad Khatami, despite two land- slide election victories that promised more social freedoms and the rule of law. And while young people increasingly turn to drugs (hits of heroin are cheaper than a box of cigarettes) and mysticism for escape, mainstream Iranian pop bands — and fringe rock groups like this one — are finding some restrictions easing.

The new band — which may be called "SHANTI," the Sanskrit word for "peace" — hopes to play publicly for the first time Thursday night [October 2] at a conference hall at a local hospital. That's progress: Another popular band that Riahipour helped launch four years ago, the first of its kind, never got a stamp of approval.

"We couldn't play publicly, and never got permission," says Riahipour, who since has played with dozens of Iranian bands, in public and at "private concerts" at parties. "Well, we did have one concert: inside the Russian Orthodox Church. They needed the money [as a fundraiser] — you know the Russians."

Back then, the bass player says, band members were required to play sitting down. Even today, though the band can stand, the audience must sit. Forget about Elvis Presley, and any kind of suggestive gyrations, which are standard musical fare elsewhere.

"They are headbanging while sitting," Riahipour says of the audience. "Many people know us now. Heavy metal is very popular in Iran. There have been more and more concerts in Tehran recently." Read more.

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