KIRKUK, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Heavy metal in Kirkuk does not always mean armored vehicles and artillery. For the fans, heavy metal means listening to their favorite local band: Dark Phantom.
Based in the heavily contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Dark Phantom is emerging in a hazardous climate yet proud of its defiance. Amidst the reign of the extremism and among the destruction of war, the heavy metal band rose in 2007.
The multi-ethnic band, consisting of two Turkmens, two Kurds, and one Arab has survived not only lack of support and appreciation from some in their own communities, but has braved various death threats from Islamists who equate 'metal' with Satan worship.
“They call us Satanists but music is life itself. And when you hear the sound of explosions and gunshots and the constant news of killings, heavy metal is the kind of music that comes to [our] minds, not hip-hop or love songs,” Murad Jaymz, the founder and guitarist told Kurdistan24 in a phone interview.
He says the band is determined to carry on with their passion but their challenges are manifold as they have had to go through several periodic “hibernations” to survive serious threats.
“We are like brothers, and we speak to each other in all three languages all the time, Kurdish, Arabic and Turkmen. We like to show the realities of life in Iraq. We suffer and war has destroyed our lives, but we rise above the war with our music,” Jaymz said.
In 2011, the band held its first concert in Kirkuk and to their surprise a sizable crowd gathered. “Mostly people between the ages of 18 to 28 and some teenagers [showed up]. I had never played in front of 300 people before but right after the first song, I gained my confidence and felt proud of my team,” Jaymz added.
Energized by their new fans' enthusiasm, the band promised to release their first album. At that point, “terror groups and their allies began threatening to close all the our band's pages on the internet. We were also warned, again, to stop our activities--or else,” the Dark Phantom guitarist told Kurdistan24 in an email exchange.
Only two years after the most credible and serious death threats, the band held three successful concerts in the liberal Kurdistan Region city of Sulaimani “which was a great recovery” Dark Phantom founder wrote.
However, disaster struck the band in 2014, as one of the vocalists and the drummer fled the violence consuming the country. “One of the guys lost his cousin, and he just said to us, ‘I can’t stay here any longer,’” Jaymz explained.
That’s when 23-year old Mir from Sulaimani was introduced to the band and became a vocalist and Mahmood, the only Arab band member, replaced the previous drummer.
As the band members partially changed, so did their music. Dark Phantom began transitioning to a style and sub-genre called Thrash Death Metal, which employs techniques such as faster tempos, heavily distorted and low-tuned guitars, and features aggressive and powerful drumming.
The band's manager, Abdulla Barzanji who lives in Erbil in Kurdistan Region told Kurdistan24 that prior to Islamic State's (IS) invasion of Iraq, he organized private parties and concerts at Sulaimani Institute of Fine Arts and University of Kurdistan-Erbil (UKH) but the war and subsequent financial crisis that followed ruined those plans for the time being.
“There was supposed to be 'Music Festival Kurdistan 2014' in UKH. It was a huge project, but the situation got bad, and many things got cancelled,” explained Barzanji.
To date, the band has recorded ten new songs for their debut album titled “Nation of Dogs” which is set to be released this summer.