Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fearless Iranians From Hell changed my life

Look at this album cover for a second. Just look at it. If you're over the age of 30, or even a younger person with an eye for history, you'll recognize this as the sinister profile of the now deceased Iranian Mullah known as Ayatollah Khomeini. No image in 1980's America could inspire more fear than his.

The Ayatollah (note the name "Ayatollah" is actually a title) was responsible for deposing the Shah and establishing Iran as the world's first (and so far only) Islamic fundamentalist state. Khomeini had been exiled to France when Iran was still under the rule of the ultra- corrupt US puppet Mohammed Reza Pahlavi (aka "The Shah Of Iran") and returned triumphantly in February of 1979 after the Shah fled to Egypt during the Iranian Revolution. Shortly thereafter in October of 1979, 52 Americans were taken hostage in the American embassy in Iran's capitol city Tehran.

America had found a new bogeyman.

Just the mention of the name "Ayatollah" would inspire fear in the average American. I can recall my grandmother looking at his face on the cover of Time magazine and exclaiming "oh my god, he looks so EVIL!" Professional wrestlers would create Iranian personalities and become arch enemies of whatever patriotic good guys they squared off against. Car shows and rodeos often featured someone dressed up as the Ayatollah, who would be lassoed by rodeo riders or run out of the arena by monster trucks. Nightly newscasts would show clips of Iranian students chanting "Death to America!" on an almost weekly basis.

Although the hostage crisis had finally ended in 1981, by the mid 1980's Iran was rumored to have been involved with several anti US and anti Western terrorist acts and bombings, either directly or through the use of proxies. This included the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Lebanon, as well as the bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon later that same year. Iran was often the recipient of Ronald Reagan's ire in his presidential addresses, until he was caught red handed trying to secretly deal arms to them in 1986. From there on out, the American media decided to focus on Libya as our main cause of security concerns.

1984 would become a banner year for Western civilian airliner hijackings, as well yet another bombing of a US target in Beirut, this time being the American Embassy annex. A militant Lebanese Shiite militia group known as Hezbollah were purported to have been responsible for the lion's share of these anti- US aggressions, and they were sponsored by (you guessed it) Iran. The Ayatollah would remain America's number one bad guy until Colonel Muammar al- Gaddafi started to give him a run for his money in 1985. The gauntlet had been thrown down between Islamic fundamentalism and Western capitalist imperialism, which would eventually culminate in the September 11 attack in 2001.

So what was I doing during all of these terrorist attacks and hijackings? Well, by 1987 I was fully immersed in the extreme musical expression known as hardcore punk. Hardcore punk was exactly what it said it was, a more extreme version of punk rock. Although the hardcore scene didn't exactly espouse any love for the Ayatollah or Islamic fundamentalists in general, it definitely was not on the side of the status quo or mainstream thinking in any way, shape or form. This mind melt of "anti- conformity" (which was, in essence, just conforming to the rules laid down by far left radicals) started to have a significant effect on me the more I got into hardcore. By the time I was 14 I was attracted to just about any seemingly subversive piece of music I could get my hands on.

Thrash metal was also becoming big at this time, so naturally there was quite a crossover between hardcore and metal. In fact, bands that were influenced by both punk AND metal would become a
sub genre of their own known as "crossover." Since I still had long hair in 1987, I prided myself as one of those crossover metalheads who had a real love for extreme music, but was firmly grounded in the leftist politics espoused by most hardcore bands. Don't get me wrong, I loved metal, but the sex, drugs and Satanism angle they worked didn't really do anything for me. I was much more interested in hearing lyrics about politics, and the crossover scene delivered high speed, anti- Reagan anthems played by longhairs, skinheads and mohicans alike. It was definitely an exciting time to be a curious 14 year old from the suburbs.

So on a cold night in October of this magical year I was with a group of older friends doing our weekly record shopping. This night would find us at Strawberries Records and Tapes in downtown Worcester Massachusetts. This particular Strawberries was like five times the size of a normal one, and had quite a large "Progressive" section in the basement level. The Progressive section was where you would find anything and everything related to extreme heavy metal, goth, punk, industrial, or any and all otherwise underground records.

It was on this particular night that I saw Fearless Iranians From Hell's "Die For Allah" LP and immediately became intrigued. I knew nothing of this band, but judging by their record label (Boner Records) I figured they had to be good. After all, Boner Records had great bands like Verbal Abuse and Fang, so if FIFH were in a similar league with them, I figured they must be pretty decent. In all honesty, I have absolutely no desire to listen to Verbal Abuse or Fang ever again in my now advanced age, but you better believe that I'm still very much enthralled by the Fearless ones.

I took this record home and gave it a spin. The whole presentation from the minimalist artwork to the song titles, to the lack of band photos, to the over the top lyrics was truly ominous. What struck me as particularly odd about FIFH was their militant support for suicide bombings and radical Islam. Even though as I said before, the hardcore scene was quite leftist, many hardcore bands expressed a dislike for both Reagan AND the Ayatollah. The fact that FIFH openly supported him was something that I found strange, and actually a little frightening.

This band was clearly onto SOMETHING, but I just couldn't quite put my finger on what it was. I kept sitting there thinking "This
has to be a joke" during one song, only to start thinking "Ummm, maybe it's NOT a joke" the next. I mean, just check out the lyrics to the first song, which was the title track of the album (this is from memory, so die hard fans, kindly cut me some slack!)

Were coming to your town, gonna set you free
The deathmobile's loaded with artillery
Machineguns in front gonna shoot you down
Fearless is here, so don't fuck around

We've got guns and bombs, and we're on patrol
Our weapondry will take its toll
Beyond belief, beyond control
We're stoned as shit, and we're ready to roll

DIE.... DIE.... DIE..... DIE FOR ALLAH!!!

I thought to myself "woo, this is completely OVER THE TOP!" Not to mention that musically, they kicked serious ass. They were on par with DRI, Corrosion Of Conformity, Cryptic Slaughter, Attitude Adjustment, The Accused, or any other number of crossover heavyweights from the time, but actually had a depth to their music that most of these bands lacked. Rather than playing at a million miles an hour and having unintelligible screaming, FIFH infused a lot of subtle melody, tempo changes, and actually discernible vocals in their music. Don't get me wrong, it was still pissed off and raw as fuck, but it was... I dunno... a little more advanced than the previously mentioned metal/ punk bands were.

So yes, upon re- reading those lyrics I was thinking "how could I NOT know this was a joke?" but when I flipped the record over to side two, that's when things got really weird. Side two of Die For Allah's first song was a lengthy instrumental with spoken word in Farsi dubbed kind of low in the mix. Again, I was conflicted. If these guys were from San Antonio TX as their contact address implied, how could they have someone on their record speaking fluent Farsi and not really (at least) be Iranian ex- pats living in America? I started to think that maybe they weren't kidding after all.

Well, by their third record "Holy War" I knew they were a joke. The cover of this release featured a cartoon of the Ayatollah sitting on a flying carpet, getting stoned from a giant hookah pipe. It definitely lacked the starkness of their first LP, and the almost sinister amateurishness of their debut 7" EP (which contained the hit "Blow Up The Embassy", man that song is great!) It also had really really good production and the songwriting was starting to become a little too much of a heavy metal wank a thon for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, I still think Holy War is a great album, but it's not nearly the kick in the nads that their first two records are. I never bothered picking up their last release "Foolish Americans", as by then I'd kind of lost interest in them.

I recently found out that FIFH actually had a behind the scenes Iranian Svengali named Amir. Amir was actually their original vocalist, but quit the band before they ended up recording anything. Amir however, stayed on as a silent partner/ member who ended writing a lot of FIFH's songs, as well as contributing the Farsi spoken on the song I mentioned, as well as on another song on their last record. Amir was an Iranian ex- pat whose family had relocated to Texas after the fall of the Shah's regime in 1979. Since it was mostly those of the upper and middle classes in Iran who weren't too keen on living in a new religious dictatorship, they comprised the bulk of the Iranian diaspora to the United States and Canada in 1979. Given that Amir's family probably weren't huge fans of the Ayatollah's new fundamentalist theocracy, it should be fairly obvious that FIFH were indeed intended to be an ingenious parody.

But not everybody got the joke, including yours truly at first. When asked if their fellow Texans hated them in a recent interview, FIFH drummer "Omid" replies;

"How do you think they reacted? They HATED us!"

FIFH were apparently loathed by everyone from skinheads, leftists, police officers, right wing radio hosts, leftist boy bands, gangs and various religious organizations. This was apparently all part of the plan, as they pretty much set out to piss off the entire planet. Given the fact that most Americans suffer from a sub par public education and a severely underdeveloped sense of irony this is not surprising. What is surprising is that many members of the supposedly radical punk rock scene didn't get it either (myself included initially, hey I WAS only 14!), and that is due to the fact that FIFH represented a far more advanced take on political commentary than 99.9% of their 1980's punk/ metal cohorts did.

What was de rigeur for most American hardcore, punk and crossover bands in the 1980's was an avowed hatred of Ronald Reagan, with the exception of a handful of nationalist punk/ metal bands attempting to ape the "Oi" scene in England (and failing miserably at it). Almost every band complained about Reagan and endorsed skateboarding. If there was any humor to be found in their lyrics at all, it was usually in the form of a bad cover of the Munsters theme or writing a song about how cool it is to drink cheap beer until you puke.

The members and adherents of most 1980's punk and metal simply weren't educated, intellectual, or hell OLD enough to really be able to express much more than blind rage and disillusionment with the status quo. This is where FIFH were brilliant in their approach. Rather than being the atypical "hate your mom and skate against Reagan" band, they decided to endorse radical Islam, suicide bombings and the wholesale killing of Americans in a way that seemed just a little too serious to completely be a joke. They pushed almost everyones buttons,and that is why I like them so much. Not to mention (as I said before) even on a musical level they were a cut above the rest.

By the time Fearless broke up in 1990 the hype about Iran was starting to fade. The Ayatollah had died and was replaced by the not- as- scary Ayatollah Khamenei in 1989, and well... you just didn't hear much about Iran in the news anymore. That would all change in 2005 when ultra conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected to office.

When I first saw Ahmedinejad he was on CNN talking about how Tehran was hosting a conference to prove that the Holocaust never happened. While giving this address his backdrop was a giant photo of a poppy field. In lieu of the fact that Iran has a HUGE heroin problem, all I could think to myself was "Is this guy out of his mind?"

From there on out, Ahmedinejad has only gotten more and more outrageous. The problem is, I'm too jaded with the mainstream media to take anything I hear about Iran (or any other country for that matter) all that seriously. Many of my peers have eschewed similar sentiments to my grandmother's, saying that the pint sized despot just "looks really evil" but to me he looks like a sleazy used car salesman who desperately avoids neckties for no good reason. Even with all the "OMG, Iran is gonna nuke Israel and start world war three!" you hear on the news, 1, 2 or maybe 20 times a day, I honestly don't see them as a threat. If they bombed anyone they'd be turned into the world's biggest ashtray in a nanosecond, and the fact that Iran is not trusted or liked by anyone in the world speaks volumes as to how powerful they actually are.

The Iranian government is not exactly loved by its own people either, as evidenced by the disorder which ensued after their election this summer. Ahmedinejad was elected for a second term, but detractors cried "fraud" and took to the streets. Both Ahmedinejad and Khameni (who still remains the "supreme leader" of Iran, although you barely ever hear about him) claimed that the US and Israel were behind the protests. Say what you want about Iran, but the disorder this summer proves that their population hardly represents a united front against Zionism, Western imperialism, or anything else, regardless of what their leaders say.

With Iran back in the number one spot as America's bogeyman, Fearless Iranians From Hell's music is as relevant as ever. Omid was quoted as saying that with the Ayatollah they had "The number one punk rock PR man" and I feel that this statement is 100% accurate. In fact, you could look at Iran as being the most punk rock country on earth. They're hated and misunderstood by just about every other nation on the planet, sans North Korea. They refuse to hang out with the cool kids from the United States or to sit with the jocks in Russia. They won't hang out with the science geeks in China and they hate the rich kids in Saudi Arabia. Iran truly is that weird kid who nobody understands.

And as long as they have their mouthy Muslim midget president's colorfully threatening commentary, and the mainstream American media constantly showing his stupid, smirking face on the news, he's likely to remain our bogeyman for quite awhile. After all, he provides a very convenient distraction from the myriad of social and financial issues we're currently dealing with here in the US. If there's one thing that a great Texas hardcore band taught me, it's that the media LOVES to push our buttons and keep us in fear at all times. This is how they control us. Really here in the "free" United States, the information we receive is not a whole lot more truthful than the information the Iranians receive.

So I say- fuck being controlled by fear.

some Fearless Iranians From Hell interviews can be found here:



Aaron Bennett said...

Cryptic Slaughter-- that's a band I haven't thought about in forever. Here's an example of "mediocre music, funny as shit cover art."


that wascally badger said...

Hey hey hey, you know how many intense skating sessions I had back in the day with "Money Talks" on the ole boombox!? I love that record! (well, tape at the time...)

I agree though, holy crap, what horrendous artwork...

Aaron Bennett said...

I just checked and Money Talks is actually on iTunes. Hard to imagine. I might have to buy it. I'm not likely to rip the vinyl I have it on in my parents basement.