Acrassicauda Invade America

With Alex Skolnick producing, the former Iraqi thrash-metal group makes its official debut.

As refugees of the Iraq war, thrash metal’s Acrassicauda have suffered for their art to a degree that few musicians do. Named after a type of Iraqi black scorpion, the band formed in Baghdad in 2001 with the desire to play music inspired by acts like Metallica, Slayer and Slipknot. But after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, anti-Western attitudes made their American-inspired music taboo, and Acrassicauda were forced to flee the country. “People think we’re political vehicles more than we are musicians,” says lead guitarist Tony Yaqoo. “But we’re musicians first.”

That much is evident on Only the Dead See the End of the War. Produced by Testament’s Alex Skolnick, the new EP is the first official release from Acrassicauda, which features Yaqoo, singer/guitarist Faisal Mustafaz, bassist Firas Raza and drummer Marwan Hussein. With its machine-gun riffs and breakneck double-bass drums, Only the Dead See the End of the War is the kind of raw and heavy album Acrassicauda could have only dreamed of making in Iraq.

How they got to the U.S. is a tale of fortitude and luck. Following the 2003 invasion, the group endured the hardships of war and anti-U.S. sentiment. But in 2006, when the building in which Acrassicauda rehearsed was bombed, destroying their gear, they fled Iraq, heading first to Syria and later to Turkey. In the intervening time, they appeared in the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad, a copy of which made its way to Skolnick. He became a fan and began telling people of their plight. When Testament performed in Turkey, Skolnick invited Acrassicauda to attend their show, and shortly after, they moved to the U.S.

Having a safe haven has allowed Acrassicauda to hone their skills. Their sound also grew by leaps and bounds after they received new equipment from Peavey and ESP. “It’s very easy to put too much emphasis on gear,” Skolnick says. “But their music had never been played on good gear. Once they had it, it made a huge difference.”

Few musical journeys have been as difficult or as dangerous as the one undertaken by Acrassicauda, but the band has no misgivings about the choices it has made. Says Mustafa, “I didn’t know heavy metal would cost me my life, my career, my friends, my family. I regret that I’ve become a refugee, but I’ve never regretted I was a musician.”

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