The DIY documentary Syrian Metal Is War, released in February for free on YouTube, is an intimate look at the day-to-day lives of Syria's small but dedicated metal scene amid the chaos of that country's brutal civil war.
Prior to the war, Syrian metal musicians faced jail time and persecution for "satanism." During the war, they face new challenges, roadtripping along dangerous highways and dodging snipers to make it to shows at the one remaining café in Aleppo where live metal music still lives. They try to record amid the rumble of bombs and regular power outages. "The symphony of Aleppo," one musician tells the camera, "is generators and bullets."
Filmmaker Monzer Darwish, a Syrian metalhead who decided to document the scene before it disappeared altogether, shot the footage on a DSLR camera and his cellphone in 2013–14, carried the footage with him as a refugee through Algeria, Turkey, Greece, and the Netherlands, and then crowdfunded enough money to get the whole thing edited.
The result is an indie slice of history—and a testament to the human drive for creative freedom and the ways art can make life urgently worth living. The film can resonate even for those who've never felt the urge to bang their heads. As one musician says, extremists could target him or a stray mortar could hit him at any time. "In the end, however," he says, "keep it metal."
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Syrian Metal Is War".