|Baghdad’s Acrassicauda will play at the Tally Ho in Leesburg on Oct. 6. —Photo courtesy/Acrassicauda|
A couple of years after the American invasion of Iraq, Marwan Riyadh and his band, Acrassicauda received a written death threat on the door of their practice space – cease playing their Americanized metal music or die. As the civil war in the country mounted, the band could only sporadically practice. They eventually fled, spending a couple years as pariahs in Syria and Turkey.
“There were military checkpoints, bombs going off,” said drummer Riyadh. “We couldn't get together for six or seven months.”
Years later, after fleeing to the United States, meeting Metallica backstage and touring the country, Acrassicauda is hitting the road again in preparation of composing their first full album.
And the first stop is in Leesburg.
Acrassicauda's story is an adventure, with the first years canonized in the documentary film “Heavy Metal in Baghdad.” The group formed in 2001, having fallen in love with Western metal music.
“We just compared it to our situation and also a time when we were teenagers and rebelling,” Riyadh said.
Riyadh and lead singer Faisal Talal decided to give making a band a try, despite the lack of a metal music scene in Baghdad. Slowly, through mutual connections and school, the two linked up with Tony Yaqoo, Waleed Moudhafar and Firas Al-Lateef. Acrassicauda – named after an Iraqi desert scorpion – was born.
After playing just a short while, the band in 2001 performed live for the first time in the backyard of an art gallery in Baghdad.
According to the band, about 300 people attended the first show. With the help of Vice magazine, which had profiled the band in an earlier issue, the band in 2005 performed a sell-out show to 500 people.
But the unrest in Iraq did not bode well for the band. A subsequent show attracted less than 50 people, the brunt of them reporters.
In 2005, Yaqoo fled to Syria; Riyadh joined in 2006 and the other members followed. They reformed in Syria, but faced the “same [expletive deleted] as in Iraq.” The band was labeled as devil-worshipers
They played two shows in Syria, with the last boasting all of six guests.
Syria did not extend the band members' visas and as a result, they went to Turkey, waiting for another country to accept them as refugees.
The United States did.
Yaqoo went first in 2008; Riyadh was the last to come over in 2009. Just days of his arrival, the band was invited backstage at a Metallica concert in Newark, N.J. Lead singer James Hetfield presented them with an autographed guitar with a note: “Welcome to America.”
“Getting there and seeing how big the production was, I was speechless,” Riyadh said. “And meeting James Hetfield and having him say we were an inspiration was really overwhelming.”
In 2011, the band released their debut EP, a four song album produced by Alex Skolnick, the guitarist of Testament. The band then embarked on a coast-to-coast tour, joined by new member Muhammed Al-Ansari.
“It definitely raised the bar after that,” Riyadh said.
Following the tour, Yaqoo left the band and was replaced by Marwan “Mar2” Grada.
This year's short national tour is in preparation to record the band's first full-length album. Currently only able to practice about once a week since the band members all have day jobs, Riyadh and the group hope the tour will act as a creative catalyst once they reach the studio.
The first tour stop for the band will be at the Tally Ho in Leesburg on Oct. 6. Owner Don Devine is eager to welcome the band.
“I'm not a big metal-head but I love their story,” Devine said. “All these bands talk about violence and warfare and they've really experienced it.”
And while the band is performing the Tally Ho's first major metal show, regardless of what happens, Riyadh will be grateful of the opportunities he's received.
“Did I ever think I was going to be a musician? No. Did I ever think I was going to make it to the states? No,” Riyadh said. “This chaotic journey makes you think things in perspective. Did I ever think I would do this? No, but I always dreamed.”
If you go:
Where: Tally Ho Theater, 19 W. Market St. Leesburg
Time: 8 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m.
For ticket information, visit tallyholeesburg.com.
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