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There are few “modern” genres which fetishize nationality more than black metal does; even without considering the strong nationalist element that many of the genre’s worst adherents bring to it, the supposed rooting of sound in geographic place is a marked characteristic of the genre. Others may have their examples – such as Swedish death metal, or Japanese hardcore – but these styles do not hold location in the same regard or in the same manner as black metal can. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that a commonly espoused view of American black metal was that it couldn’t be any good because America didn’t have any history – a clearly stupid statement for all sorts of reasons.

And so, to مَوْلَى (“Sire” or “Master”) by Mulla. The anonymous band’s Bandcamp page tags them as hailing from Iraq, and assuming we’re not being led along in some Ghost Bath-style deception, this surely undermines any possible notion that nationality has any influence on sound. Shorn of that background information, مَوْلَى would be thought of as one of the strongest Scandinavian black metal releases of recent years. The atmosphere is cold and grim, the riffs an exemplar of all that was good about mid-’90s Darkthrone, and the vocals a shrieked proclamation of defiance and hate. That Darkthrone reference is no accident. Listened to with an inattentive mind, the album could easily be mistaken for a black metal, Peaceville-era album from Fenriz and co., albeit with a much-improved production. In particular, the riffs have that same kind of Celtic Frost-influenced groove and grim bite that characterised A Blaze in the Northern Sky, and even the solo on third track ‘من الروح’ has some of the same chaotic catharsis as the one around the two minute mark of ‘Kathaarian Life Code’. The true highlight of the album comes relatively early on though, with the mid-tempo opening section of second track ‘ يا إلهي’, which moves with all the unstoppable inevitability of an avalanche in slow motion.

The only time when Mullah hint, musically, at their origins is on final track ‘الليل ‘. An instrumental guitar piece, it combines raw black metal coldness with more traditional Middle Eastern-inspired melodies. Anyone expecting something along the lines of Melechesh simply because both bands have broadly similar geographic origins should check their preconceptions at the door. Indeed, the statement on the Bandcamp page (“we are not a terrorist group or religious fanatics”) seems to preempt a lot of assumptions about what a black metal band from Iraq must be. مَوْلَ is nothing less than pure cold black metal, that is of such quality that would be notable even were it not from a place where metal bands are few and far between.

مَوْلَى is out now. Pick it up here.

Words: Stuart Wain

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