Interview: Alex Basher of Xathrites
Hinweis: eine deutsche Übersetzung des Interviews wird bald folgen.
When it comes to Black Metal we usually think about bands from most parts in the world, but not necessarily from Iraq. In Bagdad in 2005, Alex Basher and Saqer Vashkigalix founded Xathrites as a band that plays “Pure Black Metal Music” but quickly changed towards Depressive Suicidal Black Metal. We already wrote a “Band of the Week”-article about the band, today follows an interview with founder and head of the band, Alex Basher. For general information, check out this article first. Now we will dive deeper into the history and circumstances of Xathrites.
You and Saqer formed Xathrites in Bagdad, Iraq back in 2005 to play “Pure Black Metal Music”. How did you become a fan and musician of Black Metal and what was the reason to change your music quickly towards Depressive Black Metal?
Alex: Me and Saqer were best friends at school. What brought us together as best friends was the love of metal music in general, but our favorite type was always the darkest music, harsh and screaming vocals, but we didn’t know that there was a whole genre that contained all these vibes together. You know, back then, specially in Iraq, Metal music wasn’t a thing and you can hardly find a tape for any metal band. So, with a few contacts and mutual friends, we finally got some songs by Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, Bathory, etc. They weren’t full albums, it was more like a mixtape a guy gave us. It had the best of Black Metal songs back then.
Once we listened, we were in shock of how much this genre showed the vibes and atmosphere that we were always looking for! So, we wanted to do something so pure with these vibes to reflect the darkness we have been living there.
But the hardest part was how to play this music. I had zero knowledge in music, I couldn’t even tell the difference between bass and lead guitar cuz the culture I was living in had zero interest in music. And of course there were no places that taught electric guitar, so I started digging and looking for someone who can help. Thanks to my brother who had a guitarist friend who plays Arabic and rock music, so I asked him if he can lend me his electric guitar, and damn the magic started once I held it. I felt the glory. To be honest, I still get goosebumps just remembering this moment. I had no clue how to play it and YouTube wasn’t there at the time, so I started asking people and began to understand that there are chords and notes. I had to spend over ten hours daily, skipping sleep to try and understand every note and how to make it sound the way I wanted, I had to figure out everything by myself.
It was a long hard journey. I’m not gonna lie and I was disappointed a lot and I gave up many times but the love of music and motivation I had, kept me going. Then there was that change… in our lives, in our routine…. in people’s eyes… pretty much everything we had ever known had changed forever. The war mercilessly invaded our days and nights. All of a sudden, we were living in a ghost city. Everyday experiencing the grief of a loved one’s death. Walking down the street, the change was really obvious. The air was hard to breathe, the sky turned grey, and the atmosphere of depression showed on every face. It was the moment I knew that no one would ever be happy again. At this moment my vision had turned black and white, and I focused all my sadness, hate, grief and depression into my music, the riffs sounded more doomy and sad, the lyrics talked about the theme I was living. That was what changed our genre from Pure Black Metal to Depressive Black metal. So, I think life forced this genre on us. We didn’t choose it, it chose us.
Already one year later, Saqer left Iraq and in 2007, you went to Cairo as well. Do you want to tell us a bit about your story and the situation you and Saqer had to face in Bagdad back then? Also, how did it come that you ended up in Egypt?
Alex: I’ve been asked this question so many times, but I have never ever answered it. But this time I will. There wasn’t a specific reason that made me leave Iraq. It’s more of a series of events that happened after one another that made it a sure thing that I needed to leave.
First my house was very near to army facilities so many times I had to face bullets and bombs near my house. But the biggest event happened that made things worse. There was a huge attack of heavily armed people against the army facility (I won’t name who were these groups that were fighting), but there was a huge attack that used bombed cars, aircraft rockets, heavy machine guns, grenades, and during all these fights my house was in the middle. I knew I was going to die. I was sure of it; my survival rate was less than 1%. The whole house went down. The doors were flying, glass was everywhere. Each wall in the house had at least 20 bullet holes. I was hiding in the basement, waiting for my death. I was covered in injuries, my body was full of glass. I was bleeding and just waiting for the next bomb to end my life. At this point I was thinking of everything I wanted to do in my life and how much time I needed to do things, I wished to do. The minutes were slower than centuries. I’m sure only a few would understand what I’m talking about. I didn’t feel the pain of all the injuries I had. I was more like hallucinating. I was sure I wasn’t gonna live. How I would live through all these bullets and bombs, I heard screaming, bullets, bombs, and for over nine hours of fighting I was trapped under the destruction waiting for my death, but suddenly everything stopped. And all I heard was people calling in speakers asking if someone was still alive. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t move. I thought to myself; this is not real, maybe I’m just hallucinating, maybe I was dead, then they took me out of there and I just survived!
At the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 a civil war had started in Iraq, maybe that’s something that was never mentioned in the news. It wasn’t just gangs that try to rob you or sell you some drugs. No it was more than that. There were borders around the streets and forcing people to leave their homes and if they don’t, they get murdered. There was killing for even the silliest of reasons for example, if you’re wearing shorts you would get killed, if you wear Metal band T-shirts you would get killed. There was death everywhere and the only way to survive is to hold a gun and protect yourself or your family, and tons of other events were going on.
I travelled to a few countries before I came to Egypt, but I didn’t like them. Some of them were racist and some of them didn’t treat me well, so I thought dying in my country was better than letting someone treat me like shit. And to be honest I didn’t fear death. I faced it every day, so it was nothing to fear for me.
Then I tried to move to Egypt cuz a member of my family moved here, and Saqer was already in Cairo. He told me, life is good in Egypt. People are nice, and they love Iraqis. So, I decided to go and take the risk. I went there and yeah, I found out it was all true what they say. The people are nice and warm hearted. I can’t say everyone is amazing cuz there are always the bad and good people everywhere. But most of them treat me very well, so I thought to settle and start a new life and take the band and my vision of music to the next level. I had so many difficulties but I’m glad, I went through them and did what I did. It was a slow journey to reach what I dreamed of but finally I got it done.
Your first release was The Warrior of God, followed by the first album My Last Day Story and another single in 2013. How can we imagine your musical development from the beginning to those first releases?
Alex: I would say, it developed a lot. My knowledge in music got better. I studied a lot of music theory and learned many new techniques on guitar, drums, bass, and music production. With the help of the Xathrites community, I got better gear and software to help me with the production. I wouldn’t say, I did it by myself but there were a lot of people who supported Xathrites in many ways. They are the ones who gave me this chance to develop my music career. And by time I have figured out my own tone and sound. When I started the band, I was inspired by many styles which affected our sound. It became a bit like them, but right now I have my own vision and tone on what I write and know the scales that fit the sound I wanna reach with my music.
In how far are the lyrics in your songs reflecting the things you experienced?
Alex: That’s a good question. Yes, the lyrics reflect a lot of what we faced in most of our lives. Not only my story, but the story of the members who have been in the band, and also people I knew who were a big part of my life. The whole band idea was to reflect the life events we have been living and translate it into a music piece that summarize a life situation that lasted for over 18 years. And not only the life situation there but also the effect it has on people, the change of their mindset towards these events and how this can turn people into monsters or make them lose hope or make them try to end their life, the pain that people go through.
With Ammar you found a new vocalist in 2018. How did you guys meet and what was the reason for Saqer to leave the project?
Alex: Ammar was recommended by a good friend after Saqer left the band. She told me this musician would fit in the most in Xathrites. So, we talked and felt like we are very alike when it comes to music composing, lyrics and production, so it was really easy, dealing with him and understanding each other. The working process on “Hope is a mental illness” was very smooth and he did his job very well. But after a while we didn’t get along and we had to separate for reasons I can’t mention. All I can say is, he was a good musician, and it was great working with him.
As Saqer was very welcoming of the idea of new vocalists getting involved in the band. His participation in the band was getting less intense as it used to be till the night, he called me on the phone to inform me that he’s not gonna perform as a vocalist anymore without giving further details about what was the reason for such discussion. All he said “Alex I’m not gonna sing for the band, but I’ll be there to keep the quality in check “, he had his own reasons and I respected that. He still checks everything with me and gives his opinion about the work. And sometimes helps with the production.
As a band from Iraq, now located in Egypt, do you feel as a part of the global (Black) Metal scene, or would you rather say that you’re all alone in this? Of course, there’s the internet connection to the rest of the world but still, it might be difficult to keep up with your passion.
Alex: I would say it’s way better than Iraq when it comes to music passion in general, but for Black Metal music it’s not easy. I won’t say that people are against this music here, no there are a few good Black Metal bands in here and some bands even do tours in Europe, and members participated in Xathrites as guest vocalist before, but the main problem is that the scene is not the best and there is not much attention for this genre. There are no labels, or sponsors for this kind of music around here. I guess it’s growing but slowly to be part of the global scene.
Do you think there’s a future for Metal in the middle east and in northern Africa? What advice would you give to younger musicians living in those countries who would like to start a similar project like you?
Alex: Yes of course there is a future, many middle eastern bands got good deals with big labels and do tours around the world. But what I realized, most of them are Heavy Metal, Thrash, maybe Death but not Black Metal. So, it’s slowly growing but I’m sure there will be labels and deals in the future for more bands from many genres.
For younger musicians who wanna play Black Metal or DSBM, my fav advice to give is, take your time to build your sound, listen to a lot of music from many genres and start creating your own sound, don’t be just another band who do the same chords and tremolo picking riffs, cuz people got sick of it. That’s for the music advice but for the region, I would say believe in yourself and don’t wait for the locals only to listen to your music always try to expand and get in touch with the whole world. You got the internet and tons of platforms to upload your music on, and social media to share your ideas with, so don’t limit your band only to your area.
What are your plans for the future of Xathrites? With your latest single Even Thy Screams are Silent you released a promising new song, and I can imagine that a lot of people would like to see you here in Europe.
Alex: Currently I’m working on Xathrites’ new full album, almost all the songs are fully composed but still there is a lot of work on the recording and editing the songs composition, Mixing, Mastering, Production and the theme of lyrics, but I’m doing my best to finish it this year and release it.
To be honest with you, I have been talking with the other members of Xathrites and some trusted old fellas about doing a tour in Europe. So, at the moment we are discussing that and consider it as something, we want to do in the future not in a long time but sooner than you think. But of course, we have our priorities to finish the album and make sure, we give the music work the time it deserves before we can focus on the tour.
Thank you for this interesting interview. From the questions I read, it shows how much you know about Xathrites which made the questions really good and creative, so I had a great time answering them.
Hails from Xathrites, Baghdad, IRAQ