Keith Kahn-Harris is the author of Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge, and Strange Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and the Limits of Diversity. Here are his ten favourites slices of Israeli metal, punk and noise.
Whatever it was that bound me to Israel growing up, it wasn’t the music. On family holidays in the 1980s, I came to associate Israeli rock and pop with endless (and endlessly dull) ballads by men with gravelly voices. At youth movement summer camps, I sometimes enjoyed the folk songs we sang together (‘Finjan’ etc) but really, they had nothing whatsoever to do with my fast-emerging fascination with music. Certainly, I would never listen to Naomi Shemer on my own time.
Unfair? Perhaps. Over time I’ve learned to have a soft spot for Arik Einstein and Svika Pick. And I still feel a modest outrage at the Ashkenormativity of Israeli and Diaspora society that meant I only ever encountered the Mizrachi music, that was always much more my cup of tea, at the Tel Aviv bus station.
Yet, for the most part, whereas Israeli music has often tied Diaspora Jews to Israel, it has often alienated me from the country. That has as much to do with the way that Diaspora Jews often relate to Israeli music as anything else. I wince at the way HaDag Nahash’s fulfills Diaspora liberal Zionists yearnings for a conveniently sanitised version of hip hop.
In the 1990s though, I encountered a musical side of Israel that I had never known existed. And that lead me to a closer engagement with the country. Paradoxically, that this musical side of Israel can sometimes be highly antagonistic to Israel itself made me embrace the country more. A country that I can respect is one that has space for the cynics and the subversive – and it is usually they that make the best art.
So it is that Israel metal, punk and noise have been a long-term fascination for me. The weeks I spent conducting ethnographic research on the Israeli metal scene helped me encounter Israel in a way that I hadn’t before. It’s strange to say it, but experiences such as sitting in a room full of embittered Russian-Israeli black metal fans in Bat Yam, actually drew me closer to Israel.
Here then, in no particular order, are ten choice cuts of heavy and extreme music from Israel. These are my choices, based on my own taste, rather than a beginner’s guide
The best-known and most successful Israeli metal band globally. Orphaned Land play progressive metal with influences from Arabic and Mizrachi music. They try and promote coexistence through music, toured with the Palestinian-Israeli band Khalas, and have fans in other Middle Eastern countries. While they sometimes skirt close to the naïve and even orientalist, they are pioneers in their field.
Salem were the first Israeli extreme metal band and the first to sign to a foreign record label. ‘Flames’ is from the 1998 album A Moment of Silence that should have been their international breakthrough, but record label issues meant that it never received its due.
Rabies Caste, ‘Rhino and Croc’
My all-time favourite Israeli band, Rabies Caste, were Russian Israelis active in the late 1990s and early 2000s. ‘Rhino and Croc’ is from their first – and in my view, best – album, the excellently-titled For the Vomiting Tractor Drivers. They released one more album Let the Soul Out and Cut the Vein through the well-known British label Earache, and toured internationally with Biohazard. They never really got their due though and are now inactive.
Jerusalem-based Black metal band Arallu are somewhat rough around the edges musically. But how can you not like a band who produced an album called Satanic War in Jerusalem (2002, from which this track is taken)? After all, as Anton LaVey argued, Jews make the best Satanists.
This short-lived Russian-Israel act specialised in covers of Yiddish songs, channelling Rammstein and Nu metal. There have been a number of attempts to create Yiddish metal and this, to me is one of the most successful.
Nail Within, ‘Dirty Colored Knife’
I had to put this in here as the main member of Nail Within was Yishai Swaerts, who has been central to Israeli metal scene-making since the 1990s, and who was enormously helpful to me when I conducted my research. He’s had a fair few bands over the years, but Nail Within is my favourite. Sure, it’s pretty much a clone of Gothenburg-style death metal – even to the point of featuring Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on vocals – but what a clone!
I don’t think Parve are still active but they produced some of the most raw and powerful music I’ve heard from Israel. A two-piece, their video for ‘Egout’ is both funny and disturbing. Vocalist/drummer Tomer Dansky is also responsible for some fascinating solo recordings and performances as a noise/sound artist.
Deir Yassin, ‘Independence Day’
Deir Yassin were a highly confrontational punk/hardcore band, active in the late 1990s. As the name suggests, they were not exactly Zionistically-inclined and were part of what continues to be a vital Israeli anarcho scene.
Drone Lebanon, ‘Old cities, New romans’
I don’t know anything about power electronics act Drone Lebanon, save that they were one of the most exciting of the noise and power electronics acts released by the now-inactive label Topheth Prophet in the 2000s. This sort of music is marginal everywhere and, I have to confess, I find it difficult to keep track of its traces in Israel.
I just discovered Navad and know little about them, save that they emerged recently. Israel has always needed a sludgy doom metal act like this and I’m very happy they exist.