On August 4th, 2020 6:00 PM local time two blasts rocked Beirut’s port that, as of writing this article, has left over 150 dead, 5000 wounded, and around 300,000 displaced. The sheer intensity of the second blast shattered glass all across Beirut and its shock-waves were felt all the way in Cyprus (over 150 miles away). It’s a tragedy and to simply say that the Lebanese people are used to adversity would be an understatement. Civil war, a growing refugee crisis, occupying nations, economic collapse, geopolitical struggles, an unending supply of corrupt politicians, and hostile neighboring states. Decades of strife. Its in these conditions that Nightchains was forged.
Nightchains formed back in 2003 and had a short-lived tenure as a band, eventually breaking up in 2005 after the release of their only album, Metal to the Bone. This record is a roaring heavy/speed metal affair with a serious thrashy punk attitude that brings to mind the likes of Living Death, Razor, and Exciter. The fact that something like this came out in 2005 and in Lebanon no less is nothing short of a miracle.
Metal to the Bone was released in a country where the vast majority of the population earns under the equivalent of $10,000 USD per year. I’m not sure how it is now, but back in the 2000s it was difficult to find anywhere that sold proper music equipment and good luck importing anything with that paltry salary. In 2005 the internet was such a luxury in Lebanon that a good chunk of homes didn’t own a computer and people would head to their local internet cafe for any internet or gaming use. When I’m talking internet here, I’m talking about ancient dial-up speeds with few places having the slowest of broadband. Lebanon is also a country where even now electricity isn’t a 24hr/7 day a week guarantee. The deck was stacked against Nightchains.
It wasn’t merely difficult for Nightchains to record their album, but they were also fighting and rebelling against culture. The Middle East doesn’t really have a history of rock ‘n’ roll music the same way that Europe and the Americas does. Even during its peak, there was relatively little interest in the style of music and the aversion to metal was even stronger. With poor internet and a hostile local environment for metal, the best way to discover bands was to head to bootleg CD and tape shops, hoping to get lucky and find something. That’s not to mention making this type of music, which is deemed to be “Satanic”, in a religious country like that Lebanon easily get you thrown in jail – and don’t even get me started on how much worse it was for Damaar (legendary war metal band, 2/3 of which were in Nightchains) in this respect.
I’ve spent a lot of time giving context on what it was like for Nightchains, but none of that matters if the music still sucks. Luckily that’s not the case here as Metal to the Bone is perhaps the only trad metal album from the Middle East that’s worth its salt. It’s not a worldbreaker, but there are more than enough strong riffs here to make for a solid listen. Nightchains weren’t the most ambitious band out there and they certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel here – the songs are straightforward and don’t try anything drastically new. What you see is what you get with Nightchains and I mean that in the best way possible. This was just a group of 4 dudes passionate about making fast and aggressive heavy metal. Metal to the Bone is at its best when they’re playing on this strength as tracks like “Ecstasy”, “Summit of Thunder”, and “Metal Storm” have some very compelling sections. However, when Nightchains dials it back a bit and go for an acoustic or mid-tempo package, it tends to fall flat. The vocals are gruff, energetic, and filled with attitude, but they really aren’t suited for those slower parts and the recording quality certainly doesn’t help.
The recording is as poor as you’d expect from a band in Nightchain’s situation. In fact, Metal to the Bone was recorded completely live and there’s no mixing and mastering here at all. Despite all these challenges and my inherent bias aside, the album’s still a surprisingly good listen. Metal to the Bone lives up to its name and is the epitome of a band making the most of what little they have.
You ask most Lebanese (myself included) what they think about their country and they’ll tell you about its immense beauty and potential. Despite the countless tragedies and constant state of crisis, the average Lebanese stays positive and full of humor. That’s what Nightchains represent to me – the tenacity of Lebanon.
Favorite track: Ecstasy