"They would kill me, and kill all of my friends, by cutting off our heads."
This is what the 28-year-old woman who goes by Anahita said in response to the obvious question posed to black metal critic Kim Kelly in The Atlantic: what would happen if religious authorities found out that she was the frontwoman of Jazana, who released a 13-minute demo called Burn The Pages of Quran.
Black metal music is generally associated with nihilism and and anti-Christian sentiment, but in America it's often more about falling in with the genre than it is a genuine sentiment for musicians ("an affectation," one black metal review site calls it). Not so with Anahita—she lost her parents and younger brother in 2008 to a suicide bomb and found black metal in 2010 as a way to cope, although she says that she's "always been anti-Islamic." A sister band, Seeds of Iblis, includes one other woman and puts out songs with names like "Sex With Muhammad's Corpse."
I shall peel your god!
With a middle finger in his eyes!
I shall fuck his mind!
And burn the Mosques of Islam!
Anahita claims there's a burgeoning black metal scene in Iraq, fueled primarily by people with a vendetta to avenge friends, family, and in the women's case, the freedom they're denied, but there's little interest from record labels because they're based in Iraq. In addition, gigs are rare and entry is very selective for safety reasons. Every known photo of Anahita depicted her unrecognizably covered with face paint in order to keep her identity secret. It took over a year for Kelly to track her down, and when she did, she was only willing to speak via Facebook message. It's a fascinating niche to report on, makes for a compelling story, and isn't exactly new territory: the Spike Jonze-produced 2007 documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad saw a few reporters from Vice Magazine tracking down Iraqi metal band Acrassicauda to stage a successful concert after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
However, Anahita's low profile may not be out of necessity for safety but to pull off an elaborate hoax. A commenter on the Atlantic piece pointed out that the photos of various Janaza and Seeds of Iblis band members were, in fact, taken from other obscure black metal bands' publicity photos. And one of Anahita's own photos was recognized by commenter Raúl Gonzales, the photographer from whom she plagiarized it (click through for comparison.) Later, this postscript was added to the Atlantic piece:
This post originally featured images that were purportedly of Anahita but appear to have been repurposed from photos elsewhere on the Internet.
It does seem odd that they chose to repurpose other bands' photos rather than simply refrain from posting any photos at all. Earlier today, an editor at metal interest site Metalluminati compiled all of the damning evidence, including the note that two of the bands name-checked by Anahita, False Allah and Tadnees, are based in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. It would be highly unlikely, he says, that band members would immigrate to post-war Baghdad, particularly since it's not a hospitable climate for a record deal.
The commenting fracas on the article continues, but it seems that most metal aficionados are of the impression that Janaza—and Anahita— are likely a hoax. The appropriation of stifling, covert artistic creation as a quick route to Internet fame has been done before: last year, "lesbian Syrian blogger" Amina Arraf, after supposedly being abducted by Bashar Al-Assad's troops, was outed as a 40-year-old white dude from Georgia named Tom MacMaster. Thank you very much, Information Superhighway.
'When Black Metal's Anti-Religious Message Gets Turned on Islam' [The Atlantic]
'Anti-Islamic female black metal band from Iraq a hoax?' [Metalluminati]
Photo via Andreas Gradin/Shutterstock