Kabul, Afghanistan. For decades, this city has been at the centre of intense conflict between Islamist fundamentalists and Afghan citizens. While American forces have clashed with Taliban forces for over a decade in order to quell the chaos, certain strongholds for the Taliban still exist, and western influence is punishable by death. Enter a young group of upstarts going by the name District Unknown. These kids are officially Afghanistan’s first heavy metal band (no mean feat considering that they can easily be killed for this “decadence”) and after a few years performing in secret across Afghanistan, now they release their debut album. There is definite roughness in the band’s sound which comes from this background but despite all of this, there are many interesting ideas and lots of potential from this progressive/psychedelic metal band.
Instrumental passages are common throughout this album with sludgy opener “Modern Nature”, “A Cancer By Design” and “Requiescence” making up a third of the tracklist, but allowing for the band to try out different atmospheres and ideas, with some obvious Opeth and Porcupine Tree influences shining through in moments like “Requiescence”. Even vocal tracks contain some long instrumental sections, such as the first half of the epic “Two Seconds After the Blast”, which drones along and presents an intense and dark aura before the brooding vocals kick in.
There is a lot of anger and despair present in Yusof’s vocal delivery, as the lyrics deal with the social matters that come from such a war torn city and he rages through tracks like “Struggle” and “Kill the Beast”. The band toys with time signatures and dramatic ambience (including the very domestically influences introduction to “Portraits”) and proves to doubters that this is not just a group of rebellious kids picking up instruments to show up extremists – these guys mean business and want to show the world how metal is a global movement, with talent to be found in all reaches of the globe. Guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Sully is the highlight of the band as his little touches of electronics can really flesh out a song, however the guitar tone of choice is rather thin and at times this clashes with the thick wall of atmosphere provided by the electronics.
The main weakness for this band, however, does lie in the vocals. No matter how much emotion is put into them, there’s no denying that the clean vocals are extremely inconsistent and at times off-puttingly flat. In some areas, such as the almost punk chorus of “Portraits”, this can work but the slower passages can really be let down by the vocals. The track “Struggle” is where you can really see the inconsistency of the vocals. The deliverer in the first verse is decent enough but the second verse just falls flat. Still, given the background of the band, some leeway must be given but it is hoped that there will be at least some improvement in future. Despite this flaw, it is definitely work checking this band out. The musicianship is fantastic, the atmosphere is cold and chilling and the potential is there for a fantastic progressive metal band that deserves support.
District Unknown’s debut album [Anatomy of a 24 Hour Lifetime] is out now via Oxus Music.