Metal has for a long time been a western thing from Europe and the United States. Its expansion to the South-American continent is well known, but particularly the African country is a blank spot when it comes to metal
So it was for a long time, but it’s on the rise now and particularly in the Islamic world. Even in countries where censorship has a hold on things, metal seems to prevail. Tunisia is a rather liberal country at, though persecution also befell the band Carthagods, who’ve faced their share of the weird and want to change the way you look at their country as portrayed by the media (and mainly want you to hear their album).
Carthagods refer with their name to the ancient past of Tunisia as the land of the Carthaginians. They are no folk metal band though, but prog/power metallers who just released their debut album, which features a ton of famous guest musicians. Time for a chat with the gents about what it is they are about.
Hello, can you kindly introduce yourselves and add who is answering the questions?
Here’s Tarak (Guitarist) and Mahdi (vocalist) we’re from Carthagods, a Melodic Heavy Metal band from Tunisia that’s been active since 1997.
How did Carthagods get started? Did you guys have experience in other bands?
Tarak: First Carthagods was a cover band during the late 90’s, then the band had a break of four years and re-started with a different line up, which Mahdi was a part of after he left his first band on 2004.
How did you guys get in touch with metal music? What bands inspired you to do what you do now?
Mahdi: Some friends of us were living in Europe and U.S, and they brought some (Pantera, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest etc.) tapes along at that time and later CD’s. Then came internet… so we started getting more into different genres of Heavy Metal music.
Your bandname is Carthagods and facebook lists you guys as hailing from Carthago. How strong is the historic inspiration of Carthage and why did you pick this name?
Mahdi: You know most of the members grew up beyond the ruins of Carthage and we believe that it was the most interesting civilization in our history (in Tunisia), that’s why we decided to resuscitate the Gods of Carthage through the name of our band and one day we’ll dedicate a whole album to it.
Do you feel that you put historical Tunisian elements in your music or draw inspiration from it? Particularly in regard to your debut album?
Tarak: We didn’t really thought about putting historical elements in purpose, but we’re sure that you’ll feel the difference when you listen to our sound.
What stories are you telling on your record? I feel there’s a bit of NWOBHM on there, but also the epic power metal. Where do you place yourselves sound wise?
Mahdi: You’re right, there’s several influences on this album, cause it contains the best of what we wrote since we started the band, so some are written in 2003 others in 2007, 2009 etc…so we’re in any genre of Metal accept oriental.
What can you tell about your album, its writing process and recording process, how did you happen to get a couple of guests performing on it?
Mahdi: As you now know the album was written over a long period of time, due to our line ups changing and other issues, but the first guy who believed in us was Marcel COENEN (Sun Caged, Stormrider etc.). We got in contact with Marcel in 2007 and we asked him to perform as a guest on the first demo.
After that we invited him to perform with us as a guest star and he came back to Tunisia as a friend after our lead guitarist left the band (after the “revolution”). He joined the band as a performer and a producer on this debut album. After that we invited Tim Ripper Owens (Iced Earth, Yngwie Malmsteen, Judas Priest). Judas Priest and Tim especially inspired us when we’re writing ‘My Favorite Disguise’. He liked our performance, so when told him about the album he didn’t hesitate for a second.
Ron ‘BumbleFoot’ Thal (Guns N’ Roses) was invited during a Metal Battle that we promoted. He performed some of his songs. He was surprised when he found out that Marcel Coenen was performing with us. In the end that resulted in a nice solo battle on ‘My revenge’.
Regarding Zuberoa Aznárez, we’re fans of her beautiful and warm voice. At that time we thought about making an acoustic version of ‘Memories Of Never Ending Pains’, because a lot of fans were asking for it. We thought about it, when Tarak and me were watching a video of Zuberoa performing with Elfenthal. So we sent her the file and she answered within 24 hours!
The last guest is Hans in ‘t Zandt (ex-Vengeance, Mad Max) who is an amazing drummer and just plain nice person. We invited him for a jam night with Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian, Vengeance) and Timo Somers (Vengeance, Delain) and we asked him to help us on the acoustic version of ‘Memories Of Never Ending Pains’ and he was really happy to do it.
There’s also a hidden guest on the album who’s Niklas Sundin from Dark Tranquillity who was invited twice to perform with that band here in Tunisia (2009 and 2013) and he was also responsible for the artwork of our debut.
Your album was released by Hands of Blue Records. How did you get in touch with them and how is the collaboration working out for you guys?
Tarak: After the release of our first demo in 2007, we got in contact with Hands of Blue and they were interested by the idea of promoting a band from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, but after they heard our music they got more excited cause they expected some Habibi Metal shit haha! So things got more interesting when they found out that we’re more into traditional power/heavy Metal.
Is there any sort of repression or censorship on metal music in your country? Have you had to face this is in the past? (if so, can you share in what way?)
Mahdi: We were not censored for our ideas or points of view, but we were more censored for our existence in the society. Some people thought that we’re Satanist some thought that we were gays…The kind of things that aren’t going to make your life easier. I remember once in the late 90’s some police officers arrested us and ransacked our rehearsal studio, because they thought we were drinking blood cats and making Satanist rituals…
Did the revolution in 2010 have an impact on your freedom as musicians in some way? Did it affect you?
Tarak: Nothing has really changed politically after 5 years from the “revolution”, but at least today we can talk and express ourselves freely, but talking is never enough.
How did metal get started in Tunisia? Which bands are the pioneers?
Mahdi: First it was some shows promoted by some clubs members in universities during the 90’s, and I remember at that time a lot of cover bands saw the day like Black Angels, Dolls, Carthagods, Melmoth, Metalkatraz, The Out Body Experience, but most of those bands disappeared after some years even us.
It took until 2003 when we decided to write our own music and promote our own shows because there was nobody to do it for us.
What’s the scene in Tunisia like? Is it big, what genres are being played? Which bands should people check out (and why?).
Tarak: Unfortunately the scene in Tunisia is suffering, the number of shows has decreased and obviously also the bands and fans. Personally, I didn’t hear about any important release or project accept some timid trials with limited resources. But you might check out bands like Lost Insen, Nawather, I the Intruder…
Is there a connection to neighbouring countries?
Mahdi: There were some cultural exchanges with Algeria and Morocco but only a few times in the past. But we’re trying to work on it with some promoters and artists like Acyl (Franco-Algerian Death Metal Band) to make this kind of connection happen at least once in a year, to gather all the metal heads in the Maghreb (north-western part of Africa, including Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya) and get to know each other more.
In your Christmas facebook post, you guys made quite a statement: “…this can be an occasion for us to celebrate both birthdays of both prophets on the same day to take a look on the common things we have and find a way to a better world for all “human kind”. How do you regard your role in the strife between world views that is going on?
Mahdi: You know our role is very simple, we’re sure that you had a different idea about Tunisia before you hear our music… We want it to happen to as many people as possible to show the contrast between the reality and what the media wants to serve to the people on the other side of the world.
I think that the Tunisian people are kind of diverse when it comes to beliefs and have a long history concerning the differences. Tunisia has some of the most important religious symbols of the divine ones and all of them were preserved all along the centuries. It’s a proof of tolerance and open-mindedness and this is not what the mainstream media is telling to people so playing heavy metal music is a state of mind that we adopted.
Metal is art and art is free. It depends on the persons not on the music genre.
Do you guys have any interesting side-projects going on that you’d like to share some info about?
Mahdi: Yeah, I was pleased to be part of a special project with Enio Nicollini (Italian bass player from The Black) this summer, and it’s called « Heavy Sharing », I was invited with a bunch of talented and prestigious artists like Blaze Bayley (Iron Maiden), Trevor (Sadist) GoldFinch (Homo Herectus), Morby (Domine, Sabotage) to perform a song on this album ‘Amir of Madness’. And the special thing about that project is that there’s only bass, drums and vocals. I find it really challenging to work on the vocal melodies and the lyrics to get into the mood of the song. It’s hard to make heavy metal songs sound good without guitars. You should definitely check it out and give me your feedback on it!
What are the future plans for Carthagods?
We’re about to make the release show of our first album on the 9th of April 2016 and we’ll take advance of it to make a live video and present our new EP to the audience…and maybe some dates out of the country will follow.
If you had to describe your band as a dish, what tasty meal would Carthagods be?
Mahdi: That’s a complicated question, I never thought about any relation between CARTHAGODS and any dish but let’s say a fresh grilled fish with some Harissa (spicy Tunisian sauce) in some pure oil olive…simple, easy to prepare, light but consistent.
Anything you’d like to share with the world?
We want to thank all the people who supported us and believed in our music…our manager, and all the guests who didn’t hesitate to join us to make this project happens, and of course thank you for this nice interview and big thanks to all our fans and the readers of Echoes & Dust