Iranian metal singer channels anger over Trump travel ban, personal tragedy into new album

The Iranian progressive metal trio Heterochrome has never done things the easy way.

Their first album had to be recorded in various studios throughout Iran to avoid the country’s strict laws dictating both the type of music allowed to be played and who is allowed to play it.

“You’re not allowed to play metal music and you’re not allowed to have a female lead singer, generally, which is how they would see me,” said Mida Malek, a non-binary vocalist who performs in both English and Farsi .

“You can never stay in one place for too long. You don’t need the police getting the sound of where you are. It’s a little dangerous because the music is not allowed.”

The result of those sessions was Melancholia, an album that came out in 2017.

Malek says much of the music on their new album was inspired by real-life anger and tragedy from the past four years, including a travel ban that prevented them from living in the United States and losing a friend when Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was shot download in Iran. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Now, the band is set to release its second album, From the Asheswhich was recorded with members split up around the word.

Malek is in Vancouver after being prevented from living in the United States due to a Trump-era travel ban. Lead guitarist Arash Rezaei is in the United States while drummer Mohammad Mirboland remains in Iran.

CBC’s Lisa Christiansen met up with Malek for a chat about the band, life in between records and why metal is the best genre to get out your feelings.

The Early Edition7:19Iranian rock band Heterochrome overcomes a pandemic and living in three different cities to record an eclectic new album

Lisa Christensen meets with Vancouver singer Mida Malek of Heterochrome about their band putting together their sophomore album while living band members each live in Iran, the United States and here in Vancouver. 7:19

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you get together to record? What is the process like?

Well, it was a lot more fun for the first album because we could actually all be together.

But [for this one]basically we had to record in different countries because we couldn’t be in the same space as each other, especially with COVID happening.

I recorded my lines here and we had Arash Skyping in and kind of working with the engineer. And he had to go back to Iran and take Mohammad to a studio to record his drums live.

Arash got his masters from Berkeley in music production and it was really important for him to get the best sound possible from all of us.

I’m really proud of this project … a lot of the songs are a lot more personal.

What are some of the lived experiences that made it into this album?

Growing up as a queer person in Iran was not easy.

When I started writing mysellf… a lot [was coming out] in anger, which works well because we’re doing metal music.

If there is one place that you can actually talk about those feelings, I think it’s metal.

Mida Malek recorded lead vocals for Heterochrome’s new album in Vancouver while other members Skyped in from the United States and Iran. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

And because it’s progressive, it also helped me process through emotions, just talking about how it feels to be told you are not allowed to express who you are or who you love and be penalized for it.

It is just very hard and it feels very isolating.

Then I met my now-wife, who is a US citizen. And when we got engaged, that’s when the Trump ban happened and I ended up not being able to go live with her in the US and it took us a few years of long-distance relationship to figure [things] out.

[And when I was writing] I started thinking about what that felt like and I just wrote down all of my anger into it.

The last single that was released [Badabak (The Flight)]that one I wrote after the Ukrainian flight was shot down out of the sky.

One of my friends, an old schoolmate, was on the flight, so just that general feeling of grief came out, and the source came from a song that we used to do back in school. It’s one of the songs that I’m really proud of.

What does it feel like singing in a metal band?

What I love about progressive metal, specifically, is that it accepts all kinds of sounds. So to fit in, I don’t definitely have to have that harsh, growing voice, which of course Arash does really perfectly. But for myself, because I also do musical theater, it’s really important to me to kind of keep my vocal cords safe. And so I don’t feel the need to really go there and do that kind of harsh growl.

Will you go out on tour?

We would love to. We’re thinking on how to make that happen. Right now, we’ll hopefully start doing a couple of shows in Finland and then maybe Germany.

I’ve already signed up with Vancouver Pride and I’m hoping to get [the full band] to come in. So yeah, if anyone wants to hear some unplugged versions, that might definitely happen.

From the Ashes is set to be released May 13, 2022.

Leave a Comment