There are central figures in metaldom who have nothing to say. And then there are fringe folks in metaldom who have a lot to say. Take, for example, Death Tribe/Kaoteon’s Anthony Kaoteon. A resident of the Netherlands but born in Lebanon, Kaoteon is using his platform as an musician/songwriter/immigrant to spread knowledge, awareness, and opinion about the current state of his former homeland, which is currently mired in political and social turmoil. Much like other important Near Eastern/Mizrahi-informed figures from the Levant–Orphaned Land’s Kobi Farhi, Melechesh’s Ashmedi, Pentagram/Mezarkabul’s Murat Ilkan–Kaoteon is acutely aware of the challenges that are faced by people who aren’t the norm in their home countries and yet still feel out of place in their current home. The cultural, social, and geographic impasse has fueled the music of both Kaoteon and Death Tribe, who are currently ensconced in the studio working on the follow-up to this year’s Beyond Pain and Pleasure: A Desert Experiment.
Decibel and Kaoteon collaborted on a three-pronged post, where Kaoteon takes the conn, provides detailed answers to our questions, gives session bassist Linus Klausenitzer (Obscura/Alkaloid) a video section, and offers up a lyric video to the blistering track “Psychopathetic.” Indeed, joining Kaoteon on Beyond Pain and Pleasure: A Desert Experiment is not only Klausenitzer but Dark Fortress drummer Matthias Landes, as well as a host of guest vocalists from across the Near Eastern lands. So, venture through the lengthy Q&A, listen to “Psychopathetic,” watch in wonder as Klausenitzer extends the bass guitar beyond its limits, and check out the CDBaby link at the bottom. Near Eastern metal is upon you!
Anthony Kaoteon: Throughout the years, I survived wars, discrimination, and suppression but at the same time I was able to reach senior levels in the corporate world with multinational companies as I lived parallel lives. I had to keep my love for metal music separate from my daily social life so that I can find a way to excel at work and reach places my passport would not provide for me. This internal debate of not enjoying my victories because they were a necessity to buy my way out of that war torn area and the fact that I no longer felt pain from being tagged as Middle Eastern by the west or as a Christian by the Arabs or as a Satanist by the same Christians made me abandon all sense of belonging and feeling. Growing up in a social turmoil, not to mention war and a lot of controversy is not easy to explain but I can tell you that I grew beyond pain and pleasure. I discovered that I do not think eye to eye with the people that occupy my Lebanon and when I left my country I realized that I will forever be judged based on the little knowledge that the world has about my country — Having said all that, I am proud of the Lebanese history and if I was born anywhere else with a silver spoon in my mouth. I might have never pushed myself to work harder or get the attention of Decibel but I just don’t like the amount of ignorance and propaganda there is around my country which is giving it a bad name. Hence the title of the album, and the experiment was to bring together musicians that share the same background but are from different struggling countries fighting their own demons and carving their own paths in their own way. We who are not as others.
You’ve conceptualized and composed the album yourself, while also playing guitar and performing vocals. What was that like?
Anthony Kaoteon: In Death Tribe, as well as in Kaoteon, I compose all music because I truly like simple music that has a certain energy and oomph to it. I find it hard to work with musicians that start gluing good riffs and parts together which make songs technically great but empty of all soul. Writing the lyrics and singing them in Death Tribe was a new experience as I leave that usually to other members and it definitely adds a layer of excitement because I was able to give the tracks the energy I premeditated while playing the guitars. I wish I have the time and place to practice screaming sometimes because it is really hard to transfer your feelings into another vocalist most of the time even if I wrote all lyrics and worked on the vocal lining of the whole album.
But you also pulled in a number of high-quality musicians to help you realize the album, correct? Matthias Landes from Dark Fortress is featured on drums and Linus Klausenitzer from Obscura/Alkaloid is on bass. How’d these two guys come into the Death Tribe picture?
Anthony Kaoteon: The bass Maestro Linus Klausenitzer captured my attention as he plays little notes in his highly technical death metal band Obscura but those notes are what most people remember from their songs. The melodies and harmonies are just orgasmic. I got in touch with him to record Death Tribe and then we worked on award winning album of Kaoteon Damnatio Memoriae, which was released in 2018. Even now, we are releasing another album with Kaoteon in January 2020 while I am answering your questions from the studio, as we are recording the second Death Tribe album. So from 2018 to 2020, I did four albums with Linus which made us very close friends. He introduced me to Mattias who is a very groovy drummer with a nasty black metal background which added a lot of energy to the sound of Death Tribe.
Anthony Kaoteon: Most of the people I worked with were friends but a couple were just vocalists I noticed in the metal scene with amazing skills that deserve more attention from the metal world. I like to think that I will keep doing this and reach more metal fans around the world and I thought that I should partner with these vocalists as they are freaking awesome and highlight their skills to the world. The track “Death Blues,” for instance, does not sit in the album perfectly due to its high-pitched clean vocals but I wouldn’t have traded Youmni (who is a Syrian refugee in the Netherlands) for any vocalist in the world as this is one of my favorite tracks I have written so far with him in mind.
Tell us about Death Tribe’s connection to Lebanon? Culturally and musically.
Anthony Kaoteon: As I mentioned, I was born and raised in war torn Beirut. I grew up losing friends and family for war, drugs or immigration. I do not have strong relationships from my childhood as I lost most of them due to the consequences of these vices. Whether I like to admit it or not, I am sure my personality traits are affected by that time no matter how far I grow from it. Reality of the matter is that we are the generation that survived death and understand its meaning more than others as we experienced it first hand. That is the past and then I grew up to appreciate the understanding of Death as the ultimatum of all living things which makes everything seem so futile and of unimportance but gives you confidence, power and control over your own life. You let go of social boundaries, of norms and lead the life you chose based on your own principles. In that sense the Tribe was born, as a celebration of Death. Is that the culture of Beirut? Is that the sound of Beirut? Many will not identify and will not relate to it but I am 100% made in Beirut, my DNA test shows that even my ancestors come from Beirut with 0.7% only from Southern Italy. So to me, my expression and music are surely a part of Lebanon’s underground culture. A culture doesn’t exist on its own. It is made out of people.
What’s happening in Lebanon that you’d like to call out? The country is on the verge of a brand new start or yet another epoch of unrest.
Anthony Kaoteon: As emigrants, we left the country as we yearned for such a peaceful and united revolution that stands in the face of corruption since a very long time. The people are uniting for the first time ever as they are fed up. Poverty hits everyone, the Muslim, the christian, the druze and the atheist alike. People are standing hand in hand and disregarding their differences and even opening their minds to things that were taboos like atheism, anti theism and/or the LGBTQ++ communities just to defy the long corrupted system and inherited governmental power for the past 30+ years. The government paralyzed the country and controls the judiciary and bank sectors as they have assigned their own supporters over the years. Lebanon has 128 elected members of the parliament that are chosen not by merit but based on religious background. Political parties are most of the time split religiously before having a program. The program is just secondary and most of the time irrelevant. We have been organized to be divided and controlled yet the Lebanese people always find a way to spread around the world with successful ventures, businessmen and is seen as one of the most beautiful countries for Tourism due to its diversity, culture and party land. I find hope in this movement and I would love to help by spreading awareness to the efforts that the Lebanese are putting as we speak on the streets. Protesting for their basic right. With social media and journalism, we have a duty to shed light over oppression and help those protesters who are dancing in the streets, getting married and opening charity tents to support those in need. This is just the beginning of a long journey but it is bound to happen. I thought that it was impossible to see the people unite again and now they are. Will Lebanon be suddenly great, no? Is this movement a great step into the right direction. It most certainly is. Together we stand, divided we fall and here I say that every single person in the world that believes in freedom of speech and in fair treatment of citizen, in basic human rights. Everyone should support the peaceful Lebanese revolution. The government will not let go of power — they have made an empire and no emperor lets go of his empire. The Lebanese people should stay strong. It will not be easy but it MUST HAPPEN.
What do you want to communicate with Death Tribe? Is there a specific message?
Anthony Kaoteon: I guess my answers were very long and elaborate. I want to have a voice for those unheard while still believing that music is a greater relief than any other form of expression because there is beauty in the darkness we let go through our aggressive sound.
What’s next for Death Tribe?
Anthony Kaoteon: I am currently replying to this interview from the studio as we are recording the second album of Death Tribe with Baard on drums from Leprous/Borknagar as well as Linus from Obscura on Bass. The music is not as diverse in genres as the first album but nastier, groovier, louder and better. Stay tuned on Instagram, Facebook and our youtube.com/c/deathtribe channel for more news. If any label is interested to release the second album — I think i will take that offer instead of releasing independently as previous years.
** Death Tribe’s new album, Beyond Pain and Pleasure: A Desert Experiment, is out now! Independently released by Anthony himself, the CD version of Beyond Pain and Pleasure: A Desert Experiment is available through CDBaby by clicking HERE.