It's 10 p.m. in the United Arab Emirates when Anthony Kaoteon starts telling Revolver why he decided to get the hell out of Beirut six years ago. As the guitarist and composer for Lebanese blackened death-metal squad Kaoteon, he always knew that segments of the Lebanese government weren't exactly thrilled about the idea of metal music in its own backyard. But he never expected what happened in late 2003, when armed police raided a Kaoteon show while the band was onstage in front of 250 fans. The problem? At the time, the band spelled their name "Chaotaeon," which is pronounced similarly to the Arabic word for Satan. After being arrested, jailed and interrogated for days, Kaoteon and his bandmates — including vocalist Walid Wolflust, who is still a member — were eventually cut loose, but the prospect of being considered outlaws in their own country was no longer appealing. Wolflust eventually set out for the Netherlands and currently lives in Amsterdam. Kaoteon found work with a multinational corporation in Dubai, but hopes to join his friend in Holland as soon as possible.
Despite all the attendant turmoil, Kaoteon and Wolflust recently completed the second Kaoteon album, Damnatio Memoriae, with session assistance from Obscura bassist Linus Klausenitzer and Marduk drummer Fredrik Widigs. Despite the band's far-flung lineup, Anthony Kaoteon is excited at the prospect of touring, and beyond happy to have his latest creation out in the world. "Music is a medium to channel my anger," he says. "It's my meditation, my yoga. This is how I connect to myself."
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE LEBANESE METAL SCENE AND THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTITUDE TOWARD IT?
ANTHONY KAOTEON Beirut is definitely not the ideal place for any metal musician because you don't have the fans, you don't have the musicians and you don't have the studios or the support. But it's still as metal as it gets. The people are eager, they go [to the shows] for fun, and when an international band comes they are really happy. It's not all about spikes and jackets and all that stuff. It's a way of life. But it's looked at as music that is more or less attacking views that are, let's say, very valuable in the society of the Middle Eastern world — politics, religion and all that stuff. So it's frowned upon.
AND YOU'VE HAD SOME PROBLEMS AS A RESULT.
Incidents happened in the past, around the late-Nineties and beginning of 2000s, when we were extremely active. We were one of many people that faced problems, but our story got big because we were stopped while playing live, we had 250 attendees, and we were young people having fun. We got arrested, taken to jail and interrogated, but it was all hocus-pocus. We were used as scapegoats to divert attention from all the shit that is happening in the country. When politics happen and you have many different views, people unite over something that is distracting.
So this is what happened. You have kids wearing black, doing all these "rituals," pushing each other [moshing] and all this shit. I think this is what happened in the States back in the Eighties. This is what happens in many countries even today: Poland is persecuting Behemoth for being … I don't know what.
OTHER LEBANESE METAL BANDS HAVE HAD PROBLEMS AS WELL, THEN?
I don't have definite examples, but I've heard stories. I've read interviews and stuff like that, but I don't know if they would want their names mentioned because most of the attention sometimes goes to that and they would like the attention to go to the music because people are putting their blood and sweat into that. It really costs us a fortune here to get our stuff done. But yes, people get stopped on the street for wearing shirts with extreme religious images or maybe people have problems for having long hair back in the days — I'm talking mid-Nineties — but I don't think any other band had a problem while performing, which is why I think our story got bigger than others.
DID YOU UNDERSTAND THE RISK YOU WERE TAKING WHEN YOU STARTED PLAYING THIS KIND OF MUSIC IN BEIRUT, OR WERE YOU SURPRISED BY THE GOVERNMENT'S REACTION?
I was actually surprised by the government's reaction, because Lebanon is not like what you see in the movies. In the Eighties, the Russians were the terrorists in Hollywood, but now the Arab guys are suddenly the terrorists. Beirut has always been [depicted] as a city of terror. But it's just propaganda. If you go to Beirut, you will have a blast. You will meet some of the most wonderful women in the world; the people are so liberal and the parties are amazing.
THAT'S DEFINITELY NOT HOW BEIRUT IS GENERALLY PORTRAYED IN THE STATES.
I know. But it's a very international city — everyone has to know about everyone else because they are all living together. I've been to the States, and some people there don't know where New Zealand is. If you come to Lebanon, and you talk to anyone, they know the whole fucking world, man. They know about Jews, because they are our southern neighbors. They know about Muslims, because they are our eastern neighbors and in our actual country. And you have a lot of atheists at the same time, because they are fed up with all this bullshit.
I've been to over 50 countries, and Beirut is no different than London or Amsterdam. But you know how propaganda works. So when we were faced with problems, it was while a lot of political conflicts were happening in Lebanon. They needed to divert attention, and they saw a voice that was becoming trendy with youth, they know that music can move people, and they saw our name and other bands' names in graffiti on the highway, so they were — I wouldn't say they were scared, but they wanted to stop this from happening. We always knew that we were not liked, but we never thought they would go to these extremes.
TELL US ABOUT WHY YOU DECIDED TO CHANGE THE SPELLING OF THE BAND NAME.
It was originally written with a "Ch" because it comes from "chaotic," so the name was basically "Chaotic Eon" — a long period of chaos, which represents the world we are living in, especially in the Middle East where there is a lot of turmoil and conflict. Then I merged the name into one because it sounded better. Then, when we were playing that gig — and this is why they came to the gig — they read it as Chaytan, which is actually "Satan" in Arabic. So after this incident I decided to change the name, because we have nothing to do with the devil. I'm not a believer of anything, and if I was going to believe, I would not believe in the devil. He's the defeated god. [Laughs] I don't like weak gods — I like the strong ones.
SO YOU AREN'T RELIGIOUS?
I believe in free will. I believe in the mind and intellectual thinking. I deliver music with a message of a better world. It is very different than what they are accusing me of.
WAS IT THE LEBANESE GOVERNMENT'S ATTITUDE TOWARD METAL IN GENERAL AND KAOTEON IN PARTICULAR THAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY?
It was that and other things. This event was just one night in our lives. It's not the center of our lives. I understand why journalists would be interested to discuss it because it was major news. But 10 days after it happened, we recorded our first demo, and we released it in the U.S.A. on a small underground label. So this thing never stopped us. We had good days after. What really made us move from the country is all the mayhem that is happening in the Middle East. It's all the conflicts between the countries. It's the war in Lebanon. It's the bombings of our politicians where we never find the killers. It's a country with a ceiling if you have big dreams. It was the lack of metal music and its fans in big numbers. It was all of those things.
DO YOU MISS LEBANON AT ALL?
What can I tell you? Growing up in that part of the world made us who we are. It made us fighters — it made us go-getters. It made us work harder to get where we want to be. I'm grateful for many things growing up in Lebanon. It's a beautiful country and a great civilization. But at the same time, it's too small to allow you to be big. It's a country that can be manipulated by so many powers around it in the region. I'm not naming names, but look at our neighboring countries and you'll see that our land has always been the place to settle their scores. So you say, "I don't want to be part of this game. I want to be a man of my own. I will leave this place and carve my own path."
Thank goodness Walid is in the Netherlands living the Dutch life and enjoying it. And I must say that Dubai is very good in terms of opportunities. Hopefully one day I will settle in the Western world, whether that is Europe or anywhere else where there is more culture, more art, and more nature.
WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE TITLE OF YOUR NEW ALBUM, DAMNATIO MEMORIAE?
It's basically the stage where you want to forget everything. You're damning your memories. This album still talks about our past and our experiences, but I guess we are much more mature than the first album. We are getting bombed from all sides today, and it's more about the social and political conflicts that have influenced our lives. We just want to wash it off, cleanse our hands of it, and shout out for a better world — stripped from all these idols and just live together as human beings. Why do we have borders? Why do we have to ask, "Where are you from?" Why am I born into a Christian family and my vocalist is born into a Muslim family? It wasn't by choice, but still people hate one another for that and this is pretty fucked up in my opinion. The difference is too tiny to split, but they split it because of power and greed and then they start killing because of this. The world is not so big, you know? 80 percent of it is ocean. So chill. [Laughs] Have fun. Enjoy it.
If you want to be furious about something, if you want to go crazy about something, go crazy about these principles that are pulling people apart from one another — whether it is skin, sex, religion, politics — it's all bullshit at the end of the day. It's someone selling you a marketing campaign and making you fear the existence of something else so you can follow their demands for their profits.
YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU'RE FROM A CHRISTIAN FAMILY AND WALID IS FROM A MUSLIM FAMILY. IS YOUR FRIENDSHIP CONSIDERED UNUSUAL IN LEBANON?
No, no. I grew up in a mixed society. We never had problems. What's unusual is what happened afterwards — at the blow of a gun or a rocket in Lebanon, everyone goes back to their own corner. Then it's like you remember from the Megadeth song, "Brother will kill brother …" This is what's unusual: People are not living together today when they were best friends growing up. We never felt any distance growing up, but when you start getting older and society starts digging in — yes, it's weird. I won't deny it. In Lebanon, you have a lot of denial. People might hate me for saying this, but we do ask, "What's your name? Where are you from? What's your background?" So that we can classify you into boxes. I think this is the case in most of the world.
YOU'VE GOT LINUS FROM OBSCURA AND FREDRIK FROM MARDUK PLAYING ON YOUR NEW ALBUM. DID YOU SPECIFICALLY SEEK THEM OUT?
What happened was, every year Walid and I go to a festival to get our steam off. [Laughs] One year we were at MetalDays in Slovenia, and Marduk were playing. Then we went to Summer Breeze in Germany that same year, where I saw Linus and Obscura. So we sought them out, and it was a mix of luck and working with really professional people that the first time I sent them a message with the music, they were really interested. And I actually started working with Linus on my other project, Death Drive, before I started working with him for Kaoteon.
WHAT DO YOU WANT LISTENERS TO GET OUT OF YOUR NEW RECORD?
Usually I don't like to guess what the listener would get; I would want to leave it for them. But if there is one thing I can share with you, I would like my album to be just like it was when I was composing those riffs. I want it to lift all the troubles and throw them in the bin. I would like it to be the bullet for their gun instead of actually buying a gun and shooting a bullet. I would like it to be a reminder that all that is happening in the world is not really worth it. So stop being an idiot and get back to the reality of things. [Laughs] This is angry music because I'm angry about the situation, but it should release the actual anger instead of keeping it in. It should allow people to scream it out from their lungs and start seeing the world as one.