Documentary Review: You think you’re “Metal,” but you’re not All-Woman-Thrash Band-in-Beirut-Metal — “Sirens”

The leather gives them away — the tattoos, the piercings, the black boots and wristlets and matching Flying Vee replica guitars.

This here is a metal band, and judging from the “Enter Sandman” era hair, they’re all about the thrash.

Slaves to Sirens plays it fast and hits those chords hard behind the vocal-cords-shredding yowl/growl of its lead singer.

You can hear a version of this quintet in any metal club on any given weekend. But the novel thing about these Sirens is that they’re all women. And they’re trying to break-out from one of the least likely heavy metal hotspots on Earth — conservative, strife-riven Beirut, Lebanon.

“Sirens” is an engaging behind-the-scenes doc about this band, which formed in 2015 and got good enough/fast enough that they were abruptly summoned to make their Glastonbury festival debut a couple of years back.

Rita Baghdadi’s intimate, fly-on-the-wall documentary captures the tightrope walk artists have to walk in a place where “conservative” could mean “intolerant” and violently so, where women are more emancipated than say, Syria or Jordan, but where “we’re living in a cycle of fear” just for donning the leather and cranking it up in a divided place with such a troubled history.

“War, instability and unemployment” is all anyone there’s known “since my grandparents’ time,” lead guitarist Lilas Mayassi complains. Her mother mutters “It will always be like this,” (in English and Arabic with English subtitles) and we believe it.

Rhythm guitarist Shery Bechara’s father and mother are just as supportive, and equally fatalistic.

“My parents always tell me ‘There is no future here.'”

And yet she and Lilas and the Sirens persist.

Director Baghdadi zeroes in on the guitarists, their inspire-each-other co-dependent relationship and the band’s first heady taste of fame — a Revolver Magazine write-up and an abrupt invitation to be flown to Britain to play at Glastonbury.

The story ebbs and flows like the relationship between these two founding members, one of whom was just now acting on same sex sexual attraction in a part of the world where that can have deadly consequences.

The strife in the band is something of a cliche, even if the shouting matches and fractious band meetings are all too real. It’s ongoing, as two members quit this past summer. The film’s dating sequence has a long coaching-a-new-love-about-how-to-meet-her-mother on a drive to the house, with a dash-cam, that can’t help but seem contrived if not staged.

But as the band cusses each other out, busts up and reunites, as older musician/mentors and relatives talk about how much easier life would be if they’d just play pop, as Beirut experiences yet another tragedy (the infamous fireworks factory explosion) that calls for regime change, and a benefit concert, we come to appreciate how it’s still about the music, man.

And if you’re asked to kiss and make up and join an orchestra and more experienced musicians for a Beirut performance of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” you tune up, don the fishnets and halter tops and get it done.

That’s pretty damned metal, I have to say.

Cast: Shery Bechara, Lilas Mayassi, Maya Khaiallah, Alma Doumani and Tatyana Boughaba

Credits: Scripted and directed by Rita Baghdadi. An Oscilloscope Labs release.

Running time: 1:20

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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