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In Egypt, heavy-metal music is making a quiet comeback

CAIRO -- The music was loud and the tattooed fans were wild, dancing and swaying in flashing strobe lights to the crashing sounds of heavy-metal songs. Suddenly, the music stopped. The band leader grasped the mike and announced: ``It's prayer time."

No one left to pray. Everyone stood by the stage and waited, as the band paused its music while a nearby mosque began the call to prayer from a loudspeaker. Then the music resumed.

Welcome to Egypt's heavy-metal scene, making a tentative comeback in a conservative Muslim society nine years after a government crackdown amid allegations of satanic worship, drug use, and group sex among the upper-crust youthful fans.

``We are Arab Muslims. We respect our religion. But we only love this music," said Noor, a 23-year-old part-time German language teacher and guitarist for Dark Philosophy, an Egyptian heavy-metal band.

Noor has no illusions that the music will catch on in a society where many young adults still date with a chaperone.

``The first step is always the hard one," he said. ``People are not used to our music and songs yet. People cannot get over all the negativities that happened in the past."

In January 1997, about 100 heavy-metal and rock music fans were arrested in Cairo by state security officers on suspicious of satanic worship .

Egypt's state-controlled media carried stories of clandestine parties with drugs, group sex, and satanic rituals, including exhuming corpses and killing cats to drain their blood.

Egyptian authorities have banned heavy-metal concerts. But as police controls eased over time, fans organized discreet gatherings, usually in remote areas around Cairo and Alexandria.

Mohammed Azzam, a graphic designer and pioneer of Egypt's heavy-metal scene, said musicians just want to play music and they discourage talk of satanic rituals.

Azzam attributes criticism to prejudice and misconceptions.

``We have such a shallow society, " Azzam said. ``Because we wear black and listen to loud music, that doesn't mean we are Satanists."

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