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Afghan refugee 'Metal Sam' shares message of peace through death metal in Connecticut

“Metal Sam” plays distorted guitar riffs by the water at Bradley Point Park in West Haven, Connecticut on September 5, 2023.
Dave Wurtzel
Connecticut Public
“Metal Sam” plays distorted guitar riffs by the water at Bradley Point Park in West Haven, Connecticut on September 5, 2023.

Two years ago, one of the largest evacuation airlifts in history took place at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among the Afghan refugees who resettled in Connecticut was a young musician who goes by Sam, along with his extended family. In Kabul he was better known as “Metal Sam,” lead guitarist for the Death Metal band Rig Veda.

Sam is 21 years old. He grew up when the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was in power. While life under the Islamic Republic was far from perfect, citizens did enjoy more freedoms than in previous regimes. Sam asked us to use his stage name because of safety concerns for friends and family in Afganistan. He said like most kids, got into western music by going down proverbial rabbit holes on YouTube.

“When I was a kid, I used to listen to rock music and heavy metal,” said Sam. “I got into Metallica and then Slayer, and then I found a lot of other bands I really liked.”

He eventually started his own Death Metal band, Rig Veda, and took a stage name, “Metal Sam.” Sam said western music equipment was hard to come by in Kabul.

“I bought my first guitar from Amazon,” said Sam. “It had to be sent to a family in India, and then they sent it over to me. It took like one year.”

Sam said he also purchased a distortion pedal, a vital part of any heavy metal guitarist’s equipment, but it was broken when it arrived. It took another year to get repaired.

Over time, he said, more and more rock groups started popping up in Kabul, and a music scene was in full swing in the capital city.

Provided photo - Death Metal band Rig Veda in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2019
Rig Veda
Connecticut Public
Provided photo - Death Metal band Rig Veda in Kabul, Afghanistan, 2019

“So everything was going smoothly and well. We had our freedom. But then all of a sudden, the situation deteriorated,” he said.

That was in 2021, as the U.S. started withdrawing troops. The Taliban quickly seized control of the country, and put severe restrictions on the freedoms of Afghani citizens, especially women.

“People were fleeing, getting away,” Sam said. “Some made it to the plane, some went home to just protect their families. It was terrifying. People wanted to change after a long period of war, not knowing that that change could be worse.”

Sam said his family was a target of the Taliban, in part because of a family member’s involvement with the Islamic Republic, and in part because of Rig Veda — his heavy metal band. That first guitar, the one he waited a year to receive, had now become a liability for his family.

“It's strictly forbidden by the Taliban," Sam said. “They just burned musical instruments down. And they're totally against music. They think it's pro-Western.”

So Sam threw his guitar, amplifier and distortion pedals away.

Through connections in the U.S., Sam and the nine members of his family found a chartered flight out of Afghanistan. They fled their home and moved from hotel to hotel for about a month.

Sam remembered the mix of emotions as the plane left Afghanistan.

“Well, that was one of the most exciting moments that I've ever had in my life,” Sam said. “So everyone was very happy, and also very sad. Because you have to leave your country behind, and see that some people couldn't take their families.”

Before they arrived in Connecticut, Sam's family spent months at a U.S. military base as their immigration paperwork was processed. He said living in Connecticut has allowed him to grow, both personally and musically.

“I think I've developed a lot. And I've made the mindset to keep on making music and do what I love. So now I'm working on more songs. And hopefully, I'll get some things released pretty soon. And I think that has impacted my life.”

Contrary to popular belief, he said, Death Metal and Black Metal doesn’t celebrate death and war, but rather exposes its inherent evil. For him, Death metal is actually a music of hope.

“I write music about war and peace. Because I was born in a war-torn country. And, the whole idea of Rig Veda is to sing about the beauty of peace, the darkness of war, and how terrible it is to have war. And I think that's the overall message; I want to express freedom through my music. And I think it's the best thing ever.”

Metal Sam performed with a new lineup of Rig Veda on Sept. 22 at the KGB Bar in New York City.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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