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Astana, Kazakhstan • 08 July, 2022 | 09:14
3 min read

Kazakh Metal Music and Kobyz? UK and American Critics Love This Band From Almaty

'The fastest and loudest headbangers in Kazakhstan'

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photo provided by the band
photo provided by the band

"These Kazakhs kill listeners with brutal riffs" doesn’t sound like it's talking about a group like Ninety-One. And ‘Zombie Kids’ is definitely not Dimash's new single.

QazMonitor presents the authors of the 'brutal riffs' whose discography, despite being dark and heavy, still finds a balance thanks to the melodious wails of the kobyz. You might think they are some no-name underground musicians you see live at your local bar. But this band from Almaty is grabbing headlines and getting acclaim from music magazines in Hong Kong, and the UK, including the most recent shout-out by the highly influential metal magazine, Metal Hammer.

The magazine recently listed their cover version of ‘Raining Blood’ by Slayer in their new ‘top 10 best metal songs’ list alongside the UK rock icon, Ozzy Osbourne.

So, who are they, people mixing furious guitars with traditional instruments, like kyl-kobyz and shan-kobyz?

It’s Zarraza—probably the most famous metal band from Kazakhstan you have likely never heard of. QazMonitor reporter talked to Nikolay Khalabuzar, the lead singer and guitar player of the band to find out how the track was conceived.

Nikolay Khalabuzar - the frontman (Instagram: @zarraza_official)
Nikolay Khalabuzar - the frontman (Instagram: @zarraza_official)

Kobyz and Slayer, what a combo. Where does the love for the instrument come from?

I heard the kobyz live once, and... I got goosebumps. The deep, penetrating voice of the instrument, unusual sound production, the character, and the variation of sounds, from creaking to melodic, will not leave anyone indifferent.

Our first attempt to make such a mix a few years ago was Napalm Death hit "Breed To Breathe", but, unfortunately, we made some serious technical mistakes while recording and the result was not as good as we hoped it would be.

In 2019, we returned to this idea when we brought back our old instrumental "The Grudge" for the album. The kobyz played by Anar Kasymova fit in perfectly.

And since we often play covers of other people's songs, it was decided to record some of them. And, of course, to record them in a way nobody has done before - by adding the kyl-kobyz.

You added another Kazakh national instrument, didn’t you?

This time we invited back Anar along with her husband Abzal Arykbaev, who played the shan-kobyz and did throat singing. The couple works together as a neo-folk duo called "Arkaiym" and have a very authentic sound.

When I wrote the arrangements of the kobyz for metal songs, they immediately responded and were very open to new sounds and ideas. Roaring guitars and fast drums tend to scare musician of traditional styles.

But this time, Abzal intimidated us with his throat singing! We dream of performing with them together in concert, but we'll see how the cards play out in this ever-changing world.

Instagram: @zarraza_official; Metal Hammer review
Instagram: @zarraza_official; Metal Hammer review

How do you feel about the recognition by foreign music magazines?

Well, to be fair, we get criticized too, and we translate and publish them on our social media. Some think that we sound too much like music from the '90s, some think we have too few thrash metal elements - for some, too many.

But the general reaction is more positive. To tell the truth, what we like more than any review is people wearing our merch in Europe and the US.

That's real acknowledgment from a listener who decided to spend money on an order from Kazakhstan!

Foreign fans with the band's albums (photos provided by the band)
Foreign fans with the band's albums (photos provided by the band)

When will we see Zarraza concert posters outside the CIS?

As for concerts... Everything was going to happen in 2020, we were discussing specific proposals. But the pandemic and the lockdown came, and now we have to go down that road almost all over again. We're ready. The new EP is just such a step. And then we'll put all our energy into preparing the new album.

After the concert with fans in Almaty (Instagram: @zarraza_official)
After the concert with fans in Almaty (Instagram: @zarraza_official)

Metal Hammer once called you ‘Kazakh metal marauders’. How would you describe Zarraza?

The fastest and loudest headbangers in Kazakhstan, tenacious metal heads. I don’t want to be overly modest, in fact, we try to play as many gigs as possible and play more than other metal bands in the country. Or maybe even the region. And we're proud of that. And we're going to play even more.

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