Eli Dali’s Jewish metal mash

Two of the guitar virtuoso’s passions – heavy metal and Judaism – have merged into one, resulting in a new album called 'Metal Prayer.'

Eli Dali  311 (photo credit: Courtesy of Renton)
Eli Dali 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of Renton)
Eli Dali is on a mission to replace headbanging with shuckling. Or, at least, to create a synthesis of the two physical movements normally associated with heavy metal music and synagogue davening, respectively.
The software engineer by day and guitar virtuoso just about all the time has spent the past few years combining two of his passions – hard rock and Judaism. The resulting labor of love is the forthcoming album Metal Prayer (Tefila M’tachtit), which presents scintillating instrumental metal versions of psalms and prayers in the style of guitar slingers such as Joe Satriani and Steve Vai.
“Both of these worlds – the Jewish one and the heavy metal one – mean a lot to me, so I decided to create music that combines both worlds,” said the 35- year-old Dali.
“I was yearning for some Jewish heavy metal, and looked around for some but could hardly find any, so I decided to do it by myself.”
Dali became attached to both of his passions early in life, growing up in a traditional home in Netanya.
“We were masorti, not really religious. But we did Friday night Kiddush, kept kosher and I would go to shul with my father,” said Dali.
“That was where I would hear some of the piyutim [liturgical poems] that stuck with me ever since.”
At the same time, he became enamored with classic heavy metal of the 1970s and ’80s – Black Sabbath, Dio and Iron Maiden – and at age 17 began to take guitar lessons. He mastered the instrument, but by his mid- 20s, Dali had all but put away the guitar as he immersed himself in the hi-tech world. But in the past few years, he returned to the instrument, played in occasional bands and began hatching the idea that had been incubating in his mind for a long time – creating Jewish heavy metal.
“It wasn’t that hard to find the material, I usually took something that I knew as a child from my father’s shul,” said Dali, whose versions of religious classics like “Adon Haslichot” and “Mipi El” are already staples on YouTube and MySpace.
“I took some other tunes that had a warm spot in my heart, or knew from a later period, like [the psalm] “Min Hametzar.” But all of the songs were adapted to metal pretty easily. In my head, I already knew how it was going to sound.”
ALTHOUGH SOME people who like chocolate and peanut butter don’t particularly like them together in Reese’s Cups, the heavy metal-Judaism mix has acquired fans on both sides of the field. One of them was musician Yishai Shweartz, the leading metal advocate in Israel and founder of Raven Music which regularly promotes shows and releases albums.
“It’s a lovely thing that Eli’s trying do, to bring two worlds closer together,” said Shweartz, who is helping Dali promote his work.
“This way, rockers who know nothing about their Judaism can see that there’s something beautiful there, and dati’im (religious people) can discover that there’s some merit in hard rock and be exposed to a new world.”
Dali added that he’s received positive feedback to his music, not only in Israel, but from abroad.
“Some traditional Jews who don’t know anything about rock music but recognized the niggunim [melodies] have told me how much they like it, and I’ve gotten great reactions on MySpace from metal fans abroad who have no idea about the background or origins of the songs,” he said.
Taking a leave of absence from his software engineering position last month, Dali has concentrated on finishing the album, on which he plays all the guitar parts and has used studio musicians for the bass, drums and keyboard roles.
“It’s very different getting up in the morning and going to the studio instead of to the office,” he said with a laugh.
“I think the hardest job in life is doing something that you’re not completely happy with, but I can say that I love my job. Software development is in itself a kind of art form, and I’ve had some really fulfilling times in hi-tech. But music isn’t an art for me, it’s something I love. And I can’t wait to get in the studio and invest all my energy into the tunes.”
Once Metal Prayer is released in the near future, Dali hopes to perform live and bring his brand of rocking religiosity around the country. In the meantime, he’s still traditional – both in his religious life and in his musical tastes. He’s not taken with latter-day speed and death metal, preferring what he calls “melodic metal,” and he still attends synagogue services from time to time to hear the piyutim of his youth. For Dali, his two worlds have finally become one.