Marking Holocaust Remembrance Day loudly

Israel’s veteran extreme metal band Salem will be performing their landmark 1994 concept album with special guest Guns & Roses guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal.

Rock band Salem 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Rock band Salem 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"I’m a third generation Holocaust survivor,” said Salem’s vocalist and leader Zeev Tannenbaum earlier this week, explaining how a doom metal band came to write and record the relentlessly aggressive album Kaddish, which after selling more than 100,000 copies worldwide in the years after its release, has just been reissued by the band.
“My father lost his whole family in the Shoah and escaped from Poland to Russia to Israel. I heard his stories all my childhood about what had occurred to his father and Kaddish was our desperate cry in memory of the horrors that happened to our families. By doing this album, we sent two important messages: We will never forget, and we are here to survive.”
Kaddish also featured the band’s first song in Hebrew – a version of “Ha’ayara Bo’eret” (“The small town is burning”), adapted from the Yiddish poem “S’brent” by Polish-Jewish poet Mordechai Gebirtig in 1938, written in response to a 1936 pogrom of Jews. The mix of metal and painful Holocaust imagery rustled enough feathers back home to prompt a debate in a Knesset committee over the appropriateness of death metal bands playing songs related to the Holocaust.
“[MK] Dov Shilansky tried to get our video clip banned and the record removed from stores, but I remember Shevah Weiss [a former Labor MK and Holocaust survivor] coming to our defense and defusing the situation,” said the 44-year-old Tannenbaum, by day a senior official at the Givatayim municipality.
“Some people were aghast that a metal band would have the nerve to relate to the Holocaust within a framework they usually associate with facism and violence.”
One person who had a different reaction to the album was Guns & Roses guitarist Ron Thal, who is coming to Israel to perform with Salem on May 6 at Tel Aviv’s Reading 3.
Yishai Sweartz of Raven Music, the record label which is re-releasing Kaddish, sent Thal the music in the hopes he would write a testimonial for the album.
Thal, born Ronald Jay Blumenthal wrote, “This is the most true-to-art doom metal album I’ve ever heard, completely capturing the horror of mankind’s utmost vulnerability to evil and self-destruction. Being someone who lost family to the Nazis in Poland, this album tore straight to my soul.”
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post last week after completing two seders with his family in New York in which he proudly “nailed ‘Ma Nishtana’,” Thal said that he was thrilled to be coming to Israel and to perform the songs on Kaddish with Salem.
“My family is originally from Lithuania and Poland and my grandparents got out in the late 1920s, but many of their relatives were killed. We have no record at all what happened to them,” said Thal, who joined Guns & Roses, one of the world’s top musical acts, in 2006.
“Even though none of my immediate family was killed in the Holocaust, it’s something that speaks to every Jew. If it’s not the Holocaust, it’s the trauma of the Six Day War, and if it’s not that, it’s the f****** Inquisition. We all feel the sense on a holiday when a family gets together that the gathering would have included seven times as many people if certain events hadn’t happened. I think only Jews would understand that – only we get it.”
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AFTER ESTABLISHING an e-mail and Facebook relationship with Sweartz and then Tannenbaum, Thal was asked if he would be interested in coming to Israel to help Salem perform Kaddish during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day. His response was immediate.
“I told them I’d love to be a part of something so meaningful. I was absolutely honored to be asked and I’m working hard to get the songs down exactly as the band does them. I want to do it right,” said Thal, who will be spending three days in Israel around the show with his wife.
Both Sweartz and Tannenbaum were surprised and delighted by Thal’s acceptance of their invitation.
“It’s amazing that during this time when people are calling for artists to boycott Israel, the guitarist for one of the biggest rock bands in the world is willing to fly here to perform with a local metal band for a sacred and important aim like this,” said Sweartz.
“It shows that idealism hasn’t disappeared from the world and that the subject of the Holocaust is of supreme importance to him.”
“It really touched me when he said he would come, I was so surprised” added Tannenbaum.
“Even though we live on opposite sides of the world, we still share the same loss and grief about the Holocaust.”
Tannenbaum also expressed satisfaction that Kaddish, which has been out of print for the last 13 years due to record company complications, will once again be available to fans.
“The rights to the album finally returned to us and we decided to rerelease it,” said Tannenbaum, adding that the music has been remastered at Sterling Sound in New York and features a new cover design and art created by the band’s guitarist, Nir Gutraiman.
Tannenbaum hinted that there would be “some surprises” at the show besides the performance of Kaddish, with Thal and Salem devising some other treats for the audience.
Thal, who enjoys a thriving side career away from Guns & Roses as a solo artist and producer, said that he manages to find projects that inspire him and makes time for them despite his main commitment to G&R.
“I definitely have more passion than time,” he said with a laugh.
“And I have a bad habit of taking on more than I can do and killing myself to get it done. It’s a tough juggling act and Gun & Roses is a big ball to juggle. Sometimes, there’s not a lot of prior notification of a tour coming together and I’ll have to shift around everything else that I’m doing while dealing with the one big ball.”
“But everything in life is doable, you figure out a way. If you want to accomplish something worthwhile, it’s going to take some pain.”