September 21, 2019

Israeli Heavy Metal Band Shredhead Turns Up the Volume

From left: Yotam Nagor, Roee Kahana, Aharon Ragoza, Lee Lavy, Razi Elbaz. Photo by Avihai Levy

When you think of Israeli music, the explosive, extreme form of heavy rock known as speed or thrash metal isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But there are close to 100 of these bands active on the scene in Israel, and Shredhead is one of the most popular.

Based in Modi’in in central Israel, the band just released its third album, “Live Unholy,” featuring 11 rage-filled tracks played aggressively and at lightning speed with raw, razor-sharp vocals. The lyrics, though not always discernable, are sung in English. The Journal spoke with guitarists Yotam Nagor and Razi Elbaz via Skype.

“This album is the first time we managed to sound like Shredhead, not a band influenced by other bands like Lamb of God, Slayer, Metallica or Pantera,” founding member Nagor said. “It’s nice being compared to huge bands that you grew up on, but being able to create something of your own is much more amazing.” 

He added, “Metal in Hebrew seems a bit awkward, in my opinion. There are no Israeli metal bands that sing in Hebrew.” The songs are angry and brutal, reflecting themes of death, destruction and despair. “Our lyrics are just trying to reflect the truest and deepest concerns and hassles that we each have and people have in general,” Elbaz said.

“All of us have been dealing with a lot of struggles in the last five or six years: addictions, betrayals by girlfriends,” said Nagor, whose father died two years ago. “It affected the writing a lot.” 

Surprisingly, Israel’s sociopolitical situation has no influence on Shredhead’s songs. “We don’t take any political stance,” Nagor said. Elbaz added, “The main message we wanted to convey is, ‘Do your own thing and make your own decisions no matter where that may take you.’” 

“There are no Israeli metal bands that sing in Hebrew. … Our lyrics are just trying to reflect the truest and deepest concerns and hassles that we each have and people have in general.” — Razi Elbaz

But going against the typical path Israelis follow of school, army, university, job and family wasn’t in the cards for either of them. “Some of our families are more supportive than others,” Nagor said. “My grandma is very upset that I’m doing this. Every time I see her, she’s like, ‘What about going to the university?’ ”

“My dad is skeptical and I can’t blame him,” Elbaz said. “Being in a niche band in a small country, it’s hard to make a living. It’s hard to explain to the people close to you why you do it or where you see it going. [My parents] are supportive, but it comes with a lot of skepticism and question marks.”

Playing heavy metal has been cathartic for Nagor. “As a child, I had a lot of aggression problems. I broke my hand one time because I punched the refrigerator,” he said. “Music helped a lot with that. I found a place to put all my anger and depression. It definitely helps with all the negative emotions in my life.”

When he first discovered Slayer as a boy, Nagor was blown away by the speed and “evil vibe” of the band’s music. “From that day on, metal was all I wanted,” he said. He formed the progenitor of Shredhead in high school, originally playing Slayer, Megadeth and Metallica covers before going original and eventually arriving at the current lineup that also includes bassist Lee Lavy, vocalist Aharon Ragoza and drummer Roee Kahana.

Elbaz, a Green Day fan and a latecomer to heavy metal, got into the genre after meeting Nagor, and he seized the opportunity to join Shredhead after a guitarist left the band. “He came from a very religious Orthodox family and going into this lifestyle put a lot of tension between him and his family,” Nagor said of Elbaz’s predecessor. Nagor, who is of Eastern European heritage, and Elbaz, a Moroccan Jew, are not religious, “but I respect Jewish traditions and I really love Jewish music and the melodies in it,” Nagor said. 

Both he and Elbaz served in separate intelligence units in the Israeli army. “I come from a military family,” Nagor said. “My mom was in the army for 27 years and my dad fought in a tank unit in Lebanon.” 

Like the other members of Shredhead, they work side gigs to make ends meet. Nagor is a production manager for a hip-hop artist and Elbaz does programming and digital marketing. But they’re encouraged by the increasing popularity of the band and hope to record more songs, make videos, play more and bigger shows in Israel, and tour Europe and America in 2020.

“We feel like with this album, we started on the right foot and now we have some really nice momentum, and we want to leverage that in the best way we can,” Elbaz said, noting that social media is a big part of that, as is meeting fans in person as much as possible. “Our live shows set us apart from most metal acts. We put a lot of work into the way we look and play and move onstage. I think we’re at least doing an OK job at it, and on the local scene that puts us in our own special spot.”

Delivering “a show that leaves people with the feeling that they want to see us again” is the band’s priority, Nagor said. He believes that Shredhead’s commitment gives it a leg up. “We fight with our last breath for everything we do. Nothing in our life comes before the band. I love my family and my girlfriend, but the band comes first,” he said. “If you want to
make a living at it, you can’t look at it as a hobby.”