A.* is 17 years old and originally from Syria. He currently lives in a guesthouse run by Greek NGO Praksis, in Athens.
Ever since I was 10, I've been into metal. The first metal band I ever listened to was Disturbed. Back then, I was trying out different kinds of music and I soon realised heavy metal was the genre for me. I personally find it really relaxing, even though I know a lot of people find it, well, disturbing. Besides relaxing me, listening to metal songs has really improved my English.
I like all different kinds of metal from all over the world. When I fled from Syria to Greece, I listened to a bunch of songs that made me feel better along the way. I made a list of those songs, and it's turned into quite an international one. Each band and each song has its own style and character. Dimmu Borgir, for example, are mainly concerned with social issues, while Aeternam's songs are about different cultures in countries like Egypt, Jordan, Syria and their lyrics are both in English and Arabic. Swallow the Sun songs are a bit gloomier, but when I listen to them it feels like my problems all vanish. I also like the theatricality of the funeral doom metal band Ahab, who took their band name from Moby-Dick.
Of course I'm into other kinds of music as well – like dubstep, country music and trap. Here's the list of all the songs that accompanied me on my journey from Syria to Greece. You can also listen to it on Spotify or Apple Music.
Dimmu Borgir were one of the first bands I became obsessed with. I had all their albums and I love pretty much every single one of their songs. This track in particular reminds me of my first steps into metal. As such, it has basically changed my life.
"Descent of God"
Whenever I listen to this band, I think of my friend Arrab, who introduced me to them. He's still in Damascus, while I'm in Greece. Arrab and I have been through so much together – thinking about how far away we are from each other now can really get me down. But I hope we'll be hanging out again, listening to these songs together in couple of years, when we've put the war behind us.
Swallow the Sun
This song keeps me going and gives me a sense of hope. It used to be one of my mates' favourite songs, but he's now been moved to Cyprus as part of the EU relocation programme, where he's started a new life. Of course that's what I want to do too, but I know it takes time. When I listen to this song, I feel like anything is possible.
"O Father Sea"
When things get tough, I listen to this song. Whenever I feel angry, disappointed or depressed, I hit play and it calms me down. On my way to Greece, I was in Raqqa [the Syrian city claimed by ISIS as its capital] for a while, and I was so terrified of getting caught that I would play this song all the time to help me relax.
This is a song I can't help but dance to.
Kitty, Daisy & Louis
"Never Get Back"
Before I knew this band, I had never really listened to this kind of music at all. It's a bit country, blues and rock 'n' roll. Now, every time I hear one of their songs, I think of how stubborn I used to be, when I listened to nothing but heavy metal.
System of a Down
I distinctly remember the first time I heard this song, six years ago. A friend of mine put it on and I liked it straight away. Now it reminds me of Dimitra, one of the social workers in the shelter I live in, in Athens. She really digs it. Whenever I play the song, we always sing "The toxicity of our city / Disorder" together and we try to imitate the singer's voice. Sometimes, I randomly play the song and I shout "Just for you Dimitra!" to her. It's our little thing.
When I was working at my uncle's restaurant in Syria, I used to play this song while cleaning up towards the end of my shift. I worked there after school or on the weekends to help out. Cranking this up made time go by much faster.
When I was at the Moria Camp on the island of Lesvos, I used to listen to this song and "Wizard" by Martin Garrix. It helped me stay positive by dancing my troubles away. There were quite a few troubles to dance away – the living conditions were terrible, and we were just sitting there, waiting a very long time to be transferred to another shelter.
Cradle of Filth
"From the Cradle to Enslave"
This song makes me think of my mother, and it makes me smile. She absolutely hated this song and she would yell at me every time I put it on. She would tell me to stop listening to this filth, but I'd pump up the volume and play it over and over just to wind her up. I'll never forget the hilarious faces she used to make. She's in Syria now, but I'm sure that if I see her in a few years and play this song, she'll start laughing too.
"Ov Fire and the Void"
This is another song that I play when times are rough. Whenever I start thinking about all the paperwork I need to go through, about the asylum interview and whether they'll grant me a refugee status, I get really nervous. Listening to this song calms me down and helps me think of something else.
This was the first song I listened to when we crossed the border between Syria and Turkey. I was so relieved – it was like a weight had been lifted. I took a big breath and said to myself, "You finally made it. The hardest part is over. Time to move on."
Black Veil Brides
This song reminds me of my friend Dany, who's also still in Syria. I try not to listen to it too often because I miss him terribly, and thinking of him depresses me. It's not easy to be away from your friends for such a long time.
Music is a big part of my life. I used to beatbox when I was in Syria, and now I've found a friend to make music with together at the shelter. I beatbox and he raps. I'm also currently taking guitar lessons and learning to play anything from Greek songs to rock music. In the future, I'd like to learn how to play the drums and take singing lessons as well. *The author's name has been redacted for safety purposes.
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Illustration by Ana Jaks.