Lebanon's metal scene bids farewell to J-P Haddad, the soul of Kimaera

In tribute to its recently deceased founding member and mainstay, the band plans to launch its fourth album, ‘Imperium,’ March 15 at a gathering at the Nova Club in Mansourieh.

Lebanon's metal scene bids farewell to J-P Haddad, the soul of Kimaera

An undated photo of J-P Haddad during a Kimaera concert. (Credit: DR)

The emptiness left by a death is always proportional to the number of people who come to say “goodbye” at the funeral, and the intensity of the pain mourners feel.

The abrupt death of Jean-Pierre Haddad, alias “J-P,” confirmed this rule on Friday, February 25, 2022. Recognizable by his ubiquitous bandana or cap, as well as the bearded man’s tattoos and discreet piercings, the flamboyant 39 year old was killed by a gas leak in his Cairo apartment.

Wondering if this incident could have been avoided won't help. His mother, Donna, and sister, Cynthia, as well as J-P's friends – not least his surviving bandmates, Charbel Abboud (keyboard), Richard Bassil (bass), Patrick Estephan (drums) and Pierre Najm (guitar) – have lost an exceptional human being. Lebanon’s entertainment and metal scene have been bereft of one of its pillars – a hospitality sector professional and the founder of the veteran doom-metal band Kimaera. Launched in 2000, the band managed to impose itself on the ungrateful history of Lebanon and did so with a bang.

The thousand faces of youth

Kimaera was born at the end of the last millennium and began to tread the boards of a scene that, despite some solid talents haranguing Lebanese youth since the mid-1990s, did not have the means to fulfill its ambitions. The name is based on the word "chimera", differently spelled. In Greek mythology, the chimera is a composite monster with the body parts of a lion, a goat and a dragon or snake.

For the Achaeans – the inhabitants of a region of archaic Greece – each of these parts embodied one of the three ages of a woman's life: Before puberty (the lion), maturity (the goat) and after menopause (the serpent). Based on this reading, J-P and his fellow travelers have engraved their place in the history of a male-dominated pop music form with the name of a creature that emerged from an ancient matriarchal culture.

Lebanon’s metal scene embodies one of the thousand faces of a youth that grew up during and in the wake of the 1975-1990 civil war, whose individuals tried to leave their mark on a history that never seemed to want them.

Kimaera's story, recalls Paul Garabed, began shortly before the year 2000.

"I met J-P in 1999 at university,” said Garabed, currently guitarist with the Lebanese oriental rock band Arnabeat. “He was then a member of a band called Metallium – not to be confused with the German power metal band Metalium – whose repertoire is heavily influenced by the American band Metallica and their emblematic singer, James Hetfield."

According to Garabed, Metallium centered on heavy metal (the most "traditional" style of this musical current). J-P was the band’s self-taught rhythm guitarist and vocalist. With Garabed’s arrival in 2000, the group took the name Chimera.

"It is a friend of the circle, Tarek Freiha, who came up with the name. We then decided to validate this name-change with the idea to stop doing covers and to compose our own titles," Garabed recalled.

The drummer and the bassist of the time weren’t convinced by the change of direction and duly left the ship, to be replaced by Tony Abou Haïdar and Kevin Melikian respectively. The quartet formed with J-P gave its first concert during the following summer in Jal el-Dib’s former Peak Hall (Metn), famous for having allowed entire generations of hirsute skulls to go mad to the wild rhythms interpreted by generations of more or less virtuoso musicians.

"We didn't get paid. It has always been difficult to get paid in this environment," Garabed said, noting that this situation hasn’t really changed. Despite its fervor, the local metal scene remains an intimate one, with a few hundred people attending an average event.

First concert, first album

Chimera’s first concert, whose playlist was ruled by Metallica and Megadeth songs, was the beginning of a second decisive turn in the band's development.

"Shortly after, J-P changed musical direction by turning to Doom/Death, a sub-genre characterized by heavier rhythms and a darker atmosphere than heavy metal – with influences very much dominated by pioneers like My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost. This is what will eventually shape Kimaera's identity in the long run," said Garabed.

The band recruited Chantal Arzoumanian, whose vocal and keyboard contributions completed the transformation of the band, whose composition will change many times. Arzoumanian left her place on vocals and keyboards to Sabine Abou Hamad; Wissam Abiad replaced Kevin Melikian on bass; Tony Abou Haïdar withdrew in favor of Pascal Élias and Moe Turk arrived to helm keyboards.

Six years after its first stepping on stage, chimera attained a new level with its first studio album release, “Ebony Veiled,” sealed the band’s reputation with its first single, “God’s Wrath”, released in 2004. The band changed the spelling of its name too. The album was recorded between J-P's home studio and Peak Hall, while Russian indie label Stygian Crypt Productions took care of distribution in Lebanon and abroad.

"The result is faithful to J-P's vision of how the band should evolve,” Garabed recalled, “but the compositions (of the 8 tracks recorded, including the 2004 single) were all born from collaboration, with each one of us leaving his mark."

With the experience accumulated during its long gestation, “Ebony Veiled” was very well received by the public and attracted attention on the international metal scene. "At the time, I was impressed and surprised that a Lebanese band could achieve such a level," recalled bassist Richard Bassil.

A long-time friend of J-P, whom he met in late 2001 via his musical collaborator Wissam Abiad, Bassil joined the band in 2020. "J-P called me and asked me ‘Abou el-Rich, do you still have long hair?’ I told him that it was already the case when we saw each other two days before," recalls the musician. “He laughed, then told me he was looking for a bass player and I jumped on the bandwagon. It's a collaboration I would have liked to have started years earlier, but couldn't because of lack of time.”

From "Solitary Impact" to "Beirut Set El Donya”

In 2010, Kimaera returned with a second album, “Solitary Impact,” distributed by Stygian Crypt Productions. With ten new tracks and a music video (“The Taste of Treason”), the band kept growing, acquiring a violinist in Milia Farès. Keyboardist Charbel Nacouz and drummer Simon Saadé also became contributors. Lebanon was experiencing one of a relatively prosperous period, a respite that the Syrian conflict ended the following year.

For Kimaera, which by now was appearing at international festivals, 2010 was the year keyboardist Charbel Abboud definitely joined its ranks.

"Pierre Najm, who was approached at the same time as me, told me that Kimaera was looking for a guitarist and a keyboard player to open for [Dutch symphonic metal band] Epica in the Czech Republic. Garabed and Charbel Nacouz could not continue the adventure for personal reasons. We met with J-P in a Dunkin' Donuts to talk about it and the deal was done. I was 18 years old at the time," Abboud recalled. "He had reservations about me, but our first rehearsal session cleared up his doubts. That marked the beginning of 12 years of unbridled investment in the project. At first, J-P liked to control every aspect of it (from composition to promotion to recording) but over time he came to trust us enough to allow us to help him."

Najm, still an active member of Kimaera, met J-P in 2006 during Discordance, a metal concert in Furn el-Chebbak.

"It was one of the first events of this magnitude in Lebanon, with spectators coming from the most remote areas of the country and even from some Arab countries, like Jordan,” Najm said. “Kimaera was naturally on the bill.”

Drummer Patrick Estephan doesn't remember exactly when he joined J-P. "I'm not very good at remembering dates,” he admitted. “What I can tell you is that I was a member of another band (Metanoïa, which later became Beyond Fallacy) and I had met J-P and his band. We used to hang out a lot, especially at the Eden Bar in Badaro, which belonged to him for a while. In 2018, the band needed a session musician for a concert in Dubai – where they had performed before – and contacted me. Two years later, I ended up replacing Erce Arslan, who was the band’s drummer from 2012 to 2019."

Another notable band member in this period was bassist Samer Zouein, who joined a few years before Bassil.

Between 2012 and 2022, Kimaera continued to write its legend, releasing its third album in 2013, “The Harbinger of Doom” (Stygian Crypt Productions). The band also continued to play abroad – in Turkey, in 2011; in Ukraine, in 2012; a tour of a dozen Eastern Europe concerts in 2013 (with a gig in Russia); a premiere in Dubai, in 2014; an abortive gig at a Tunisian festival, in 2015 (disrupted by the authorities’s anti-metal attitudes), a tour in Latvia, in 2017; a return to Dubai, in 2018, and a last concert in Lebanon in 2019 – which the then-Swedish ambassador to Lebanon, Jörgen Lindstrom, attended.

In the fall of 2020, J-P and Kimaera scored a hit that definitively consecrated their status as a phenomenon, with a frenzied death metal cover of the lyrical oriental tune “Beirut Set El Donya,” (with lyrics from Syrian poet Nizar Kabbani, already made famous by Lebanese vocalist Magida el-Roumi’s interpretation). Featuring vocals by Cheryl Khayralla – and Nadim Messihi’s skilfully directed video – the song’s broadcast thrilled tens of thousands of fans, it’s said, and also attracted the wrath of Magida el-Roumi who sued Kimaera over copyright infringement.

In an interview diffused at that time, J-P reflected upon this “false note,” saying that he’d wanted to make this project since 2013, highlighting his affection for the original title, as well as his desire to bring metal to the Lebanese – who have little affinity with this form.

The ides of March

If Jean-Pierre Haddad was unable to achieve this goal himself, the other members of Kimaera – as well as the fans and relatives of the band – intend to continue to honor his memory. They demonstrated this commitment during the February 27 funeral, held at Jisr el-Bacha’s Mar Elias church. More festive, but equally emotional, will be the release of Kimaera's fourth album, “Imperium,” (Tuesday, 7pm, at Mansourieh’s Nova Club), which had already been completed at the time of J-P's death.

"It will be a gathering in his honor, where all those who have been close to him and appreciated him from near or far are welcome," reflected Charbel Abboud. "March 15 was specially chosen by J-P for the release of the album. It is the day, in 44 BC, when the emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome. It's a detail that was very close to his heart and really gives an idea of the depth of the man he has always been."

While waiting for this day and after it has passed, J-P's posse will continue to meet to toast his health in those Beirut bars where he used to sit. If it’s possible to hear the notes of “Beirut Set El Donya” resound several times in the same evening, it may help fill the void left by the death of this man.

The emptiness left by a death is always proportional to the number of people who come to say “goodbye” at the funeral, and the intensity of the pain mourners feel.The abrupt death of Jean-Pierre Haddad, alias “J-P,” confirmed this rule on Friday, February 25, 2022. Recognizable by his ubiquitous bandana or cap, as well as the bearded man’s tattoos and discreet piercings, the flamboyant...