NERVECELL is one of the most successful metal bands from the Middle East where rock and metal music are illegal in some of the countries. I had a chance to have an interview with the bands’ guitarist, Rami H. Mustafa and asked him some questions that you may like to know about the band and metal music in the Middle East.
Hey Mohsen! I’m doing well. Hope you’re doing great!
To begin with, tell us about the Metal scene in the Middle East, especially about your country, what’s the situation for Metalheads there?
Some countries have pretty good scenes with many metal fans and others are totally the opposite. It really depends. Overall, most countries in the Middle East have die-hard metal fans regardless of how big or small their scenes are which is phenomenal in my opinion. Most metal scenes in this part of the world are still underground and less mainstream for reasons that are related to the rules of that specific country. Regardless this doesn’t stop the fans from listening to metal really!
Dubai is a touristic and commercial city that supports all forms of arts, music, and entertainment for years, therefore the metal scene is good compared to other places. Dubai creates a good environment for bands to play gigs freely regardless of genre. Most of the bands in Dubai are foreigners living in the city either studying or working. Bands fluctuate every year as not so many bands stay active for long periods of time. That’s due to the fact that some of the member(s) return to their home countries once they’re done studying or working. Another aspect that helped the scene grow bigger in the past few years is the Dubai Desert Rock Festival which started in 2004. This festival played a huge role in popularizing metal in Dubai and the Middle East as a whole, bringing international bands for the first time in the region such as Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Sepultura, Machine Head and many more. For the past 3 years, smaller promoters are holding metal events at bars and clubs around Dubai giving the chance for bands to perform easily and more often which definitely helps sustain the scene along with the active bands of course. Nervecell is one of the few metal bands, if not the only metal band that is still active for the past 12 years.
How do you see the future of Metal music in the Middle East and your country?
In the Middle East it’s definitely growing and it’s very positive. More and more people are listening to metal, newer bands are forming – some who are really good and very active as well. In Dubai, it’s been good lately but I feel there’s a lack of metal bands in general. The metal scene in specific is not as big as it used to be 4-5 years ago. Overall it’s stable and I hope it grows back to how it used to be before.
Would you tell us more about Nervecell, what is the story of forming the band?
The band started in Dubai in early 2000. James and I met Barney in 2001 at the university where James and I studied. We became really good friends, sharing the same musical interests and influences. We started writing original material and recorded our first demo in 2003 entitled “Vastlands Of Abomination”. Throughout the years we became very active in the local music scene playing underground gigs at universities, colleges and other places around Dubai and the capital Abu Dhabi – at that time we couldn’t perform at clubs because we were young haha! We had a pretty good fanbase at that time with high demand to release more music we decided to record a 5-track EP in 2004 entitled “Human Chaos” which caught alot of attention from the international metal scene. The last 3-4 years we fully focused on touring, later on we got signed with Lifeforce & Spellbind Records releasing 2 albums – “Preaching Venom” in 2009 and “Psychogenocide” in 2011. We’ve been touring none stop ever since in Europe, India, Far East Asia with 4 European tours supporting Suffocation, Deicide, Morbid Angel as well 2 full festival tours appearing at major European festivals as Wacken Open Air, With Full Force, Rock im Park/ Rock am Ring, Summer Breeze, Brutal Assault and more! We got the chance to open for Metallica in the UAE last year as well!
Can you tell our audience about your influences and what genre of Metal you like to play more? Are there any Middle Eastern bands or musicians that impressed you?
I grew up listening to thrash metal, death metal and progressive metal. Mostly late 80’s early 90’s bands. All of us in Nervecell have the same “favorite bands” more or less sharing the same influences. To name some of our main influential bands; Slayer, Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Pantera, Sepultura, Testament, Machine Head and many others. Nervecell’s sound is a mix of old school death metal and modern thrash metal. We have a Middle-Eastern touch in our music which is pretty natural really since we are Middle Easterners and it’s “in the blood” haha! In the past years some really good bands formed in different countries like Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia not necessarily signed to labels but some of them are making good music and working hard which is great.
Let’s talk about your newest album, “PSYCHOGENOCIDE”, what reaction did you get from so far from critics and your fans?
The fans loved it! As we always interact with our fans, we’ve been hearing nothing but great feedback! The media and press have been giving us positive reviews ever since the release and the album got picked up as “Death metal album of the year” in a bunch of publications which is awesome! It’s really good to know the fans and press ranked “Psychogenocide” along other great death metal bands’ records for 2011…that was astonishing!
Can you tell us more about this album such as what you wanted to say in this album and about the recording process?
The concept of the album comes from the ideology behind “mind control” and “propaganda” towards that the human race, which everyone has been living through for centuries. In our modern day lives we know that lots of the control comes from the media, mediums and other surroundings that are unfortunately leading to human enslavement from those who are more powerful and in control. “Psychogenocide” is formulated from the words “Psycho” and “Genocide” which technically means “the total destruction of the human mind” explaining all the mind control methods that have been used against humanity…the weapons of psychological warfare that we see every day and the fact that there is no way out from it really other than opening our minds onto what really goes on in the world and knowing the truth rather than following what has been fed to us. The recording process has been really smooth. We started tracking the drums which was done in Australia by David Haley (Psycroptic). We tracked the guitars, bass, vocals and everything else in Dubai and Qatar. I handled the engineering/recording process which was somehow a big responsibility yet a lot of fun! It wasn’t really my first time as I’ve co-produced our previous releases along other engineers. There was some pressure as you can image the writing process, recording and everything in between was basically less sleep for me haha! It was really an awesome experience nevertheless as I have learnt a lot in the process. Barney and I worked really hard on the writing process and arranged everything in a mannered schedule in order to move fast with the tracking and it really went well. Hertz Studios in Poland mixed and mastered the album. We worked together on our last album “Preaching Venom” and they did a great job.
Nervecell was awarded the “All Time Best Selling Metal Band” and “Top 3 Best Selling UAE Artist”awards, how do you feel about this?
It’s really great! Especially in the Middle East, playing metal and receiving such an acknowledgment is amazing. It’s very astonishing to be the most selling band in metal out of the international metal bands sold in the UAE, and this is shows the massive support we got from our fans. This proves that metal music is well and alive here in the Middle East!
What’s Nervecell’s plans for the near future, especially about this summer and how do you see your band in the next 10 years?
This summer we’re touring the Middle East. The tour is entitled “Psychogenocide Middle East Tour 2012”. We decided we wanna give our fans in our region a special treat putting a special tour together for them. Many fans don’t get the chance to see us live elsewhere so it’s time to come back to countries we’ve not played in a while and some new ones too! Can’t name any dates yet as we’re soon to confirm the full tour and we’ll have an official announcement. So no European festivals for us this summer and we’re spending it in the hot summer of the Middle East totally gonna be worth it haha!
In 10 years our goal is to continue putting out new music, new albums, tour countries and regions we’ve never been to yet. We’re very fortunate that we have travelled and toured Europe, Australia, Turkey, Middle East India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and many others, but we really want to tour North America, South America, Far East Asia, Japan and many other countries, hopefully in the next years to come.
Touring with Morbid Angel was a great honor. All of us in Nervecell are huge Morbid fans and they are one of our main influences musically. It was a real fun tour overall. We’ve toured Europe several times before and this is definitely a very special tour for us. All the shows have been really good. The fans were super supportive and it’s awesome to see our fans and friends coming back to the shows hang out, party and have a good time. Our friends from Benighted were on the same lineup. Kevin, their drummer was sessioning for us on this tour so he played for 2 bands everynight –BRUTAL! Haha! We shared the same tour bus with those dudes and it was endless fun! We’ve played some new cities which was cool! Playing Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland has been always a great time for Nervecell!
Playing as the opening act for Metallica, touring the UK and Europe with MORBID ANGEL and working with Karl Sanders from Nile on your newest video – all these mean that Nervecell is a successful band, so what do you feel is the main factor of your success as a Middle Eastern Metal band?
When we started we had a vision for what we wanted to do, but we had no expectations of how big it will all become. Since day one we simply wanted to write music, perform live and have a good time. Till this day we still have the same drive and dedication to our vision. Metal music needs passion and dedication to the music itself and with hard work combined things do start to grow gradually. It took us a good decade releasing EP’s, albums, touring and supporting ourselves with all DIY until we got signed, managed and with people coming in helping us with our business we still think the same way, because at the end of the day we want to enjoy what we do. So far getting the chance to tour many countries with our favorite bands as Morbid Angel, and previously with bands such as Suffocation, Deicide and work with Karl Sanders featuring him as a guest vocalist in our last album have been great! With our recent opening for Metallica – is as cliché as it may sound a dream come true! I think our experiences can only make us learn more and keep us building and shaping up our career.
How were those experiences, playing as the opening act for METALLICA in Dubai and working with Karl Sanders in your newest video?
I actually bought a ticket for the Metallica concert myself in order to go watch them in Abu Dhabi (capital of UAE) the same day they announced the concert. I had no idea or expected that we will be asked to open for Metallica. A few days later we got contacted by the concert organizers asking us to open! To get the opportunity to see Metallica live for the first time and open for them is just crazy! We played probably to the biggest crowd at that show for around 30,000 people. I gotta admit I was nervous minutes before we started when I sneaked out and saw the crowd! Our intro track kicked in and everybody went insane! I was blown away to see our home crowd having a great time. The show went perfect. We had a small chat with Metallica minutes before they went on stage as well which was cool. Really cool guys!
We’re all big fans of Nile in the band so we approached Karl Sanders to feature him in the song “Shunq” adding his vocals. The song has majority of its lyrics written in Arabic which James does and the English parts by Karl. Karl’s style and voice fits the song perfectly and it turned out brutal as hell! He tracked his vocals in the US and sent it to us. He came down for our album launch in Dubai, and we filmed the video for the same song with him, which was in the desert of a city called Al-Ain. Karl is such an awesome musician and a great guy to work with.
Apart from music, what do you do in your normal life?
We are all fully dedicated to the band. Therefore it’s our first priority and full time job. We also do some work on the side whenever we are off the road. I run a business (Shredder’s Planet Musical Instruments), Barney works in a record label and James does freelance jobs. We are all university graduates as well.
As your final words, feel free to send a message to your fans here on Metal Shock Finland.
Thank you very much for having me and for your great support Mohsen and Metal Shock Finland team! Thanks to all the readers who (hopefully) enjoyed this interview! Nervecell have not been to Finland yet, but we heard a lot of great things about your country and we will definitely come there for a show hopefully in the near future!
Keep it metal! Thanks for your support!
For more details on Nervecell:
Interview by Mohsen Fayyazi