A few years back we talked with Nervecell but a lot has changed since* A band that kick-started Death Metal in the Arab Region and with perseverance and steadily rising talent acquired an international audience playing in festivals such as Brutal Assault in the Czech Republic, With Full Force in Germany and more. We were able to get in contact with the guys to tell us all about their new album Past, Present… Torture and what we can expect from it, Enjoy!
First of all, I would like to congratulate you and all of the band members on the new album, I have listened to it about 7 times now and after that, I can safely say that in my opinion this the finest work you guys produced and it is nothing short of exquisite.
Barney: Thank you! It’s always great when we receive such positive feedback from the fans, we write music that we love and are very passionate about being fans of this genre ourselves. So, when we connect on the same level with our fans based on the songs we compose, that is always a wonderful achievement.
James: Thanks, Mustafa, we ourselves have lost count in the number of replays we did with this particular album. After all these silent years, it’s good to see how we developed and matured musically. I am really proud of the guys and myself for doing this album and I knew from the beginning that it was worth the wait.
Nervecell is considered one of the heaviest bands in the Scene in a region where Death Metal is not a prevalent genre yet you guys exert some obvious hard work and dedication to the craft, what drives Nervecell to keep moving forward?
Barney: I guess the very fact that Death Metal isn’t a prevalent genre in the Middle East still could attributeto one of those reasons why we keep pushing forward. You can run, but you can’t hide from us or ignore us haha. I mean when I first started the band, all we ever wanted to do was play live. It’s the one thing that we always longed to do as a band. 17 years on and we each still have that fire in us to get on a stage anywhere in the world and just rock out. Being born and raised in the Middle East we’ve seen how hard it is to achieve global success. No one’s going to do the work for you – we learned that a very long time ago starting out here just as any other local band. We felt our music was strong enough and could transcend boundaries regardless of race, religion, and culture. So we did all the hard work from scratch and learned the ropes of the music industry all by ourselves. When you’ve invested so much time, energy and passion into something, you’re obviously going to want to fight for it and treat it like it’s your baby. And that’s exactly what Nervecell is to us, we are more than just a band here, we are good friends who all happened to have the same willpower to achieve our goals and we couldn’t have done it without each other either. Some things in life are well worth fighting for, today we represent not just ourselves as Nervecell to the world when we go out on tour, but an entire region stands behind us that we are proud to call home and raise the flag for Extreme Metal coming from the Middle East!
How do you feel about the new album that just released “Past, Present… Torture” compared to the last one “Psychogenocide” and earlier works in general?, the last album you guys made came out in 2011, this is a very large time gap, big enough for the band to come up with material to build on what is existing and create what is ultimately an even better album, what do you think you guys offered to this album that distinguishes it from past releases?
Rami: I admit it took us longer than usual to write and put out this album. At first, I wasn’t too happy about that, and it was out of our control, but looking at it now, we gained more inspiration on the way writing the songs. I realized the end result was great and it was worth all those years! Fans was asking year after year “when is your new album coming out?” which was a great feeling and motivated us yet we were touring ALOT between 2011-2015 and that was kind of an“excuse” for taking our time, haha. But seriously speaking time did help us get the songs to where we wanted them to be.I recall putting the first skeletons/riffs together end 2012/ beginning 2013, then I thought it would all fall in place fast enough, but we went through some bumps as a band with our ex-label/management which held us back a little. In parallel to all that, I was personally going through a rough period of my life. Probably the roughest ever. So, all that piled up negative energy went all out into the music!There is more truth and emotions than ever! We also knew what we wanted musically in this album. We were always discussing what we wanna change or add. More extreme drumming, more intense guitar work, more melodies, more vocal ranges and whatever was “missing”from our previous albums, it’s all in this album. I also think the songwriting is stronger than ever too. Both Pyschogenocide and Preaching Venom are strong in their own way, but Past, Present…Torture we pushed the envelope and kept things under control.We did major pre-production after writing all the songs. Then traveled to France to meet Kevin who recorded the drums. Back to Dubai at Haven Studio to track guitars, bass and vocals andmy studio for extra guitar work.Finally sent it to Poland (Hertz Studio) so lots of back and forth on this record. Something similar to our previous album actually, but it was different. I was kinda burnt out but was totally worth it. I think the result speaks for itself.
With the release of the new album, are there in tours in mind that we can expect soon?
Rami: Focusing on getting a U.S tour as we speak so hopefully, this will work out this time. A European tour is being planned along with a big festival run. A Middle East and Indian tour are on our agenda but no dates set yet.
Can you give us an idea of what an avid Death Metal fan can expect out of the new record?
Rami: Fans of old school, modern, technical, brutal AND melodic death metal fans will dig it. I think it’s for every extreme metal head.Lots of brutality, groove, and dark vibes on “Past, Present…Torture”. There’s definitely more oriental/Arabic passages in the songs and I admit I kinda pushed it a bit on this record. More extreme drumming and technical guitar work as well.We’ve got 2 non-death metal interludes that are all instrumental which is something we kinda do on each album but on this one, we did 2… actually 3!Counting the intro to give the album the vibe we wanted.
What is your take on the Death Metal scene and how it evolved in the Arab region? What are the things you have witnessed or noticed since you guys first formed the band as early as 1999?
Barney: Well from my personal experience, I’ll use this opportunity to state that Nervecell was not the first Death metal band from the Arab region. There were a handful of Death Metal bands from other local neighboring metal scenes before us. However, none of whom really took their music out of their local scenes. So I guess that’s where Nervecell did things differently, unlike the handful of Death Metal bands before us. We took the initiative to get out of our comfort zones and play to the metal masses internationally. We were tired of playing to the same crowds and to our local scene that we wanted to test ourselves how we would go down when playing to a 100% new, unbiased, never seen us before-crowd. And that’s what every band should actually do if you want to seriously make a career out of this. Fortunately for us, with the release of our first E.P. Human Chaos,we were able to establish a solid fan-base in the Middle East region before even stepping out regionally into neighboring countries. I guess the internet was also only just breaking out at this point in the early 2000’s so that surely helped us a fair amount in comparison to the other Death Metal bands who were around from the Arab region before us. We got some killer reviews on the E.P. which built our confidence into looking at booking shows outside and approaching promoters in Europe for example.
With regards to what I noticed about the scene, thanks to the Dubai Desert Rock Festival that took place here between 2004 – 2009 it gave rise to a lot more metal fans in general, which obviously benefitted us to a great extent as a Dubai based Death Metal band surely. So that was very cool! However, it also gave rise to a lot of bands who were just forming bands as a trend. I mean in the Middle East in general, there are a lot of spoilt kids who just think they can buy their way into anything overnight. Which is certainly not the way it works in the music industry at all! So, we pretty much had to deal with these bands who just call themselves “Death Metal” in the Arab region for the sake of it. I mean just because you tell your friends you’re in a Death Metal band doesn’t mean you necessarily play that genre. I have the uttermost respect for any musician out there regardless of genre, but when there is no passion in what you do it becomes very obvious. As far back as I can remember Death Metal was always the underdog genre and never about trends. Sure, it’s got more to do with technicality and speed but that doesn’t mean it’s cool to say you play Death Metal – its obviously very embarrassing not just for these bands but they make the entire country they hail from look like “noobs”. When Nervecell first started out, we called ourselves a mix of Hardcore and Death Metal, and mind you this was way before the term “Deathcore” came about. But at least we were honest and knew our place and restrictions as musicians.
I mean at the end of the day I’ll be honest here, as far as I’m concerned, we basically made Death Metal become known in the public eye as a normal thing in the UAE. Simply by doing what we have been doing all these years. If you had told me back in 1999 that 10 years from now our faces would be on Dubai TV playing Death Metal or in a full-page interview with our pictures blown out in the local newspapers along with a headline that reads “UAE’s Death Metal pioneers” or “The UAE’S own Death Metal band”, I would think you are crazy or dreaming…straight up. But that’s what life is about, isn’t it? No great success story starts with ease. The struggle is and always has been real with us, and with hard work, just like in any field you work in – only the strong survive. Sooner or later, the press will eventually come around to pick up on it. We didn’t set out for any of this or have any such goals when we started out. We were regular metal fans and simply had a passion for playing extreme metal, whichended up in us starting a band and creating a buzz – we just capitalized on it!
Other than the release of the new album, can you share with us or give us a slight hint of what we can expect from the future of the band?
James: Well the reason in the first place for the delay of this new album was first and foremost the tours and shows the band was constantly going through. New territories have been claimed and the fan base is growing on a day to day basis. Having said that and having launched the new album to the masses to be accessed worldwide, it’s only fair to say now that this is where our true duties kick in. After all, we are a band that feeds off the energy of playing live, this keeps us fit, close to our fans, and now that we had our creative juices flowing, at least I will speak of myself, I kind of built a habit of writing new material on the go. But again, this is where we as band will shine, we will be doing a lot of travels and hopefully expand our territorial reach and spread the sound of Death Metal.
The lyrical content of Nervecell has always been a distinctive part of the band, what kind of ideas or concepts inspire the band, lyrically speaking?
James: To me, Nervecell always held that humanitarian factor, that human communication/relation touch. But having gone through what I personally endured, seeing the global situation in every angle, hearing the ideas my bandmates had especially after having decided what the album title would be, I had to think different. I had to come up with material that caters the image and the sound of the new album. I was more or less molding my ideas around the album. I personally criticize myself a lot and having the right amount of time to sit and cook the lyrics of these songs, I myself was getting impatient to share it with the guys. Next thing you know it I am in the studio cutting through every song with the mic and seeing the reaction of the guys really motivated me. I knew I was more than prepared for this record, there were some last-minute changes and adjustments where I had to rewrite the lyrics, concept, and record a song in less than fuckin 18 hours, but I had all my tools at hand. my mind was still in the creative bubble, and I nailed it (Dawn of Decimation). In fact, its one of my favorite songs in this album. In conclusion, the lyrics are an artistic approach to what I have been reading for the past 6 years. Historical, Religious (The Holy Kabbala), Political, Personal biographies (Malcolm X for example), Medical (the science and dissection of Jinn and Human sickness). Having these books and my personal experience from countless situations in everyday life help built a solid foundation of ideas that made it to the new album.
How do you think Nervecell evolved ever since it formed? musically speaking. Was it a direct sound you guys wanted to go for? What music left an imprint on you guys that made you build your own distinctive sound?
Barney: Musically speaking we were always into Death Metal and Thrash Metal mainly. I mean in the early years due to certain ex-members in the band at the time we couldn’t really play the exact style of metal sub-genres that we wanted. Obviously, we were fans of extreme metal back then just as much as we are now, but it was important in a way as we were learning our instruments at the same time and developing on how to become better musicians as well. I’d say during the time when James and Rami eventually ended up joining the band with me around 2003, that was when we kinda took a stand on how we wanted to sound more serious. I mean you can listen to our first E.P. from 2004 and tell where our influences were clearly coming from, but at the same time, you can hear the restrictions we had too as a band. Basically, we were all into bands such as Morbid Angel, Deicide, Sepultura, Pantera, Slayer, Death, Testament, Metallica etc. you know all the classics pretty much. But we wanted to do our own thing, which resembled us on twist on the music. So, we tried to keep it as organic as possible but also use whatever we could in our capabilities to resemble the part of the world where we live and grew up in. So, all the small Middle Eastern scales or hints of music that you hear from time to time in our songs are all very natural attempts made by us. We don’t sit down and plot out a formula necessarily when we write music like some bands actually do. It’s always been a very natural approach when we compose music in this band, and we’d like to keep it that way.
On August 5th, you guys performed with the band Scarab from Egypt and the infamous Band Nile from the United States here in the UAE where you guys have been quite for a while regarding shows in the UAE, can you share with us the experience? how did it feel sharing a song off the new album to a live audience?
James: It was an absolute pleasure to come back after two years and play to our home crowd. To top it off, to play and share the stage with Scarab our brothers from the land of the Pyramids itself, and Nile, a band we have always listened to and somehow formed a mental agreement that those guys are also from the middle east?! The music and concept are to blame but hey it’s all good. Not only that but also a band we worked with on our previous album. Having Karl with me on ‘Shunq’was and is something that I will always cherish. As I said before that up until the release of the new record we were traveling and playing shows. I can say that all these shows have taken place outside of this region. I vaguely remember our 2015 gig in Dubai that surprisingly happened at the same venue and with the same drummer Simon! I know the guys would agree with me on this but it was not that we refused to play any shows, it was more like enough is enough, we need to come up with new material once and for all to share with the crowd that supported us all this time. Plus, it’s time for new fuel to kick in, new air to breath, and a whole load of new necks to break.
And at the very end, I would like to thank you a lot for partaking in this and I wish you the best of luck with you and the band’s future and thank you for a record that truly honors the middle eastern Death Metal Scene.
“Past, Present…Torture” is OUT NOW online and in stores Worldwide on
Lifeforce Records (Europe/North America)
& Metal East Records (Middle East)
Interview by: Mustafa Mansour.
Edited by: NJ Bakr.