Scarab is one of the most celebrated Egyptian Metal bands. The band has a wide fan base regionally and internationally. Last month, Scarab released their long-awaited album “Martyrs of the Storm”! Rock Era Magazine had the chance to chat with Scarab members sharing thoughts about the album, the band’s new plans and thoughts about the Egyptian Metal scene.
• First off, I can’t thank you enough for giving me this opportunity especially after the release of your remarkable album “Martyrs of the Storm”, the main question of any Scarab fan; Whydid it take this long period to release the album? we are talking like more than 5 years.
Thank you for this Interview and the rich questions. The main reason it took us five years was the search for the right members and people to collab with in Scarab, especially after the departure of old Scarab members, it was only Al-Sharif and Sammy that was left to serve the band. Writing the music or the lyrics weren’t the challenge, this all came automatically and naturally. It is translating what we wrote in a manner where it feels right and feels complete to us. If something has to take time until it is ripe and ready then there is no point in rushing it. We want to keep it short here because writing why “exactly” it took us five years will surely be a lot! On our Facebook page, everything is written in a note that we titled ‘Martyrs of the Storm’ (The Story). The whole process of making the album is written there, and this will pretty much explain the five years gap.
• The lineup of Scarab faced different changes, and there are two new members who participated in the album, how did you select them and how did they adapt with Scarab’s musical ideology?
After Sammy & Al-Sharif contributed into writing the music of the album we had to take it into the recording phase. At the time of the recording, we had Stephen Moss in our lineup. We first met in 2013 when we went to perform for the first time in one of the UK’s “Bloodstock Festival“, at that time he was managing Nazgul Agency, which was our booking agency. Little that we know, he came out to be one abysmally tight guitarist, we were taken by a storm with his performance on Sophie Lancaster stage with the band “The Way of Purity“. There was no one closer to join Scarab after Tarek Amr’s departure in 2015/2016 but him! He travelled to Egypt to record the guitars alongside Al-Sharif Marzeban in 2016. Unfortunately being distant, Stephen couldn’t continue with Scarab as a full-time member and had to depart in 2017. This was also the same year Tarek Amr returned back to Scarab’s lineup. On the other hand, with the departure of ‘Mohamed El Sherieny’ we tried working with a lot of bassists but it didn’t click. However, the bass guitar in the album was recorded by Arran McSporran of De Profundis & VIRVUM. We met him in 2016 during a co-headlining tour with De Profundis in the UK in which we have grown to love their music and output a lot more than we already did! Arran is one of the best bassists out there, in case you don’t know, you should follow his work and see for yourself! Sammy wrote down the bass lines and sent it over to him. Being an awesome musician he recorded it all and sent it over within something like a week or so. Also, Hatem El Akkad departed from Scarab in 2015. To replace him wasn’t simple, we tried with a lot of drummers until we finally found Amir-El Saidi, who was the perfect match. He recorded all the drums and percussion in “Martyrs of the Storm”, and it was a storm blast. What we like about Amir is that he can serve the music for the highest good of it and working together is so easy as he understands the energy and spirit behind Scarab.
So the final lineup now is Sammy Sayed, Al-Sharif Marzeban, Tarek Amr, Ahmed Abdel Samad (who joined Scarab on bass after producing the album), and Amir El-Saidi.
• I want to talk more about the album, in my point of view, it is one of the best Metal releases in Egypt and it is a bright spot in the history of the Egyptian Metal scene as well as the previous Scarab’s releases, what is the main message of the album? How did you script the album’s concept and story? Could you tell us more about the album art?
Honestly, the music comes out naturally. We just channel what feels right and that’s also the case with titles and lyrics. Most of the titles are done by Al-Sharif Marzeban. Sammy Sayed would later contemplate titles and music’s energy and write lyrics that would represent the music properly. After this, comes also building the concept of the art based on studying and analysing what this music and lyrics could represent. Even the production of the music is also some stage of interpretation, where we find the concepts that the production should represent “sound-wise” and work on building this up until it finally feels right to us. To wrap this up “Martyrs of the Storm” could represent a process of huge transition/transformation/alchemy that is on a cosmic level, on the level of planet earth, and also within the human psyche itself. It is a continuation of Blinding the Masses & Serpents of the Nile but perhaps could be viewed on a deeper level and at the same time on a larger scale. When we say “Contain your spirit, the storm is approaching” this can mean the music itself as it does sound like a storm to us. It could mean to stay centred and vigil as certain chaotic events unfold, this chaos can metaphorically represent the storm, where some would be fallen as martyrs and some others would survive it. It could represent something that has happened in the long-forgotten ancient history and repeating itself. It could also represent a powerful karmic shift of energy, magnetism and consciousness that is not to be taken easily, and with this shift comes a lot of sacrifices of letting go of the old and embracing new methods of living. But if you want the most honest answer, then we have to admit that we constantly keep on interpreting/reinterpreting our own music and contemplate on what it may represent, and maybe it is better for everyone to make up their own idea about what ‘Martyrs of the Storm’ could mean to them personally. Having a physical copy of either the vinyl or the CD works best, as it has all the lyrics, symbolism and art; which is altogether essential.
• The album witnessed the presence of wide international contributors, comes on the top Karl Sanders, how did you manage this huge network?
This was all the doing of Al-Sharif Marzeban, he had an idea to invite guitarists from all around the globe and this could be taken as a message of unity. He contacted them, some of them were already friends of his. In the case of Karl Sanders of Nile & Joe Haley of Psycroptic; both represent inspiration and influence on Al-Sharif Marzeban and it was great that someone like Karl Sanders would actually reply saying that he likes Scarab’s Music and would like to take part into this, same also with Joe Haley which was unbelievable. These are two of our influences before we even start Scarab really, so you have an idea of how this felt like. Al-Sharif passed everyone to Sammy and from there he described conceptual energies that may be behind every track and all musicians grasped into the ideas and translated them perfectly in their own unique and original way.
• “Circles of Verminejya” was a controversial track due to its melancholic and mysterious atmosphere, praising the native African culture, wasn’t somehow challenging?
To unite with Voodoo traditions and beliefs was challenging yes but nevertheless exciting! It was Al Sharif’s idea where he told Sammy that it would be cool to have something that represents Africa in some way or another, hence the idea of Voodoo and the native traditions popped up. A lot may question, what would Verminejya mean? Well… linguistically it could mean nothing, perhaps it is a mantra, some kind of a magical word that represents a magical concept. We will also leave this to be interpreted by the listener.
• How can you evaluate the status of the Egyptian Metal scene now? What are the main problems of the scene? What are the rising names that attracted you?
We believe that the Egyptian metal scene now is much more positive than it was when we first came up back in 2006. Simply because there are more bands that write their own music when back in the days it was mostly bands playing covers. Also, bands that are getting proper international exposure and success, such as Crescent and Odious. Several bands out there are rising all together such as Medic, Ahl Sina, Erasing Mankind, also it is looking that the old-time Osiris is cooking up some quality black metal. We’d say the main problem is that there is no market for this type of music in Egypt, that’s why there are no Egyptian labels that are dedicated to metal, not that we heard of. On the other hand, it is impossible to do a tour in Egypt especially if it was extreme metal. We believe also that if this music went bigger in the sense of local exposure, it may lead to a lot of hostile madness. For now, The best thing is that there are more bands showing up, and we look forward to even more bands gaining proper international recognition and exposure. Another good thing is the existence of Metal Blast Festival in Egypt, we hope there will be more of that in the future.
• Two years ago, we witnessed a historical teaming up between two of the biggest and iconic names in the history of the local scene, Scarab and Odious, this concert was somehow a celebration for releasing the album, then the band postponed the release of the album. What were the reasons for this postpone? And Would the Egyptian Metal fans witness one more Scarab and Odious night?
It wasn’t really an official release, we were kind of testing the waters by releasing a demo version of Circles of Verminejya and playing many of the songs live, also trying the idea of performing extreme metal in a venue such as the Cairo Jazz Club in Agouza and it was a brilliant experience! The album at this time was still in the process of production and Sammy was also programming keys and orchestral sections and creating samples from scratch. We would definitely want to make this happen again, it would be great to have Crescent along with us. Right now, nothing is certain because of the virus outbreak, so let’s see what the future holds for us all. But we surely have that in mind.
• What are the hardest challenges you faced while producing your latest album?
It was to find the right people that can be fit in chemistry to replace our old-time members who departed, and the worst was to find the right person to work with in order to understand the concept and energy behind the music and produce it based on that. The only one who could understand was Ahmed Abdel Samad, the sound alchemist who later joined Scarab on the bass guitar right after the production was done as we mentioned above.
• Finally, What are your plans in the near future?
We were planning for tours to support “Martyrs Of The Storm”. But everything is on hold for now, maybe we can arrange a get-together and do a live broadcast online for our fans. We will see about that. For now, we are kind of watching the impact of the release on the world and we are rearranging things so we’d be ready for 2021 once it all hopefully clear out. m/
Edited by: Amged Mahmoud.