Dubai-based metal outfit Nervecell are at it again. The bands new album 'Past, Present... Torture' is out now and circling the metal community with great reviews. We caught up with founding members Barney Ribeiro and James Khazaal to discuss what this project represents and talk us through the music track-by-track.
"Its taken 4 years of our blood, sweat and tears to create this record and we couldn't be happier or prouder to represent the Middle East Extreme Metal scene to the world! Thank you for all the love & support you've shown us thus far. We truly appreciate all the support from everyone who's preordered the album, attended our shows and to those who intend to buy this record...we know you're out there." -Nervecell
The album intro has an eastern feel to it, before you go on to impale us with back to back bangers. Talk me through the placement of this piece as an intro.
James: On our past albums we incorporated the Spanish folk guitar and Oud as the intros to “Preaching Venom” and “Psychogenocide”. Here we didn’t want to follow the same path but to produce something fresh and new. For the intro we used 12 string acoustic guitars and percussion to recreate the tribal aspect of our region. The intro is also very fitting to our album artwork with hints of dunes and desert plains. We felt this sets the vibe and prepares the listener for what is to come.
There are some tracks like DNA, Abyssviand or Habitual Deceit where we get this dance-able energy working alongside these chest-thumping verses and bridges. How has you’re music evolved with this project.
James: Thank you! We call this (danceable energy) groove, and as Nervecell we have always been about the catchy riffs, we enjoy them because it allows us to enjoy playing these songs live even more. Our shows are known for having great interactions and response. We did manage to balance technicality and maintained a great amount of groove on this album. You will also notice that there is no trend or repetition, each song is a stand-alone and holds its own vibe and spirit. However they do link together perfectly.
Our craft always revolves around the listener remembering or getting attached to a certain tune in a song. The memory helps us perform these tracks live and enjoy it with the fans. There is no point in creating an ultra complicated piece. It’s all about the energy at the end of the day and that’s what Nervecell is all about.
The Production on this album really stands out. We want to know who exactly flexed their production muscles and worked with you on this album? How did you connect with them?
James: Like Preaching Venom and Psychogenocide, this album was mixed and mastered in Poland at Hertz studios. Having worked together before, there was a certain relationship we formed with them. With mutual interest in the genre that we play, along with the experience gained through our past projects, it was the only logical decision to hand these guys the production duties. They know what we want and we knew they were the best in the business right when we approached them back in 2008 to record our first full length album. You can’t just buy that experience – it has to be earned so we always feel comfortable working with the right people who help bring our music to life and do justice to our songs.
On a side note - before all of this the drums were recorded in France by Kevin Foley. We traveled there to make sure the drum tracks were recorded in our presence without any limitations. Kevin is a session drummer who we’ve worked with for years. He has toured with us all over Europe and Asia and we've always enjoyed playing with him and experiencing his energy. After the drums were done we returned back to Dubai and started recording the guitars, bass and vocals at Haven Studios here in Dubai. Since we had no deadlines or pressure we made sure every part of this process was carefully planned.
Also having written and produced our previous albums ourselves, we kind of built on that experience and walked in knowing exactly what we wanted.
Dubai is now developing a reputation for being an artistic city, and Metal certainly has a following out here. How would you say the scene has developed in Dubai over the years?
Barney: I was born and raised here and it was only until the early 2000’s where we could go out to our local music stores and find a Metal or Hard Rock section. So if you really think about it’s really not been around for a long time. Having said that, the fact that Metal was so rare and hard to get a hold of created a sense of urgency and craving for kids like myself back then.
In the mid 90’s there were a lot of underground gigs going that you would only hear about if you personally knew the local bands. There was absolutely no media behind any of that as it was strictly DIY and word of mouth. But coming from that scene to where it is today there are pros and cons too. I feel metal fans today are spoilt for choice, back in the mid 90’s the turn-outs at local shows was a lot more. I feel the loyalty of metal fans here is still there, but we’ve definitely lost out in terms of turn-outs. I remember local gigs would consist of 400 to 500 kids, I’ve played to those audiences when Nervecell were only just starting out. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of expatriates who come in and leave the city after 5 to 10 years. We too as a band always have to re-establish our local fan base cause there are always new faces we see every time we play a local gig. So yea it’s kinda bittersweet. I’m just grateful for the fact that Dubai is a lot more open minded in comparison to other neighboring countries where you cant even play this form of music. So whenever we go out on tour, no matter where we are, we are always very proud to represent the Middle East and put Dubai on the map of Heavy Metal.
Dubai’s come a long way in that sense, and now it has its own record label devoted entirely to Metal. How did you connect with Metal East Records?
Barney: Metal East records approached us as soon as they heard we were working on a new album. It was only natural for us to tie up with Metal East Records as first and foremost the owner (Moutasem) of the label and I go back a very long time ago. He was doing a lot for the local scene in the last few years in terms of bringing down international metal acts here to perform in Dubai. He was always a fan of the band and wanted to support us with this new album in releasing it for the Middle East region. It just made perfect sense, there are very few passionate people when it comes to this genre of music and you know you always gotta stick together. Metal East Records have been very good to us and they believe in our vision and goals as a band – which is very important to us, we are very grateful to have them behind us.
Back to the album… Hypnosis comes through as this soulful instrumental a few tracks in. It feels like a short breather before you get straight back into business. Tell us why you didn’t hold back at all with this project.
Barney: We honestly just wrote how we felt, there were a lot of pent-up feelings within us as individuals. You gotta understand, the last album we put out was 6 years ago. I don’t know where all that time went, but I can tell you we went through a lot, and by a lot it wasn’t all good times either. We had some downfalls with ex-management, ex-record labels etc. but the music never stopped! We kept touring and doing what we love. Sometimes inspiration just doesn’t hit you hard enough from certain instances in life, so you learn to take a step back and evaluate what exactly you want to do and how you seek to proceed. That’s kind of what we did collectively as a band, we took our time as you say a “breather”. There are breathers in the album intentionally and I think it only adds a sense of character towards the listening experience of the album. Each track is in that order for a specific purpose and mood. We’ve always written music that we can firmly say we are very proud of. We never once jumped on trends and tried things that we weren’t 100% sure of. We just love what we do man, and after 6 years we came out with 13 solid tracks that I’m sure our fans can agree that it was well worth the wait!
Lyrically or otherwise, is there a message you’re trying to send out through this album?
James: Unlike previous albums that were mainly focused on humanitarian issues, I decided to follow a new approach on this album. In terms of lyrics and vocals I wanted to push the envelope and allow my inner instinct to take over. Being someone who is obsessed with reading I have compiled a number of historical, religious and autobiographical books to back me up on the ideas that I wanted to share. From an artistic point of view I wanted to paint every topic in the best way possible and still create that death metal vibe. There are a lot of personal emotions and thoughts that I kept inside of me during the last six years and somehow the album became my punching bag.
In short the Title of our album expresses how we as a civilization were, have been and will become. The future looks to be dark, but there is a chance for us if we start doing something about it.
Overall, you’ve produced a powerhouse project with Past, Present…Torture. What’s Nervecell doing after releasing this album?
James: Personally after recording this album, I have to say my creative juices are annoyingly not running out. I do find myself sitting down either writing ideas for lyrics and concepts for titles more often. Also writing music and riffs that I really want to be a part of from now on. I personally like our new sound and I want to build on it.
Apart from that its obvious we will be touring a lot and hopefully entering new territories to share our passion and music to new ears and lands. Touring and performing on stage was always our thing, something we regard highly. That’s where we find ourselves, that’s where we like to be and do for hopefully a good amount of time until we get old! We believe the world needs to listen to this record played live and we can’t wait to do that. So stay tuned
What advice do you have for up and coming artists in Dubai whether they’re metal bands or otherwise?
James: It’s easier said than done but find something you love to do and stick to it. Moreover, if its music or not find something original, something that sounds like you and not like someone else. Everyone can sit and imitate or copy a sound or craft. But the trick is to do something that is fresh and represents you as an individual.
About the Writer
Faariss Khalil is a British musician who currently lives in Dubai. As a former turntablist from Bristol his experience of growing up in a thriving music scene has fuelled his passion to uncover new music in the UAE. When he is not out there discovering talent Faariss enjoys listening to Dubstep, Trip Hop, Indie and Rock.