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Nervecell Working on New Material

The Dubai metal band on gaining a following in the United Arab Emirates and their third new album

Anurag Tagat Jun 28, 2014
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(from left) Barney Ribeiro, James Khazaal and Rami Mustafa. Photo: Courtesy of Nervecell

(from left) Barney
Ribeiro, James Khazaal and Rami Mustafa. Photo: Courtesy of Nervecell

Despite gaining MBA degrees from Europe and being well-acquainted with E-Busi­ness and other manage­ment jargon, Dubai thrash/ death metal band Nerve­cell always wanted to stick to metal. Says guitarist Rami Mustafa of his band that was formed in 1999, “We decided that we want to have the freedom to tour any­time, all the time. You cannot tour when having a full-time job. As simple as that. Let’s just say we customized our lives for music.”

Making it as a metal band is always dif­ficult, but Nervecell have built a sizable fan base all over Asia and in Europe. When asked whether this means they’re getting the best of both worlds, guitarist Barney Ribeiro says, “Yeah, but don’t ever forget it’s really hard! [to get gigs]” Despite becoming a regular name at European metal festivals such as Wacken Open Air and Brutal As­sault, Nervecell, who are a bunch of met­aller friends from Jordan, India and Leb­anon based in Dubai, never felt the need to relocate to Europe to make it as a full­time band. Both Mustafa and Ribeiro say they wouldn’t want to lose their roots as a band from the Middle East and leave be­hind family and friends. Says Ribeiro, “Re­locating to get more opportunities didn’t make sense, because in this day and age, you can be really independent and suf­ficient as a band, because of the indus­try and the way the Internet is changing how we work. Anyone can relocate to Eu­rope, but there’s no guarantee that you will succeed.”

Nervecell, comprising Musta­fa, Ribeiro and vocalist-bassist James Khazaal, spent the first seven years as a band releasing music and performing in Dubai. They got their first international gig at the Metal Camp Festival in Slovenia in 2007, a gig that Mus­tafa almost forgot about. That’s probably because they got their first break on an international platform in 2009, a decade after they were formed. Says Ribeiro, “That was the first year we stepped out of Dubai even – we played in Egypt, Australia and Europe. The reason we could do that was because we had all graduated and took to music full-time.” Nervecell went on to perform at some of the biggest festivals in Europe in 2009, in­cluding Rock Im Park, Rock Am Ring and Wacken Open Air. An India tour came soon after. In 2010, Nervecell promoted their debut full-length album Preaching Venom (2008) in Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Mum­bai. Says Mustafa, who counts their Mum­bai show at Blue Frog in 2010 as one of the best club shows Nervecell have ever played, “It was packed and everyone was going ber­serk. It was crazy. One of the most intense shows, for sure.”

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Unfortunately, ever since then, the band’s attempts to perform in India have failed more than once. They were scheduled to perform in Delhi in February 2013, but promoters backed out of the show a week before and more recently, Nervecell were plotting a three-city tour in April to pro­mote their 2011 album Psychogenocide, but had tour sponsors in India backing out at the last minute. Unfazed, Mustafa says the band is still trying to work out an India gig later this year. Nervecell’s main priority, however, remains Europe. The band’s up­coming summer tour includes performanc­es at Brutal Assault Festival in Czech Re­public, along with festival stops in Austria, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Additionally, Mustafa says he and Ri­beiro have been writing riffs for the third album, which is due to release later this year. Says Mustafa about working on new material for nearly a year, “All I can tell you is that it’s sounding very heavy. It’s sound­ing thrashy and brutal at the same time.”

In May, the band played their first show in Dubai since November last year, at Dubai Rock Fest alongside Mumbai-based ex­treme metal band Demonic Resurrec­tion. Mustafa adds that Dubai doesn’t have as many metal bands who want to stick around and perform. “They are just studio projects for most part,” he says. Adds Ri­beiro, “Indian bands seem to have a more long-term agenda – they are doing it re­gardless of what the odds are. That’s the dif­ference between bands in the Middle East and India.”

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Nervecell will tour Europe with German sessions drum­mer Simon Schilling, who played with the band during their Eu­rope tour last year. In all their 15 years, Nervecell are yet to find a permanent drummer, opting for touring members and session players when it comes to playing live and recording in the studio. Mustafa says although they don’t mind working over the Internet when it comes to recording drum parts, they’re still missing a fourth member. Says Mustafa, “We are not lucky finding a local drummer who’s got the versatility in ex­treme drumming. We are still searching.”

This article appeared in the June 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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