Rising and Shining
Dubai metallers Nervecell are on the cusp of their biggest career break yet
Pop quiz: How do you know when an underground metal band has officially “arrived” on the scene? One: They should have featured on one or more of Sam Dunn’s metal documentaries. Two: They should have played, at least once, at that mecca of all things metal ”“ the Wacken Open Air festival. In the case of Dubai death-thrashers Nervecell, it’s check on both counts. But if the band think they’re arrived, they’re being very circumspect about it. “What’s happening in the band right now, in Nervecell, is that we’re all taking a chance on life. We’re putting everything on hold. We’re just trying to get the band to support the rest of our lives. We still have a lot of work to do,” laughs Barney Ribeiro, founder and guitarist of the band. “And that we’re playing shows like Wacken [the band plays there on July 31] tells us that we’re not making a wrong choice here. We’re getting great feedback, we’re working on being a full-time touring band and we’re still unsigned. I guess we’ll know by December where we really are.” But Ribeiro’s humility belies that fact that Nervecell is the Middle East’s flagship metal band, the only ones to have played the Dubai Desert Rock Festival three years in a row, and that alongside international acts like Sepultura, Machine Head, Killswitch Engage and Arch Enemy.
Nervecell’s back story, for the most part, is not an unusual one. Founded by Ribeiro as a college metal band, “just for the fun of getting on stage and acting like rock stars,” they went the cover songs route before discovering that they had an audience for original metal too. “It just grew as a natural thing. When we started writing original stuff and new members came in, the music started getting heavier, more technical and interesting and whenever promoters put us on their bill we saw people coming in just for Nervecell and it became a kind of like a wake up call for us,” says Ribeiro. The band’s first release was a 2-song demo called Vastlands of Abomination in 2003 followed by a 5-song EP Human Chaos in 2004, which was when the band first started getting noticed. But even as the fanbase for their music grew, the band was plagued by constant lineup changes. “People in Dubai leave the city on a very regular basis. 70 per cent of the population here are expats, so when their families migrate, the band members have to leave too. But I think in the long run it’s worked out in our favour,” says Ribeiro. Nervecell’s current members ”“ Ribeiro, lead guitarist Rami Mustafa, bassist Rajeh “James” Khazaal and live drummer Louis Rando ”“ too come from different backgrounds but find their commonality in the music. “We’re like the UN of metal,” laughs Ribeiro. “I’m from India, though I was born and bred in the Middle East, Rami’s from Jordan, James is from Lebanon and our drummer’s from Australia.” Drummers have been particularly hard to come by for the band because of their niche genre of music and Rando currently flies down from Australia for shows. Â “Finding a drummer that plays our style of music in Dubai has been our toughest challenge so far, I think. We had David Haley from Psycroptic play sessions drums on our first full-length album Preaching Venom, which came out in 2008.” Preaching Venom garnered positive reviews all over the world, and their numerous appearances at Desert Rock meant that promoters started to take a keen interest in the band, which prompted event managers Center Stage Management (CSM) to sign them up. Under CSM’s management the band was finally able to focus on just their music while the promoters handled the logistics of touring and finance that bogged the band down earlier.
The months before Wacken have been busy ones for Nervecell. The band’s Europe tour kicked off with the Rock im Park festival marking yet another first for the band ”“ they were the only death metal act to play at the mostly commercial music fest. They followed that up with an appearance at sister fest Rock am Ring and the With Full Force festival in Germany which Ribeiro says was their most memorable festival to date. “When we went on stage, people were chanting our name, wearing our T-shirts, singing our songs”¦ it was very very surreal. We had more fun backstage than on stage, to be honest because we met all our biggest inspirations there ”“ Phil Anselmo from Pantera, Andreas Kisser from Sepultura who interviewed us for the With Full Force DVD.” The band is also in talks with a major metal label that’s looking to sign them on. Now on the eve of Wacken and their imminent European headlining tour, Ribeiro gets introspective. “There’s been loads of pressure, we’ve made tonnes of sacrifices and often our girlfriends don’t approve but when they see it for themselves, they know what a big deal it really is. It’s all totally worth it.”