Quintessentially, a splitting image of a male from the Middle East is a bearded man with hair tied in a long flowing white Kandhura (the garb of the Sheikhs). But when a dirty hair metal band sporting a rock beard and glam rock hair walks out of the airport from a Middle Eastern flight, you are bound to take notice.
An oxymoron to the bearded folk of the Middle East, Nervecell, a quartet of heavy metal musicians, is Dubai’s most popular rock outfit. And as outcasts of a society that frowns on alternative entertainment, Nervecell has started a rebellion of sorts for the young of the Middle East. The band is touring India with their debut album, Preaching Venom. Having played Bangalore and Hyderabad, they are headlining in Mumbai tonight.
Guitarist Barney Ribeiro, vocalist and bassist James Khazaal, drummer Louis Rando and lead guitarist Rami Mustafa are creating this musical unrest in Dubai. “We are perhaps the oldest surviving band in Dubai. That is because it is difficult to find and sustain good rock musicians in Dubai. And metal is even more rare,” says Ribeiro, explaining how the original line-up of the band has undergone changes since its inception in 2000.
Having shared the stage with metal icons like Machinehead, Killswitch Gear, Sepultra, Motorhead and Opeth, Nervecell is one album and one EP old. India, they say, was waiting to happen for the past three years. “Ever since we released our first few singles online, people have been sending us excellent feedback from India. In fact, we realised that most of our biggest fans were in India,” says Ribeiro.
Nervecell, which has performed at Dubai’s Desert Rock Festival three of the six times it has been held in the Emirates, has also been featured in Sam Dunn’s rockumentary, Global Mental that discusses the impact of metal music in different cultures.
In the Middle East, says Ribeiro, promoters for indie alternative music are hard to find. “In a year, in Dubai, we only perform twice and we are the biggest band around. The only way we can survive is on the international stages,”
Nervecell’s outlandish songwriting too is piqued in rebellion. “We are a death metal band and refrain from clichéd themes like Satanism. We work on themes like humanity, social injustice and the like,” explains Ribeiro. Some of their most popular songs are Human Chaos, which is about people in power in Asia and Flesh and Memory, written by Khazaal, is about civil wars and crusades in the Middle East where he lost members of his family.