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Powered by, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

On a metal mission

06/06/2009 11:22 PM | By Georgina Enzer, Copy Editor

Four guys wearing board shorts, camouflage and black T-shirts pull up in a black SUV outside a makeshift studio at a villa near Safa Park. This is Nervecell, widely considered to be the UAE's leading death metal band. They're about to kick off a tour, playing at some of the biggest gigs Europe can offer. It is 48 hours before their flight and they are visibly wired and ready to go.

Video: Dubai's Death Metal

With a shaven head and the requisite black metal logo T-shirt (Goremageddon by Aborted), lead guitarist Rami Mustafa gets the ball rolling: "This is a really big festival and we are looking forward to playing the big German festivals. It will be one of our major accomplishments."

On Friday, Nervecell became the first death metal band to play at MTV's Rock im Park and Rock am Ring, alongside such well known names as The Prodigy, Slipknot, Korn, Limp Bizkit and Juliette Lewis.

Barney Ribeiro, a ball of energy with long black hair, is Nervecell's second guitarist. He admitted they were a little nervous for Rock im Park. "The idea has kind of settled in, but minutes before, a few seconds before we walk on, we will be nervous, we are playing to a whole new audience.

"We are probably the most extreme band playing the festival this year."

With crowds numbering into tens of thousands and 100,000 tickets sold for the festival by March 17, this is just the first of their gigs.

"This time we are making our mark. We have been around for nine years, but it has taken us this long to play at the major festivals. We don't know what to expect, but we are definitely looking forward to it," says Ribeiro.

With such a busy schedule - hopping from Rock im Park to the Metal GDL festival, then back to Rock am Ring before a three week break followed by the With Full Force festival and the Wacken Open Air Festival's 20th anniversary gig - these guys have their hands full. "We are looking forward to Wacken fest the most," says Mustafa. "It is the biggest metal and rock fest in Europe, and if you play there, you have made it. And we are huge fans of the bands that are playing there."

Adds long-haired Australian drummer Louis Rando: "We are nervous, slash excited."

Nervecell did not get to this point overnight. The Dubai-based band, who released their hugely successful album Preaching Venom in April last year, is hoping the tour is what it will take to get signed to a big label.

"It has been a long struggle for the band, none of this happened overnight, but we have a lot of fans in Europe and the Middle East giving the support and feedback a band like us needs," says Ribeiro.

The guys have got the job of representing Middle Eastern metal to the rest of the world at the eight gigs. "We don't forget where we came from. We are proud to hold the flag up for the Middle East," says Mustafa.

And where did they come from? Well, burly (and slightly scary looking) singer James Khazaal is originally Lebanese-Syrian but was born in Qatar. He is studying in Dubai. "It is quite lucky, I came here to learn and now my music has come from that too," he says.

Ribeiro is Portuguese-Indian, born in Qatar, while Mustafa is Palestinian-Jordanian and Rando is Irish-Italian, born in Perth.

The band is quite a mix of influences and cultures, but as Ribeiro says, "Metal unites us all, speaks one language, one message." The band nod and murmur in agreement.

"We are like a small family," Rando adds.

Tour dates

Nervecell played at the Rock im Park festival in Germany on Friday, the Metal GDL festival in Portugal yesterday and are set to perform at the Rock am Ring festival in Germany today. They are also scheduled to perform at:

  • With Full Force (Germany) - July 4
  • Wacken Open Air's 20th anniversary (Germany) - August 1
  • Halle Show (Germany) - September 18
  • Marchtrenk show (Austria) - September 19
  • Vienna (Austria) -September 20
  • Ways of Darkness (Germany) - October 2

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