Tag Archives: Rush

Interview with Rami Mustafa of Nervecell


One of the first extreme metal bands to emerge from Dubai, U.A.E. Nervecell has supported legendary bands such as Metallica, Anthrax, Morbid Angel and Suffocation are the torchbearers for a Middle Eastern wave of metal. WTS got the chance to interact with Rami Mustafa, the guitarist of Nervecell and here’s what he had to say about the band and their experiences… 

WTS: Nervecell has shared the stage with a bunch of international acts such as Metallica, Sepultura, Machinehead etc. How was the experience?

RM: Oh it was great! We are old fans of these bands, since we were kids, everyone one of us in the band grew up listening to Metallica, Sepultura, Machinehead and for us to get a chance to open for them, not only was it a great experience for us as a band, it was also a dream come true. Meeting our idols, the bands that made us get into music in the first place, and getting the chance to share the same stage with them, it is a feeling that we cannot describe. Especially with Metallica because Metallica is one of the biggest, if not the biggest metal band and to get a chance to open for them exclusively is a big honor for us.

WTS: Just watching a Metallica concert can be quite an experience so we can imagine what you guys felt opening for them! Did you get to hang out with the band, any cool backstage stories?

RM: Metallica is a very busy band so to actually get a chance to meet them was crazy! Because they have their own fan club with thousands of fans all over the world and they spent an hour and a half signing autographs backstage for these fans. We were lucky to meet them for five minutes after our set. When we finished our set they were actually jamming backstage – they have a small room where they practice before they go on stage. So all of us were listening to them playing ‘Creeping Death’ before they hit the stage and it was a privilege to hear them perform because none of us in the band had seen Metallica before. So they came out from the room and James Hetfield and Lars and us hung out. They were really cool. They told us that they liked our sound. It was a really quick chat because they had to go on stage. It was exactly 5 minutes before their stage time and we had only that much time to meet them. We were lucky and it was a really good experience to shake hands and take pictures with them. It was really great, they’re great guys!

WTS: So did Metallica influence Nervecell’s sound? What are the other bands that have influenced your music?

RM: We play a mix of thrash and death metal, the thrash metal sections are definitely Metallica, Slayer, Sepultura and Pantera influenced. For sure Metallica did influence us in one way or the other, the riffing obviously we’re heavier than Metallica and our style is heavier. The death metal section is influenced by Death, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse. Basically old school death metal bands influenced us. We grew up listening to late 90’s death and thrash metal era. So these are the bands that affected our playing and influenced us.

WTS: Growing up in Qatar, did you guys have easy access to underground music and death metal in particular?

RM: When I was a kid, I was in Qatar that rarely had anything – the only access for me was TV you know, the only channels I used to watch were Channel V, MTV. This is where I first heard metal and before that I used to listen to rock music. Bands like GnR… I can’t really recall what other bands but the first metal bands were Megadeth, Metallica.

WTS: …Headbangers Ball!

RM: Headbangers Ball, exactly! I was six-seven years old and it was definitely not easy to find tapes or CDs and definitely no downloading, there was no access. My friends used to come from nearby countries like Turkey, Syria, Jordan and they used to have pirated music tapes from European countries. And whoever went to the States or Europe used to get me albums. Same with the other guys, Barney grew up in Dubai and he had the same experience. Dubai is more commercial but then again it wasn’t easy for Barney. Whatever metal music we had was through TV and magazines. As we grew older we subscribed to magazines like Metal Hammer and Rock Hard and we used to get music and compilation CDs and stuff. As we got older we started getting access slowly. But metal in general, when it came to finding CDs in stores, you’d never find death metal or thrash metal; you’d only find the commercial stuff like Metallica and maybe Slayer – nothing more than that. Nowadays you find everything. I think its getting better, man. It was a bit of a struggle then, it definitely wasn’t easy.

WTS: So now that there is easier access to underground metal, is there more reception to Nervecell’s music?

RM: Of course! When we started in 2001, the scene in Dubai was bad. But 2001 to 2005 it was really good. There were a lot of bands and a lot of underground gigs but people didn’t know too much about metal. They used to come to our shows and learn and realize – this is metal, this is death metal, this is thrash metal. We used to talk with everyone. We used to go out after our show to our friends and fans and have a chat and talk about bands and sometimes trade albums. It was a learning process. So yeah, for the past 3-4 years, I think the internet and YouTube and technology have helped the younger generation to learn about metal really faster than before, in a shorter span of time. Nowadays I find that musicians that can play a guitar lesson on YouTube! (laughs) It’s not a bad thing at all you know!

WTS: The Middle East is seen generally as a very conservative society, has there been any sort of opposition to your music and your lyrical themes?

RM: No, not at all! A lot of people get confused by countries like Dubai and Qatar, these countries are really modern, very globalized so it’s not a problem. What we sing about is really about humanitarian issues and personal issues, nothing extreme lyrically. So we’ve never had these problems. As kids, growing up in the society we learned that we have to respect traditions and morals no matter what. For me, it was purely about the music and then the lyrics. We were fine you know. Other countries have issues with metal at gigs and concerts. We’d have had some problems playing there but we’ve never been to these countries. We try to avoid trouble and we were very careful so there has been no problem.

WTS: So did growing up in the Middle East influence your music in any way?

RM: Yeah of course! The thing is James, he writes the lyrics, its a self-expressive kind of music and doesn’t necessarily have to be negative. A lot of it is about reality, it could be about what’s happening around us and it could be about things between close friends or could be about what’s happening in the world in general. We don’t really have topics that pinpoint and they are mostly general. What’s happening in the world does affect us but we don’t really take it to the level where it’s concentrated to the lyrics. We always concentrate on the music first.

WTS: Your second album Psychogenocide was released in 2011 and you guys received rave reviews for it. Could you tell us more about it?

RM: This is our second full-length album and it’s on Lifeforce Records and we had little time to work on it compared to our last album because we were touring. We had a lot of tours in Europe and a lot of festivals between the writing process for the album. Compared to our last release it’s more of a dark album and a heavier album… more death-metal oriented than our last album Preaching Venom, which was was thrashier and more melodic. Psychogenocide was a bit of both – heavy and dark. Some songs were very melodic and other songs were plain brutal. We really didn’t plan it. When we write – me and Barney on guitars, we both write the music fully. We concentrate on the guitar riffs and then put it into songs. The composition is very guitar-driven. When the songs form, we decide – this song is going to be death, more brutal…let’s continue, lets keep it up the same way we want to do it. The album has a bit of everything and is musically heavier than our earlier releases. And of course we toured everywhere – Middle East, Far East. We went on a South Asian tour, out first Asian tour. Went to the Philippines, Sri Lanka, came back to India when we were promoting it. We also did a European tour with Morbid Angel, which was a very big tour for us. Morbid Angel is a very influential band and a big name in death metal so we were busy for this album. We’re still busy!

WTS: Are you guys recording or writing the third album?

RM: The official writing process is going to be sometime soon but you know I write riffs, Barney writes riffs and we sit together and we compose. The writing process sure is going to happen soon, definitely this year. The new album should be out this year.

WTS: Is it a challenge to translate the energy of your live act into your studio album or vice versa? Psychogenocide is heavy, brutal and technical in parts. Is it challenging to play it live?

RM: Of course! When we write, we keep the live aspect in our minds. We always want to know if this is going to be a lively song or this will be a song that we can’t play live. Whenever we go as far as we do and even if we have complex parts we practice it a lot in the jam room and make sure we pull it off and a lot of our riffs are pretty groove-oriented so naturally it works out fine. Luckily! (laughs) It is a challenge but in time we got used to it and we became better, we matured and started learning more and more. We did a lot of touring with a lot of live appearances. We started feeling off, like this pack of riffs or this pack of songs is going to be more studio songs so we don’t really play it live. We do the songs that we feel would drag the crowds. It’s a bit of both. We never really sit and plan like this will be cool riff-wise. It doesn’t work like that. But luckily, we’re very fortunate that it works out, it starts to come out naturally. We’re very happy about this.

WTS: So what have you been listening to lately? Are there any current bands that you are fans of?

RM: Yeah, for me it depends on my mood. I listen to metal all the time. I’ve been listening to experimental bands and I’m a progressive metal fan. Also old bands like Camel and Rush. I listen to these bands all the time. Sometimes I’m in the mood to listen to some brutal, extreme stuff. Of the newer bands I really like The Faceless, they’re a really cool band. I’ve been listening to this new band called The Haarp Machine and these guys are killer! Really cool technical, progressive stuff. Really depends on my mood, I don’t really have a playlist all the time. It changes…I was just listening to Slayer couple of hours ago – totally random!

WTS: It was great chatting with you Rami. Thank you for your time!

RM: No problem! My pleasure. Thanks for your time. I’ve actually seen quite a few articles on ‘What’s the Scene?’ We’re really looking forward to playing in India soon. It’s been a while since we’ve come back to India and we love the fans there. The crowds interact with us really well, we feel like we’re neighbours and feel connected in a way. All our past experiences in India were great so really looking forward to it!

Avatar photo

Sohan Maheshwar

Jack of all tirades, total shirk-off. Follow Sohan on twitter! @soganmageshwar


Agam at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad





After another dreary day at work, I was looking forward to Hard Rock Café and the Thursday gig featuring Agam, a Bangalore based ‘Carnatic Rock’ band. I’d heard a bit about the band, mostly good things but hadn’t actually seen them perform in the flesh before and was looking forward to listening to a fresh sound.

In the melee, I happened to catch up with a friend, let’s call him Mamooty for the remainder of this review, since the boys from Agam had a particular fondness for Kerala, seeing as some of them are from Kerala. As the band took the stage, Mamooty was in the middle of devouring a burger after another presumably dreary work day too. The band kicked things off with ‘Brahma’s Dance‘, which included a shloka recitation, invoking Lord Ganesh, getting the crowd in on the action. The start was attention grabbing and while the band still seemed to be getting used to the stage sound and warming up to the crowd, they sounded tight and the show promised to be interesting.

The band followed this up with ‘Saramathi Blues‘, and while Agam were living up to their billing of being a ‘Contemporary Carnatic rock’ act, I was still not entirely convinced. The band seemed to be Carnatic at times and Rock otherwise, but I wasn’t yet sold on the Carnatic Rock bit. Neither was Mamooty, still devouring his burger. The band then dropped into their rendition of ‘Geetha Dhuniku‘, a Thillana in Raga Dhanashree; a piece I was familiar with, a-not-so-easy thillana to be performing as a rock band. Mamooty’s attention went from devouring said burger to said band. Agam kicked some serious backside on this one, and the confluence of classical and rock seemed absolutely natural. The complexity of the song with respect to the vocals, rhythm and melody was captured with aplomb, and the band drew some wild applause. They followed it up with another of their originals, ‘Path of Aspirations‘, tight and crisp, with a nice funky bass intro by Vignesh.

They then drove into ‘The Boat Song‘, dedicated to Keralites, which my friend Mamooty thought was apt. The song began with gusto, I thought it had a great intro with the guitars kicking in, all in all a good, high energy song. Rahman’s ‘Muqammal‘, their next song, highlighted the guitar section quite nicely and Harish’s vocals really shone through. This was followed by a dedication to their alma mater, BITS Pilani, featuring a great aalap, although I would’ve liked to see a stronger ending. Next up, ‘Rudra‘, one of the band’s heavier songs, began with a nice metallish start, although I would’ve liked the djentlemen on the guitar, Praveen and Suraj, to get a little more into the song with their stage antics. A slightly disappointing aspect of some of Agam’s songs is the predictable ending after some creative aalaps, and blazing guitar and violin solos and strong, tight drums and bass. The band proceeded to take a break and Mamooty proceeded to indulge me in a discussion about Carnatic music, life, the universe and everything.

The first song after the break, had an intro very reminiscent of Rush’s ‘YYZ‘, with a complex rhythm structure and an interesting choice of raga. Up until this song, I’d barely noticed the bassist coming in with harmonies, but the level on the PA was quite low and the harmonies sounded a touch weak. Frontman Harish, proved himself an adept salesman by ranting about how Agam is a really sucky cover band and then followed it up with a couple of stunning Rahman covers. ‘Hamma Hamma‘ and ‘Dil Se‘ were bang on the money, with the entire band rising to the occasion brilliantly. Another couple of notable Rahman covers included the band’s rendition of ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam‘ and what to me was the highlight of the evening, a ballsy cover of ‘Aaromale‘ from Vinnaithandi Varuvaya. Harish’s vocals absolutely rose to the occasion on this cover, with a brilliant aalap and the band pulled off a cover I suspect Alphonse Joseph and the maestro, Rahman himself would be proud of. At this point, my only gripe was that they didn’t sing the Tamil versions of some of the Rahman covers. Koothu Over Coffee was well, more Koothu over beer, and even more fun. The crowd was definitely having a blast and clamouring for what was supposed to be the highlight of their previous Hard Rock Café Hyderabad gig, Malhaar Jam. And the band didn’t disappoint. They seemed to loosen up a little more and seemed less self-conscious than the first half and it was great to see them have a blast on stage as well.

A few things; Harish was outstanding as a vocalist and a violinist and did a good job as a frontman. I would’ve liked to see a bit more energy from the rest of the band though. At times the guitar levels were all over the place with some of the solos being drowned out by the other guitar, interchangeably so between the two guitarists. Praveen is a talented soloist and Vignesh on the bass kept things nice and tight, despite the odd fumble here and there. Ganesh on the drums did a good, crisp job with the drums, and made for a tight rhythm section along with Vignesh, pulling off complex time signatures with aplomb. I must mention here though, that the acoustics at HRC, Hyderabad are pretty ordinary and there isn’t much a band can do about it when the sound isn’t helping your cause. The apparent disconnect between Carnatic and rock crept up at the odd moment here and there, but overall, I must admit, Agam’s sound is refreshing. They certainly had the crowd’s undivided attention for the majority of their set and even got them to sing along and have a blast while at it!

All in all, I thought it was a super fun gig to be at and would definitely catch these guys again.Hyderabad has been seeing some good, innovative and fun acts over the last year. Vocalist and violinist, Harish, could alternately look to get himself to perform at the hallowed Music Academy in Chennai or Chowdaiah Memorial in Bangalore in the capacity of a proper Carnatic musician. That being said, a fresh sound is always a welcome change. With that, Mamooty left the building, and so did the rest of us.

Avatar photo

Bharath Bevinahally

The writer is a generally fat, slow moving creature, who loves to eat and swears by South Indian filter coffee. He also daylights as a consultant for an IT major.


Amit Heri At Herbs and Spice, Bangalore





Saturday night in Bangalore. Overcast and a little moody. Brisk biting wind outside. No better place to be than Herbs and Spice for an evening of jazz with Amit Heri. Since it was a solo perfomance, it was interesting to see songs being built layer upon layer with his loop station. The setting was perfect. Amit’s light strains of whole tone scales and modal improvisations were placed and precise, between humble containment and other times spilling over the ambient table clatter.

His set list contained smart jazz classics like ‘Black Orpheus’, ‘Canteloupe Island’ and ‘Spain’. I personally loved his rendition of ‘A Day In The Life of a Fool’. Melancholic and soulful,  his Godin Multiac has a tone that is outworldly and is a masterpiece of craftmanship. Nylon strings on a semi acoustic body that allows for synth access is a guitar worthy of only the noblest fingers. Thats not to say his other guitar, the Gibson ES 355, is any less. Everyone from BB King to Alex Lifeson of Rush has this model as their trademark.

The Digitech Jamman Loopstation is a great tool to make some improv music sound very full and complete onstage. He started one number with a well metered bass+chord sequence, looped that, added a sustained arpeggio on alternate bars, then chopped a chord drenched in wah, and a finally added a ‘string pat’ drum beat. After this layering he moved into a bluesy phrased motif a la John Scofield and lauched into a funk-jazz solo with a beautifully synced finish killing the loop. His later tracks segued jazz-prog with carnatic, sliding some open chord pattern. The last track was a display of his brilliance with some skilled shredding.

Amit looked content throughout the show and his music flowed out effortlessly, peaking against the soft lighting, earthy colors and added various flavors to the mood throughout the evening. Elegant, smooth, and impactful, Amit truly is one of the great living masters of the guitar.

Avatar photo

Fidel Dsouza

Fidel Dsouza is a Journalist/Editor at WTS


Interview with Marten Hagstrom of Meshuggah at GIR Bangalore 2010


WTS: Good afternoon! So how has the travel been so far?

Hagstrom: Travel from Pune to here was extremely tiring. We were on an early flight. We haven’t slept much, but it’s all good.

WTS: How was the response from the crowd in Pune?

Hagstrom: It was really good. I mean, since we haven’t been here before we don’t know what to compare it to but for us it was a good experience. Like, it was the first show and people turned up so it was really good.

WTS: Moshpits?

Hagstrom: Yeah. All the crazy shit!

WTS: Did you get a chance to catch any of the local bands?

Hagstrom: Actually, no. The reason for it is like I said we have travelled for 24 hours to get here. So we had to catch the hours so we could sleep. Unfortunately we arrived at the stage like few minutes before the show so we caught a couple of songs by Enslaved.

WTS: Your musical style evolves in every album. Catch-33 was mostly experimental. ObZen saw a shift from experimental to being slightly melodious, and back to the roots. How does your musical style evolve?

Hagstrom: I’d really like to answer that question but honestly I can’t. When you are in a band, or at least in our band, what happens is that we are just a bunch of fu**ed-up guys who want to have fun with music. That’s how it started out and that’s the way it’s been since. So why an album turns out a certain way, we never sit down and think we need to do this or we should do that. We just, you know, when the ideas come we build on that and it turns into an album. So I guess it’s just a fingerprint of what we are going through at the time.

As for Catch-33, it is one of those things where we’ve been discussing doing that type of project. We never thought we’d get around with it but for that album we thought, okay now is that time. So it’s kind of a natural process. What happens on one album is dictated by what we have done on our albums before. Because we made Catch-33 that made it feel fresh to go back and use regular songs. What we do with the sound we have now is to bring in a little bit of tweak into the old style and create something new. So if we tried that when we were doing Catch-33 it probably wouldn’t have turned into the album it is. You know, we go back and forth a little bit (laughs). Having said that I don’t have a clue what the next album’s gonna sound like even thought we are writing it now. 

WTS: When’s the next album going to come out?

Hagstrom: I don’t know, next year probably. We are hoping September/October, maybe.

WTS: Which has been your favorite album since the time you started making music with Meshuggah and why would it be your favorite album?

Hagstrom: Personally, albums are fingerprints of the work you’ve been doing. There was something about the albums we made at the time which makes you feel “Oh this album is cool in this way and this album sucks in this way”, so, you know, it’s different. I like certain parts of certain albums. For us I’d say that Catch-33 was the most gratifying album to make because it was something very different and it was an idea we had for a very long time. It was one of those things, you know, like a white sheet of paper and you do whatever you want to. Because there were no rules! It was like start here and stop there. That was liberating and we had a lot of fun making that album.

If I had to pick one, I’d pick that one (Catch-33). But then again, albums are very different and it’s hard to choose just one because I like ObZen a lot for certain aspects of it. Catch-33 is such a monumental project because it’s just one track and we weren’t exactly sure how to pull it off. So when it came out it looked as close to our vision as possible. That’s a good feeling when you are done with an album.

WTS: How would you categorize Meshuggah – are you a Progressive Metal band or a Technical Death Metal band or an Experimental Metal band?

Hagstrom: It’s pointless to describe it. ‘Cause we’ve been called a lot. Like Swedish Death Metal, Math Metal, you know, and I guess every band gets that. But for us it is Experimental Metal. We’ve been Black Metal from Norway too according to the media (laughs). It’s tricky, because you do your stuff and in the end it’s just Metal, you know.

WTS: Speaking of genres, Motorhead call themselves a rock n’ roll band. They do not agree with the media classification of them as a Speed Metal or for that matter any metal band.

Hagstrom: Um hmmm… I understand that. Because in terms of what you do as a musician that (genre classification) should be the least important aspect of what you do. You do your music and then people listen to it and they say different stuff about it. That’s fine. That’s awesome. For us we never thought what kind of music we play. We play Meshuggah Metal. I mean, that’s what we do. There’s no use thinking about it. One point of time, in the US, there was a lot of talk about that Math Metal thing. They said, “You are the pioneers of Math Metal.” We cannot possibly be the pioneers of a genre we don’t even know what it means. I don’t even know what it is. So that’s probably not true.

WTS: Are you guys into Math at all?

Hagstrom: No.

WTS: Maybe you get this a lot but how do you achieve those time signatures and beats?

Hagstrom: We don’t achieve anything. It’s just 4/4 time signature all the time. Throughout the career of Meshuggah, there’s been polyrythmics and stuff, but through a theoretical standpoint if you could break it down (the song) what happens is the song starts and we’ve got 4/4 beat (claps to 4/4 beat) just like AC/DC, nothing more but we mess around with it. But the riffs revolve around 4/4. It’s rare that we create odd time signatures. It happens once in a while but 95% of Meshuggah songs are 4/4. People go, “It’s not, because you do this and that”. It’s not.

WTS: Where do your lyrical and musical inspirations/influences originate?

Hagstrom: When we were kids, when we started as a band we were very much influenced by the bay-area thrash scene. We were influenced by bands like Rush. As we evolved as a band the inspiration may have been less from other types of music and more from a movie or, you know, stuff that happens in your life. We also feed off each other a lot. When we start to write a song, we start to throw ideas at each other and that’s when the creative process flows.

But there’s a difference between influences and inspirations, in my opinion. In “influence” we actually hear (other bands) and try to achieve something, and you are not trying to copy something ’cause there’s a lot of band copying out there. Influence is when you hear, “Oh! This guy here wrote this song. You got to listen to his band.” And if you are “inspired” by something you don’t have to emulate anything about what you are doing. You might be inspired by a writer who has got nothing to do with music or art but the way he’s doing his thing so convincingly that it becomes unique. That is something that attracts the band. Pantera had their own music. They had their own style. But they have already done it. We try to create our own unique music. Our own sounds which people instantly recognize with us even if it’s not successful.

WTS: What are the plans after the tour?

Hagstrom: Sleeping! For a week.

WTS: Isn’t it snowing heavily back in Sweden?

Hagstrom: I talked to my wife, it’s 20 Celsius below in Sweden. A lot of snow. It’s normal winter. It’s cold and it’s very different from here. But like I said we’ve slowly started writing an album, so we’ll just take some time off during Christmas holidays, spend time with our families then come January we are diving right into the writing process. The writing process is one of those things which might be quick, which might be slow. So we don’t know yet. Then we are gonna do some shows probably in March in Scandinavia, you know, shift focus from the writing process and then go back again (to recording). When the album’s completed and out for mixing we are gonna play some summer festivals across Europe.

WTS: What are your expectations from the Bangalore crowd tonight?

Hagstrom: I don’t know. We really had a good time last night. We hope it’s gonna be the same here. Like I said, first time in new territory you never know. There might be just 300 people here or more.

WTS: One last thing. Tell us about that 8-string crazy insane beast that you guys carry.

Hagstrom: It’s an Ibanez custom-made and to cut the story short, it started out when we wanted something new in our sound. We were experimenting with tuning down and tweaking the regular guitar then there was this guy who suggested, “Have you thought about an 8-string guitar?” The thought had crossed our mind but it didn’t seem right. He had one, that he’d prototyped. We tried it out and that really made the difference in the sound since the Nothing, I album. It made a huge impact on how we made the guitar sound. It is pretty much like you said “a beast” but on the other hand they are really well built guitars and work out just fine. They help us tremendously in teams of inspiration. The instrumental part sound just great and we could do shit just like we want to. The creativity just flows out.