Scene Report: Abu Dhabi According to Anuryzm’s Nadeem Michel Bibby
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In the United Arab Emirates, monetary success and access to computer technology has increased in recent years, which in turn has allowed music lovers living there to reach across the world, discover metal music and build their own scene. The country, located on the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula is not known in America as a metal hotbed.
Anuryzm, one progressive heavy metal band from Abu Dhabi, the emirate that serves as the capital, released an album called All Is Not For All on June 15 in the United States via Melodic Revolution Records, based in Orlando, Florida. It’s the follow-up to the band’s 2011 release Worms Eye View.
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Documentaries like Heavy Metal in Baghdad, portray the Middle East as a region where playing metal might be dangerous or illegal, but that’s not true in Abu Dhabi, or for Anuryzm. While they are virtually unknown in the United States, the band has supported the likes of Black Sabbath, Epica, Nightwish and similar bands and are currently one of the leading metal acts in the U.A.E scene.
Anuryzm’s vocalist, Nadeem Michel Bibby, says that United Arab Emirates is a global and cosmopolitan place with more than 80 percent of the population made up of expatriates. “Such a mix of nationalities ensures that there is a lot of music and musical cultures so while the general level of acceptance of metal is not as high as it is in the Western world, it’s not an oppressive culture like Saudi Arabia,” he says. “There are opportunities, but they’re not just handed out.”
Another perception is that since U.A.E. is a Middle Eastern country, it must be unsafe. Bibby swiftly moves to correct that view. “If there is conflict in the Ukraine, would you deem travel to Europe as a whole to be unsafe?,” he asks. “Do families say, ‘Honey, cancel our upcoming trip to Paris or Milan because there's conflict in Europe?’ Certainly not and the same applies to the Middle East. It’s a huge land mass with many countries and the U.A.E. has been an ally of the United States for more than 42 years. It is a country of peace and tolerance and I cannot stress enough that people living here (Americans and foreigners included) are not oppressed and angry. I grew up playing Nintendo and chewing on Big League Chew bubblegum just like everyone else, I played in the neighborhood with other kids and got my heart broken by girls and snuck some beers out to the beach for a bonfire just like every other kid in most parts of the world.”
Anuryzm, formed by Bibby and John Bakhos (guitars), Imad Dahleh (drums, who recently left the band on amicable terms, according to Bibby), Jay Jahed (synths) and Rany Battik (bass), is itself a band of expatriates. Bibby is Lebanese Polish from the UK. Bibby and guitarist John Bakhos met in Lebanon during college, and formed previous incarnations of Anuryzm in Turkey and Canada as well, but those line-ups didn’t stick. Bakhos had a repertoire of songs that eventually became the template for the band’s collaborative effort Worms Eye View on which they enlisted Martin Lopez (ex-Opeth, Amon Amarth) to play drums.
Guests on All Is Not For All include Charlie Zeleny (Whiplash, Blotted Science, Jordan Rudess) on drums, Uri Dijk (Textures, Ethereal) on keyboards, Michael Lepond (Symphony X, Silent Assassins) on bass guitar and Christopher James Chaplin performing stringed instruments on one track, “Oceans Apart.” “Some of these guys we have known for a while and it was great to finally collaborate,” says Bibby. “Others we reached out to and were pleasantly surprised when they agreed to perform. The guests on the record did an incredible job and we are so humbled to be able to share the experience with them.” For live performances, the band has a touring line-up based in the U.A.E and Lebanon.
“I think music as a primary career choice is hard for any musician the world over and is not a unique challenge solely to the United Arab Emirates,” explains Bibby. “On one hand, because music and performing arts are not as ingrained in Middle Eastern society means that there is not much access to rehearsal spaces, recording facilities and opportunities to perform. On the flip side, being in a very global and forward-thinking emerging country means that you are able to be part of the innovation and start-up side of things and I have seen friends provide recording and media services and/or rehearsal spaces and gear set-up as small businesses with good success.
We have been very lucky in the sense that a lot of our fans are based around the world and therefore we have some credibility when it comes to being chosen as opening acts for some of the larger bands that roll through town.”
Bibby says that the scene in Abu Dhabi has recently improved in the sense that music and performing arts in general are slowly being seen as more valuable to society. This is partially because of the fact that there are so many people in the country that hail from elsewhere. Tourism, also, is causing the performing arts scene to evolve, as people come to the country expecting to find more things to do and see. “So you have musical and arts events which range from Arabic to Indian to Filipino to Western and so on,” he says. “Somewhere in the mix, rock and metal, whilst not so profitable because of the smaller fan base, has had its fair share of cool tours and concerts.”
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In the late 2000’s a promoter held an annual event drawing Iron Maiden, In Flames, Motörhead, Opeth, Arch Enemy and other big name acts. Bibby says, sadly, that this seemed to not be a sustainable event and it is no longer held. Nevertheless, there are smaller names that play and the occasional well-known group such as Motley Crüe, who are scheduled to play there on November 20. “There is always a small but dedicated rock and metal scene,” he says. “More venues, more platforms, more access to the internet and more collaborations with western artists make music the universal voice of love. Those are the things I’m optimistic about and I’m proud of the many strides that hard working independent artists of all genres from lesser known countries are making.”
The band has yet to properly tour for All Is Not For All , but they did support Black Sabbath in Abu Dhabi’s Du Arena and co-headlined a festival in Turkey with Orphaned Land. That a band could open for the likes of Black Sabbath and remain relatively unknown outside of their home country is a staggering side effect of both the global culture and the fractious nature of the metal scene. Metalheads can name a zillion underground bands from tiny European countries, and yet bands of the caliber of Anuryzm, who get called upon to open huge shows like this, can remain off the radar.
Bibby says this is primarily due to the fact that the U.S. is a gigantic market and most European (as a traditional "other" music bastion) or in this case Middle Eastern music has to be imported. “As a result many releases, regardless of genre, size or origin tend to get lost in the mix,” he says. “However with the advent of online magazines and the excellent work of our label, our music has reached a decent amount of people. We have been blessed to be able to support bands like Epica, Dark Tranquility, Avenged Sevenfold and the legendary Black Sabbath all here in the U.A.E. So in short, being in the U.A.E may have had its drawbacks in some aspects musically and logistically, but has paid off in other ways where we have been incredibly lucky to get the opportunities to play large arenas with top-tier bands. Other bands in the U.A.E and Middle East have also been featured in the media globally, mostly because metal and rock is a universal language and the skill set and creativity exists the world over. The passion and fans are always going to be there and are very supportive in this musical genre.”
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Connect with Anuryzm on Facebook.
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Middle Eastern Artists recommended by Nadeem Michel Bibby
A band that needs no introduction to Middle Eastern metalheads, old school death metal with some sweet Oriental riffage. Great bunch of dudes.
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Very well-known to audiences in the U.S. and Europe, Tunisian prog metallers Myrath were a pleasure for us to see live and to share the stage with a few years back.
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Truly my favorite Middle Eastern band. They remind me so much of old-school Fear Factory and yet they are unique. Beautiful riffage, haunting clean and growling vocals and awesome guys, no doubt.
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In the immortal words of Monty Python: And now for something completely different! An old friend of mine since ever since, The Narcicyst is a very talented hip hop artist from Canada who is originally Iraqi. Some of his music is very inspiring to me.
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