by Phil Freeman
Nervecell are a death metal band from the United Arab Emirates. There are a few metal bands from the Middle East these days; the most notable are Melechesh (though they’ve migrated to Western Europe), the Israeli group Orphaned Land, and Acrassicauda, the Iraqi act who were the subject of the documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad and whose debut EP, Only the Dead See the End of the War, came out last year. Orphaned Land are too eclectic for their own good, but Acrassicauda plow a decent thrash-death-groove metal furrow, and Melechesh’s mix of thrash/death and Middle Eastern melodies and instruments is better than that of Nile, who do the same thing but from the safety of the American South.
Most of the time, Nervecell are not mold-breakers. They keep the Middle Eastern-isms to a minimum, playing a short instrumental intro to the album, “Anemic Assurgency,” much like “As They Reign & Slither,” which opened their first full-length, 2008′s Preaching Venom. Their core style is technical death metal, but it’s more riff-based than showoffy; they’ve got the crunch of Vader, Deicide and other head-down, moshpit-fueling bands. Deicide seems like a major touchstone for the band, in fact; vocalist/bassist James Khazaal has a very Glen Benton-esque roar, and the way the riffs match the vocal melodies is strongly reminiscent of the Florida death metal masters’ work. The clean, fluid guitar solos (by either Barney Ribiero or Rami Mustafa) rise out of the furious riffing like Brendan Fraser flying out of a sandstorm in The Mummy. As they were on Preaching Venom, the drums are played by Dave Haley of Tasmanian progressive death metal band Psycroptic; he keeps the blast beats coming, never going for excessive intricacy when he can batter the listener into submission with double bass pedal brutality.
The band do stretch themselves musically at times. “Amok Doctrine” slows to half speed at about the 2/3 mark, and a bass break launches a progressive, melodic dual guitar interlude, making it easily one of the album’s standout tracks. At only three minutes and change, “Imprint” is a quick ‘n’ dirty barrage, built around the kind of very slightly twisty riff that every decent death metal band can write in their sleep, but the guitar solos (separated by a ferocious riff attack by the whole band) are barbed and gleaming like polished razor wire. “Shunq (To the Despaired…King of Darkness)” is apparently the first death metal song to have lyrics in both Arabic and English, and it also features a guest vocal by Karl Sanders of Nile. Vocal cameos on death metal records can be ridiculous and pointless; everyone uses the same guttural vocal delivery these days (unlike in the early ’90s, when some singers were experimenting with a shoutier, almost panicky “crazy guy on the bus” thing that was much more interesting and unnerving), so why have guests at all? but Sanders sounds different enough from Khazaal—he’s doing more of a dramatic recitation than a barked verse—that it works, especially when Khazaal starts roaring in Arabic. That shit sounds genuinely frightening. “The Taste of Betrayal” is an instrumental that starts off doomy and slow, like a more melodic, less feedback-laced Incantation. (More bands should rip off Incantation—except Father Befouled, who should stop doing it, because they suck.) But then it moves into a kind of Middle Eastern prog-metal groove, which is unique and awesome.
Nervecell are serious comers in the world of death metal. On Preaching Venom, they were a very good band, and now they’re almost a great one. They’re sharply limited by geography, and by the fact that they don’t have their own full-time drummer they can take on the road. But Psychogenocide (which is currently only available in stores in the Middle East; Lifeforce Records will release it in Europe in late April/early May) is an album no death metal fan should miss. Hell, why not buy it directly from the band? They ship worldwide from their online store, and they take Paypal… get it now.