NEPHELIUM – Merciless Annihilation
In the fall of 2001, drummer Alan Madhaven of power metal group Syonide paired together with guitarist Alex Zubair to form what was then known as Cimmerian. Keyboardist Sameer was briefly present, with Zaid Al-Adham handling vocals for a short time. Based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates at the time, Cimmerian would later be rechristened Nephelium. Former Nervecell members in vocalist Bilal and guitarist Mazen were a part of Nephelium’s line-up during their formative years.
“The band’s beginnings can be traced to 1999 – like late 1998-1999 – when I used to play in different bands in the Middle East in Dubai,” reveals Alex Zubair, guitarist and co-founder of Nephelium. “We used to play in different cover bands and stuff like that, and I got to meet Alan through one of my friends. He was a young chap who was a really good drummer. We formed the band, and went from there. Back then, Dubai compared to the other Middle Eastern countries and the rest of the United Arab Emirates was a little more flexible with tourists coming into the country. We were ex-patriots as well; the reason why Alan and I lived in Dubai is because my dad worked there, and so did Alan’s father. They were working there, and that’s why we were living there. It’s an amazing place, and we’ve got a lot of influences from over there. We learnt a lot of different things about the culture and so on. Back in the day it was very, very difficult though. They were very strict about certain things like Satanic images, or metal music or anything like that. They were a little bit more strict because they had the Ministry Of Information & Culture confiscating all kinds of stuff; if you were coming through the airport, they would scan and see what types of CDs you were importing into the country. I remember when I used to travel a lot I used to buy all kinds of metal CDs, and I would hide them in different parts of the suitcase. If you were lucky they didn’t really check it and then you’d go through, so that’s how I used to import CDs into the country.
“When I used to smuggle CDs in the 90s, a lot of kids who went to different types of schools got into metal. You had kids from all different countries bringing in different stuff, and slowly we had an underground scene out there and slowly it got really big. A lot of people started bringing in metal, and at the same time they were popping up in different CD stores like Virgin Megastore. Slowly they then started bringing in heavier stuff; normal stuff like Megadeth and Metallica was available for the public, but anything heavier than Slayer was very, very hard to get. Later on though you started being able to get all kinds of stuff like death metal, and all types of CDs started coming in slowly. Metal wasn’t really big but I think it got really, really big from I guess 2004 because Desert Rock started happening, and a lot of bands started coming into the country, a lot of festivals. It’s huge right now.
“I left around 2003 to go back to Toronto – I was probably in Dubai between the ages of 10 and 25 – and Alan was probably there for another year. He helped Nervecell, which is a pretty big band right now from Dubai; he played drums for them at the Desert Rock Festival in 2005 when they opened up for Sepultura and Machine Head, and Alan also helped them with their first demo. Alan then moved here around 2005, and we pursued Nephelium. I contacted a friend of mine who was playing in several different bands in the area before I moved back to Toronto, and then one of my old friends Jay (Cockerill, bass) joined the band as well as Dan (Glover, guitar). We pursued Nephelium and started playing a lot of shows over here, and that’s when we started composing stuff. Of course we went through some other line-up changes. Right after the recording of Coils Of Entropy, Boyan left the band and moved back to Bulgaria. We kept on being positive though, and we kept on moving. We have an amazing band right now; we have Devlin Anderson on vocals, and we have James Sawyer on bass who’s actually from Belgium. The band is doing really, really well right now.”
Nephelium takes its name from the biblical Nephelim, mentioned in the Book Of Genesis. “The Nephelim were fallen angels who were giants when they came to earth and with human desires,” the axeman explains. There was lots of chaos, so what we believe is that they landed on this Nephelium tree which was an ancient tree. Basically what we talk about is that this tree has seen different types of eras of life and how life goes on from time to time, and that’s what we write about: life from different kinds of time. It’s kind of weird because we mix religion with science into our music, and that’s how we came up with the name.”
Inaugural demo Archaic Malevolent Sorcery saw the light of day in 2002. “That was our first demo that we recorded as a band in Dubai,” Alex confirms. “When we started off, we were more into black metal. We recorded a four-song demo, and that was very, very underground. We gave out copies to people in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Europe, and then we slowly started getting more into death metal. We recorded our first EP in 2004, moving back here. It was a two-track EP, and ‘Merciless Annihilation’ was one of the tracks included. We re-recorded ‘Merciless Annihilation’ for Coils Of Entropy which you can download for free from our Reverbnation page.”
Though Nephelium switched its base to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, it took awhile for the band to actually record its inaugural debut full-length. “It was pretty hard getting the right musicians, and that was the reason why it took a little time,” the co-founder discloses. “Our producer (Darius Szcepaniak) was a very, very busy person, and he had his own things to do. That’s why we’ve taken our time to release the record, and now everything is coming together. We’re ready to play shows, and we can’t wait to spread this record all over the world. We just wanna go out and play, and spread our music everywhere.”
Cut at Rouge Valley Studios in Toronto with producing, engineering, and mixing by Darius Szcenpaniak, the outing is entitled Coils Of Entropy. “Our producer was extremely anal; he’s an amazing producer, and it was a brilliant experience recording it because when you go to the studio you find out what type of musician you are,” Alex reckons. “We like to work hard with our music; we’re all perfectionists in the band, especially Alan. We wanted to make sure that we do everything properly, and the end result is just brilliant. It sounds really huge, amazing. The quality is amazing, and the production was amazing. It has a raw sound to it, and we were just basically waiting to see the end result. The end result was that we got to know how Nephelium sounds. We worked really, really hard on this record, and it was really an amazing learning experience that we all had. It made us better musicians, and that’s what we were looking for. We hope people pick it up, and support sales of the album.”
Coils Of Entropy is comprised of six tracks. “It’s a concept album, and all the tracks are related,” the guitarist notes. “The band writes the lyrical content. We all sit down, and share our thoughts together. Alan and I are the main backbone of the band – we’re the co-founders – but as far as the lyrical content is concerned the whole band sits down, we come up with the ideas, and put them together.
“‘Coils Of Entropy’ is nearly ten minutes long; the tracks are pretty long, eight to ten minutes. The concept was that life goes on. If you look at the album cover itself (by Juanjo Castellano), it’s an alien entity observing how things change through time. Basically time moves on and on, even if the human race doesn’t move on and on. That’s what we wrote about. It’s pretty intense.”
Death metal is an apt musical description for Nephelium’s material. “Some people call us technical death metal, some people call us just death metal, and some people say we have old school death metal elements,” Alex admits. “I would say Nephelium is a proper death metal band, because we have different elements from our influences. We have elements of old school, new school, and we put whatever influenced us when we were kids – when we were growing up – together. Yes, we are into a little bit more of the technical side than other aspects of death metal.
“We’re influenced by old school death metal like old school Floridan / American bands like Morbid Angel, Obituary, Death, Malevolent Creation, Massacre, and so many other bands. At the same time though we’re influenced by a lot of British bands as well; Bolt Thrower are one of my favourite bands, Napalm Death also. Cancer, Carcass, and all that kind of stuff that I grew up with have a lot of influence on Nephelium as well. Even if we are a technical death metal band though we like different styles of music, different genres of metal. We’re major thrash fans, and we love progressive metal and power. I appreciate black metal, but I’m not really into it. We’re open to any other genres though, because we have a lot of influences. Jazz, blues.”
The title track is the axeman’s personal favourite on the album. “When me and Alan moved back here and got guys in the band, that was the first track we actually wrote as a unit,” he remembers. “It reminds me of a lot of good memories, us sitting down and coming up with stuff. The end result was just fucking crazy.”
Coils Of Entropy might not feature new vocalist Devlin Anderson, but future material seemingly will. “We’re already writing new stuff – there’s ideas for new material day by day,” Alex affirms. “We’re getting ready to go out, play some shows, and promote the record.”
And as well, label interest is seemingly inevitable. “We have a couple of labels contacting us,” the co-founder verifies. “We’re still negotiating, and just basically looking for a good label who would support us. Of course we wanna go out, and play all over the world. We wanna play especially in Europe, because death metal is huge in Europe. That’s what we’re waiting for, seeing who has to offer what. We have a bunch of labels offering us different things; we’re just negotiating now, and keeping our fingers crossed. We’ll keep on doing what we have to do.”
Coils Of Entropy was released independently on February 7th, 2012.
Interview published in February 2012.