Interview with John and Nadeem of Anurzym

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Interview with John and Nadeem of Anurzym

by JP


Please give us a brief overview of the various evolutions of the band from Lebanon to Turkey to Canada and back to the middle-east.

John: Thanks for the interview Josh. To be as brief as possible, we started out in college in Lebanon trying to be a cover band to make some money on the side. It quickly turned into a setup where we found ourselves composing heavy rock music. Despite some success in the local scene, I had to move to Turkey and during my absence, the rhythm guitarist had passed away which led to the band’s dismantling. But I kept writing and improving the material until one day I had to move to Toronto. When I managed to put a band together, we played some shows and started recording the debut album. But I was so disheartened by the limited progress of it all that I decided to move back here to my childhood city in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I managed to reconnect with Nadeem who was an old high school buddy. We ended up working with some cool session players (including Martin Lopez and Michael Lepond, to name a few) to help on the albums and worked with some talented local musicians to put together a touring line-up.

Have you seen Sam Dunn’s film GLOBAL METAL ?  Did you think the representation/commentary about his trip to the middle-east and the Metal scene were accurate?

Nadeem: I haven’t seen the whole thing, and the snippets I saw were around 2006/2007 but from what I’ve seen, his representation and commentary about Heavy Metal in Asia and the Middle East seem fairly accurate. What I find a bit overplayed and overdone is the shock factor that people have when relating counterculture music to the Middle East and Asia. Rock, metal, funk, pop and hip hop have always been available in countries like Lebanon and the U.A.E as well as larger Asian countries like Indonesia. Typical bands that my generation grew up on in the 80s like Metallica, GnR, Iron Maiden as well as more commercial influences like Michael Jackson and Prince; were always available where we lived. I couldn’t relate to the “shock” of Tom Araya talking about Slayer graffiti somewhere in the Middle East, I think Iraq. It’s trippy for sure, and I get how cool it is to have your brand somewhere very far away; however it’s really no different than having Slayer graffiti in Guatemala for example, or a similarly struggling country. There are always rock and metal fans everywhere!


In a similar vein have you seen the movie HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD?    Setting aside the geopolitical differences of Iraq and United Arab Emirates did you have any sympathy or similar experiences to the band Acrassicauda  in terms of oppression, resistance or even outright hostility towards Heavy Metal?   My impression is that UAE has a much more stable and open Metal scene.

Nadeem: I have not seen the movie, but I can definitely say that the U.A.E being a small, peaceful country largely made up of expatriates; definitely has a more stable and open music scene in general. I know very little about Acrassicauda, never heard their music and it sucks that they were involved in armed conflict in their country, obviously wouldn’t wish that on anyone, let alone innocent musicians and artists; but I’m glad that they had a chance to move to the U.S. and focus on their future.

John: The kind of “oppression” would be the typical staring at anyone with black t-shirts and long hair, but I think you can find that in any small town around the world. Although maybe in the Middle East, people are very resistant to change, and it could generate somewhat of an extreme reaction. When I was younger I had long hair and every time I’d go out, people would occasionally yell and curse at me and say things like ‘fag’ in Arabic.

Are touring/gig opportunities more limited in Abu Dhabi than say Toronto?  Or is it easier to get a gig because the scene is smaller and there is less competition to book shows as compared to Toronto with hundreds of bands?

John: We tend to have very few big name metal bands that come to perform in the U.A.E, so the opportunities for support slots are somewhat limited. We’ve been very fortunate in this regard because we have played with bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Black Sabbath, Epica, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc. But on the other hand, we also have a thriving independent music scene with a few venues to play at. Bands actually work together to make the events. In addition to that you’d have smaller budget artists come perform like Blaze Bayley, Ripper Owens, Hate Eternal, etc. which makes for an interesting night of mixed music. In Toronto on the other hand, there is obviously a larger scene in the bar/club circuit which gives more opportunities to perform but you don’t find the same support as you do over here. It’s pretty much a dog eat dog world out there which was one of the reasons why I hated it so much and left.

Nadeem: I think with the scene being a lot smaller here, it kind of forces people to work closely together to make things happen. It also facilitates pulling all the fans in the scene together under one roof and that really helps us all with exposure. For the larger shows, it’s a blessing because you are able to get out of your comfort zone and get a feel for larger stages and arenas and see what you are truly made of! It pushes the learning curve no doubt, and that’s something we may not have been able to have so soon in our career if we were abroad I think.


One of the main focal points of the band has been the fact that you have originated from the Middle-east. Despite all my prior questions along those lines, (because people want to know!)  Do you ever get annoyed or frustrated that people want to talk about those issues rather than the actual music?  Is the attention based on your location a curse or a blessing?

Nadeem: As a band, yes we originated from the Middle East, but some of us are actually from Europe and North America and are typical third culture kids, children of expatriates working abroad. I mean, I’m half Polish/ half Lebanese and born in the UK!! It’s weird, I get it. Of course we are happy to answer questions, it’s not annoying or frustrating at all, I get that it’s weird to have a prog-metal band based in the U.A.E, but I think it’s just a matter of perception, people don’t realise that the U.A.E is a young country that has always been modern – thinking, safe and welcoming of foreigners. We grew up on video games and MTV and all that stuff just like everyone else.

John: Talking about the music all the time gets somewhat boring for me. So it is cool to get asked these questions, and I’m quite happy to answer them especially if it gives me the opportunity to correct some of the silly misconceptions people have about this region, no thanks to the western media. True story… we were at a wedding once in Beirut, and an older couple from the UK actually gifted a washing machine to the newly-weds because they thought that we only knew how to wash clothes at the river and we didn’t have machines! Here’s another one. My cousin was visiting New York from Istanbul some years back and she met up with friends of friends that asked her if she had to take a camel to the sea and hop on a boat to get here… I wish I was joking!

Following that line of thinking, I have a few more common questions about the music and the operation of the band. Firstly for our gear guys out there, what kind of set-up do you use?

John: For guitars I use PRS Custom 24s and Seagull/Godin acoustic guitars. I run the heavy stuff through a Hughes&Kettner Core Blade. For pedals, I’m a minimalist because I love the sounds I get out of the Coreblade, but otherwise I use a TC Electronics tuner, Morley WAH and Volume pedals, and the Digitech Whammy.

Are the songs written in a collaborative fashion, born through jams sessions and rehearsals or are they structured and written out and brought to the other members?

John: For these two albums, it was definitely a structured and written out formula that we used. I’d write most of it alone when I’m focused and inspired because I can’t really get into that mood when I’m in a room around other guys who are playing. I need that silence to zone out somewhat. Then when I have something, I’d share it with Nadeem and the guys and get their input in case changes need to be made.

Nadeem: Based on the killer riffage that John comes up with, we would sit together to refine sequences and where and how I should come in, then I layer my lyrics and melodies over the riffs and we both go back and forth until we are both happy.


Who are some of your influences and what are you listening to in 2015 that has caught your ear?

Nadeem: Speaking for myself, and I know it’s technically a 2014 release, but Septic Flesh’s “Titan” is still rocking my speakers way into 2015. I grew up listening to Sabbath and Maiden more or less but my absolute favourite band growing up was Pantera for sure. I got to see them a couple of times in California as well during my college years! I’m excited for the new Iron Maiden record and the new Fear Factory record.

John: For me it was always about guitar driven music. I love Marty Friedman, Dimebag, Shuldiner, Ihsahn, Slash, Mustaine, Tremonti, Romeo etc. Those guys really helped inspire me to shape my guitar playing. As for new music, I’ve been listening to the newest stuff by Leprous, Haken, Steven Wilson, and Symphony X just to name a few.

What does the title ALL IS NOT FOR ALL mean?  It is an interesting turn of phrase.

Nadeem: Thanks! It basically talks about how you can’t have your cake and eat it too; it’s a nod to balance and sustainability as well as a warning. It’s a very “use the force” in moderation kind of thing where absolute evil or absolute good will both fail if they are too extreme.

John: We have a small recurring theme with this record and our previous one whereby ‘All Is Not For All’ is actually a prequel of sorts to our first record “Worms Eye View.”

Do you plan to tour to support the album?

John: We are planning for stuff as early as next year. As you can imagine, our geographic location and the challenges we face are big factors into organising expensive tours and performing on the festival circuit. But we would love to take the show to Europe and beyond as well. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Who did the album cover and why did you choose it?  It is very well-done and eye-catching.  I’ve never seen a meaner looking rhino, an animal not normally portrayed on a Metal album cover!  Will it be your mascot and does he (or she?) have a name?

John: The album cover was done by Jan Yrlund from Darkgrove design. He came highly recommended as he did some great work for bands like Korpiklaani, Manowar, Tyr, etc. We actually came up with the ideas and concepts and gave Jan a very basic version of what we wanted and he just totally blew us away with the resulting cover! The rhino isn’t a mascot for the band, I think the ‘Worm-man’ (seen on the cover of ‘Worms Eye View’ and on the expanded cover of ‘All Is Not For All’) is more of a mascot or a nemesis of sorts.

Nadeem: What Jan did was absolutely amazing for sure! We wanted a rhino for a few reasons including that it is an endangered and peaceful animal that rarely attacks unless provoked and we felt it fit the good vs evil theme very well. The ‘Worm-man’ or the corruptor represents facets of humanity that are evil. We have a lot of themes and concepts that are in the tracks and I don’t want to give too much away!


Electric Rhino

What is the next step in your plan for global domination?

 Nadeem: For me, it’s to keep collecting retro Japanese import games for my Sega Saturn, doing some light gardening… oh wait, you mean music wise? Ohhhh, haha yeah my plans are to hopefully support All Is Not For All as best as we can and to keep working on fresher music that tops our previous efforts.

John: Getting some much needed sleep. Can’t take over the world without rest now can I? Haha. Truthfully, we will be focusing now on promoting the new album as best we can. So you can expect more exciting media content in the coming months followed by a few show appearances as we go along.