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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

Heavy metal band Svengali is creating a buzz with their music

Meet the UAE heavy metal band inspiring devotional fans across the globe.
Svengali’s debut album Theory of Mind has soared to No 2 in Virgin Megastore’s UAE album charts. Courtesy Svengali
Svengali’s debut album Theory of Mind has soared to No 2 in Virgin Megastore’s UAE album charts. Courtesy Svengali

Svengali’s music provokes powerful reactions. One fan in Canada has the Dubai band’s logo tattooed to his arm. Another, in Bahrain, had the same symbol stencilled on his 4x4. Dozens more fanatics have printed their own T-shirts and iPhone cases, and sticker-bombed streets across Asia, Europe and North America – there’s a gallery of devotional fan snaps on Facebook to prove it, simply entitled “YOU!”.

Impressive, for sure – especially for an 18-month-old band with just a handful of shows to their name, all in the UAE. Yet to the casual listener, the band’s brand of heavy metal – all doomsday drumming, tectonic guitars and growled vocals – is, well, difficult to stomach. “Energy,” says guitarist J M Elias, when asked for words to describe the band’s sound.

“Even people who don’t understand what we’re doing, they say they enjoy the energy.”

The next two words he picks are “dynamics” and “personal”. A fitting signaller for Svengali’s sound, which was born in late 2013 when lead singer Adnan Mryhij conceived of a band with “[both] harsh and clear vocals singing about positive stuff”.

He invited some friends from Dubai’s healthy metal scene in, and together they recorded a well-received EP. Released in March last year – before the quintet had even played a show – Unscathed’s dual-vocal approach stood out in an over-saturated marketplace, attracting excited international press. Last month the band’s first full-length player landed on shelves, entitled Theory of Mind, a record that was never meant to have been made.

“We didn’t go to the studio to record, we just went to try out some guitar tones,” recalls Iraqi-­Jordanian frontman Mryhij, of one fateful afternoon last summer. But by the end of the day they’d written and recorded a song anyway, and decided to book back in for the following weekend. With no preparation, in three months the group laid down the 13 songs that make up Theory of Mind – each tune composed, recorded and mixed in a single session.

“Everything came on the spot,” adds the 27-year-old singer. “There was no pre-production, and that’s what made it a little bit more dynamic, everything we wrote was what we felt on that day. Confined was about claustrophobia, because everyone felt like that.”

Once it became apparent they were working on an album, Elias began raiding his archive of guitar riffs. Some songs came easier than others.

“We’re all very different musically, so for us to agree on an idea at all is an achievement,” adds the 30-year old Lebanese guitarist.

“Some songs were done in six to seven hours, others were 14, 16 hours – we’re talking a lot of junk food, coffee and Red Bull ...”

Today the band, who are rounded off with members from Iran and Palestine, seem to have impressed even themselves with the results – they recall the Canadian and Bahraini fans described earlier with wide-eyed disbelief. As they do the fact that Theory of Mind hit No 2 in Virgin Megastore’s UAE album charts.

“We were beaten by a 1990s compilation album,” laughs Elias. Which still makes them the biggest-selling artist that week. Like I said, this is a band that provoke powerful reactions.

“Svengali is one big family,” adds Mryhij. “Everyone who’s ever seen a show is part of that family – they support us, and we support them back.”

With international festival dates booked this summer, and talk of a UK tour alongside another well-known Dubai band later this year, we can see the Svengali family adopting plenty more members – and, perhaps, tattoos – soon.

Theory of Mind is available from Virgin Megastores now.

Svengali perform at The Fridge, Al Quoz on June 13. Find out more at www.facebook.com/SvengaliMusic

artslife@thenational.ae

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