Interview: Learn About the Dubai Metal Scene and Emotional Power of Progressive Metal with Callous Minds [UAE]

Callous Minds is a six-piece prog metal act from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The group consists of Manav Chawla (White Morgue; vocals), Saud Al Ali (vocals, guitar), Mehdi Riaz (White Morgue; guitar), Ahmad Haliss (guitar), Hijazi Zaiton (bass), and Mayur Raikar (drums). The up-and-coming band has dropped two singles this year including the monumental slowburner “Insomnia” and modern metalcore crowdpleaser “Pool of Lies.”

We discussed the current and future state of the Dubai metal scene as well as their latest singles leading up an album. Check out the interview below.

Can you firstly share your experience being in a metal band in UAE? Is the overall culture accepting of the genre?

Being a metal band in the UAE is no easy task; the culture is very hip-hop / pop centric and metal is an underground but slowly growing scene. The people in the scene are some of the best we have met and we are definitely happy with the scene that we are surrounded by. It’s an overall positive environment without a doubt, which people wouldn’t really expect from a genre built around such heavy and “rageful” emotions. The culture’s growing to accept bands that blend different genres and emotions. With Callous Minds, we aim to bridge genres while conveying a complex set of emotions that we experience as humans.

I understand you previously lived in India before moving to Dubai. Can you describe the local metal scene(s) there and how they may compare to Dubai’s?

In comparison to Bangalore, India, Dubai’s scene is relatively small, but tight knit. A major lifestyle difference plays a part in both the scenes. Bangalore as a whole has musicians that bridge different genres. Bands like Pineapple Express, Project Mishram, and The Down Troddence have proved to bridge genres like Indian classical with the complexity of progressive metal. The scene back home is relatively tight knit, but is a highly competitive one. Most musicians in the scene know each other as we grow as musicians together. It isn’t necessarily a destructive competition; in most cases it’s constructive due to the caliber of musicians and their musicianship. The Dubai scene on the other hand is relatively transitional. Dubai as a hub, has its establishment of people and musicians who’ve built the scene from rock bottom. Bands like Nervecell, Point of View, Svengali, and Coat of Arms have been around for as long as the scene has existed. But as a country, people enter and people leave this place pretty often, making it relatively hard to stay in
a band and focus on the intricacies of a project while trying to secure your stay.

In the Summer of 2021, Callous Minds wrote and recorded their demo album titled Retrospection, but after release, you and Mehdi Riaz officially joined the band. My understanding is that you removed the album everywhere online and decided to re-write the material from Retrospection with the new members, is that correct?

The band went through a learning process with Retrospection. We decided to remove it due to lack of dynamics, bad writing, and overall production issues. As such the band agreed to potentially re-record a few Retrospection songs in the future. A few singles from Retrospection may come back with an overall better production sometime next year.

The newly released single “Pool of Lies” has plenty of heaviness, dynamic melodies, and spans over seven minutes. Do you have a favorite vocal line from the song?

Lyrically, the track aims to express emotions both Saud and I (Manav) felt at the end of our respective relationships. It aims to express an emotion that is a combination of regret and pain. As an individual I sometimes think to myself, “If I could’ve done things differently, I would’ve, but at that moment, it was all I knew.” These are emotions that humans from everywhere experience. These factors make the whole second verse really special to us. It was initially written as a poem by Saud, but I think it’s grown to have impacted each one of us individually:
“If I could just take it back
Would you still leave
I’ll bury my sorrow
And bury it deep
One day I’ll come get you back
Then I can sleep

Wash my hands of this misery
So I wouldn’t leap
A victim, a calling
A natural disaster
I’ll break it all down
Maybe I’ll be the master
Mind over matter
So I could just have you
You leave me alone
You leave me alone”

Emotionally on the other hand, the bridge with mine and Ananya’s harmony, along with the solo,
have left me with tears of nostalgia and pain more times than I can remember.

Can you discuss the process of collaborating with Ananya for guest vocals on the track?

One of the bigger experimental ideas was to get a featured artist on board. I remember telling Ahmad about removing Saud as a backing harmony and getting a female vocalist. If I’m thinking of female vocals, as a musician, I cannot get over how Ananya sounds. As someone who was impressed by Ananya’s vocal skills, I reached out to her for a possible collaboration. Ahmad, Ananya, and I study in the same university, hence it wasn’t too hard to approach her too. The idea was she would harmonize with my vocals on the song’s bridge, which she executed brilliantly. Moreover, she added a double layer to the choruses. I think “Pool of Lies” would not sound even close to the same without having Ananya on board. The cherry on the cake was when Mehdi pulled an insane solo after the bridge. We as a band were in awe when we heard that. “Insomnia” is what we started with, however “Pool of Lies”, in our opinion, has taken it a few notches higher. From here on, we only aim to create better while tuning lower.

After listening to both “Pool of Lies” and the previous single, “Insomnia,” there appears to be a balance between the older generation of progressive metal and the more modern style within your compositions. Do you have a preference towards modern metal over past decades or share an appreciation for the overall prog genre?

“Insomnia” was just a brand new slate, a stepping stone for us. With “Pool of Lies,” we fully delved into the progressive metalcore side as Ahmad, our main songwriter, has really taken a massive interest in that genre. We all share an appreciation for all progressive metal whether it be old or new because that is what has shaped most of our music tastes as a band. While Manav is influenced heavily by bands such as Devin Townsend, Ne Obliviscaris, Opeth, and Persefone, his favorite modern artists also include Periphery, Tesseract, Invent Animate, and so on. So vocally, he aims to bridge the two and deliver something that can appeal to the whole progressive metal audience. Sure, there will be times where a few things are preferred, but that may come down to individual choices and taste. We aim to blend, redefine, and bridge boundaries by using every sound we can possibly make.

A decent amount of members in Callous Minds are quite young, which is quite impressive considering how mature the performances sound on your two released singles. Although you deserve to be proud of your musical progress, what are you hoping to learn more about and become better at musically?

All of us have a lot to learn in terms of songwriting, lyrical production, and sound production. But as a band, we aim to sell our music better. We’re definitely in it for the love of music and nothing else, but we’re also talking about complex relatable human emotions. At the end of the day, every project’s end goal is to be helpful to someone in one way or the other. We as a band believe we can make a difference, and to do that, we’ve got a lot to learn. I think emotionally expressing a certain feeling is a daunting task, as sometimes you find yourself in a position where you’re not sure if you’re expressing it with enough magnitude / dynamics in comparison to what an individual goes through. It leaves you thinking if you’ve done justice to the situation. I think we have a lot to work on in that spectrum. We as a collective will grow and learn to express ourselves better. The better we express, the more we connect. As a brand, we hope to brand ourselves better, market our music better and honestly, reach as many people as we can.

What are other UAE-based metal bands worth knowing about?

The UAE metal scene is full of amazing artists such as Skeptic, Metarust, Coat of Arms, Svengali, Aramaic, Benevolent, White MorgueNervecell, Alpha Kenny Buddy, and Verdict. That is just to list a few of the talented bands in the scene and we are grateful for all the music they put out as well. Our vocalist Manav and guitarist Mehdi are also active in their other project White Morgue.

We’ve previously featured the metalcore act Svengali from Dubai. How well are you familiar with them?

Yes, we know Svengali and some of us know the members personally too. We’ve had numerous interactions with the UAE metal scene through events such as The Unmuted Battle of the Bands and several open mics throughout Dubai. Adnan from Svengali runs a metal podcast on Twitch called The Unmuted Show, where the tribe and audience as a whole are one wholesome group. It honestly feels good knowing these lads have our backs and are in it for the love of the music.

I’ve heard that Sepultura, Till Lindemann, Kiss, Nervosa, Immolation, Psycroptic, Krisiun, Vader, Hypocrisy, Omnium Gatherum, Septicflesh, Devourment, Dream Theater, Kalmah, Paradise Lost, Nile, Jinjer, and Paradise Lost are the international metal bands that have recently played in UAE. What bands are you hoping will tour to UAE next?

There are many bands we wish would come to the UAE such as Thornhill, Invent Animate, Parkway Drive, Periphery, Erra, Lorna Shore, Gojira, Trivium, Devin Townsend, Ne Obliviscaris, Takatak, Project Mishram, Skyharbor, and Bloodywood. There would be too many to list as we are into and inspired by a lot of bands and we would love to see each and every one of them someday. Every member in the band has their own personal favorites, the list of bands we would want to come would realistically be much longer too.

Can you hint at what is next for Callous Minds?

3 simple words for our upcoming releases. Heavy, Emotional, and Breakdowns.

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