Interview With BLAAKYUM's Bassem Deaibess

Kareem Chehayeb recently conducted an interview with Bassem Deaibess, frontman of Lebanon's longest running metal band BLAAKYUM, where they cover a number of topics.
Among the subjects discussed in the interview; Bassem provides insight about BLAAKYUM's latest studio album "Lord of The Night;" that was released earlier this month (January 13th) to great reception from fans and media outlets. He also delves into the current local Lebanese scene and how it compares to the 90s.

Here's how it went:

Hey, Bassem! How’s everything going?

Lord of the Night was released on January 13th, 2012, after 15 years! Tell us about the release party and the early impressions of the album.

It was great! I did not expect us to sell over half the first print in one night, especially that we are the first Metal band to release its album in a private party rather than a concert. We already had our album reviewed by Jorzine and got an 8.5 for it, response from fans was overwhelming with many asking us to release tabs for our music, and people expressing how much the wait was worth it. It really eased the fact that it took too long; people were promised the album by end of 2008 so the anticipation was high, and expectations higher and the disappointments almost non-existing.

Knowing that starting a band and maintaining it in the Middle East isn’t something easy to do. What were the major setbacks that held you back from releasing Lord of the Night for over a decade?

Well “Lord of the Night” itself as a song was created in 2006 with the band Communion. Back in the 90s Blaakyum album was called “The Gate” it had 10 tracks ready! But during the 90s we had three major problems:

1. The endless line up change as the members rarely took Metal too seriously as it was a hopeless case, with no support neither nationally nor internationally.
2. The lack of proper studios, producers, facilities (there were no place to practice we had to build our own rehearsal room) and no support whatsoever!
3. The government medieval-like attack on Metal that lead to arrests, and us being beaten up, treated like criminals, and humiliated.

When I reformed Blaakyum in 2007 we had a driving force, especially after playing London. But as it happened before we had a major line up change due to the drummer (George Najjarian) singing a contract with the venue Music Hall and Elefteriadis records, and due to the guitarist having a totally different understanding to what Metal and Music is to us. That delayed the process till mid 2009 when we were ready to record. But by that time our production house became so busy with mainstream Arabic and pop music, so we struggeled till 2011 when the drummer and bassist opened their own studio called Phoenikia Studios, and joined forces with The Alchemist Studios... from there we started from scratch, dropped the VST recording and went live recording (as in live drums and mic-ed amps)... and we did it!

Since Blaakyum’s inception, we’ve seen many lineup changes. How did you meet the musicians currently in Blaakyum, including Elias Njeim, better known as Weeping Willow’s lead guitarist?

Actually Elias is better known for him being a solo player, in the 90s he founded Armageddon, which is a Technical Metal band, as well as he recorded with the first Lebanese Band to ever release a full length album, the band was called Sheppard of Sheol... in 1999 I met Elias for potentially joining Blaakyum but it did not work out back then. In 2008 I re-approached him, this time it worked out, especially that Elias is usually a sessionists player, and that was the case with Weeping Willow, he is currently a permanent sessionists (just to keep his solo carrier image) in Blaakyum.

Starting Blaakyum back in 1995, you must definitely have a clear vision of what the Lebanese rock and metal scene was like back in the early 90s in contrast to right now in 2012. Can you tell us a little about what things were like and the major ups and downs in Lebanon’s metal scene since then?

This can take forever. So I will just get past the very major points. Some people are clamming that the scene was better before. That is not true. Some are saying it is better now, that is not true either, there are things in the past that were beautiful, and other ugly, same as today. The scene is considerably bigger now, and this is why it seems for some that the scene was more united back in the 90s... NOT TRUE, Back in the 90s our biggest drawback was the enmity of certain bands and their fans, and as well the hostilities between the Metal scene and the “Core” (Back then the Hardcore/NuMetal scene) so things haven’t changed much from this perspective.

The major problem of today’s young Metalheads is that they have everything handed to them on a plate of silver, they did not face what we did in the 90s and so do not sometimes appreciate what they have and instead of being a positive force they... again I say SOMETIMES, act immature and fuck up the scene. For example, in the 90s we did not have internet access, and if we did it was limited. Blaakyum was the first band to use internet to spread the single “Am I Black” and yet it was only available to Lebanese after 1999... before that few used and had the capacity to use internet. So we had to look for music and dig it from the ground, literally!! We had no rehearsal rooms like today where you can simply rent a rehearsal room for the band, that was barely available, the first rehearsal rooms were available in 1997 and only in Mansourieh (Mount Lebanon) and were expensive and had no backline!!! Buying your instrument in the 90s was hell... promoting a concert with 0 radio support, 0 TV support, 0 Magazine support was hell, and as I said the internet was not a social network place... all this made our lives harder, but we were so passionate about what we do, I think some of that passion is lost today. Many unworthy horrible, untalented bands are playing in gigs over and over, this wasn’t the case back then, because back then putting up a show or a metalfest was made by blood and sweat that we could not afford an armature band, Actually Blaakyum in 1996 was not much appreciated because it was still an armature band, and so it was a risk, we had to work our asses hard to prove that we were worthy to be back on stage, we were lucky enough not to be cast out of the scene, but going on stage before you were a kick ass band could have meant the end of your band back then.. Today bands keep on getting second chances no matter how they suck, till they eventually get better or cease to be, that lead the level of musician-ship to drop a bit in the scene...

On the other hand we have today, internet and three major webzines in Lebanon, other than the big Middle Eastern webzines like Jorzine, Metality and others... As a result the young are much more informed and learned about music, and we have major instrument shops, Modern Music Schools (non existing before 2002) recording process has become ultimately cheap and available even at home... and the scene is very much active... We saw a boom in the scene when Cherry’s Pub was alive from starting 2006, which was the only Metal venue in Lebanon, sadly from 2009 we have seen two major disasters, the closing of Cherry’s which I ran personally and I can tell you it was due to lack of support, and much ingratitude from the new generation, though on the other hand a lot of metal fans showed endless support but they were few in numbers if compared to the ungrateful bunch. And in 2011 the major Hall that saw endless Metal and Rock fests, Tantra (Hektik) Kaslik was raised down to the ground and is now a parking lot! Today our major problem is the unavailability of venues, a Rock venue practically do not existing.

If this Rock and Metal scene unite, it can create a good market for music business and thus can make someone interested in investing in a venue. The only reasons venues existed before were either because they were not exclusive to Metal, or because someone was willing to lose so much money to keep the venue!

That said, it is not as bad as it sounds, as in summer we have plenty of festivals and places to play, we have finally started to see international bands of good calibre, and big festivals like Beirut Rock Festival are taking place.

In songs like “The Land”, it is really obvious that you take influence from famous Lebanese musicians. Can you tell us about some of your non-metal influences, both Lebanese and Western?

You mean Lebanese Folk artists... Many bands whether nationally or internationally incorporated oriental music, I think what sets us apart from other bands is the fact that we are the first to incorporate Lebanese Folk music. From the Lebanese pool I am so much influenced by Lady Fairouz, and Lady Sabah, as well as the genius and limitless Marcel Khalifeh... And as being a Lebanese this means that Ziad El Rahbani is engraved in my soul like any other Lebanese. As well I am extremely fond of classical Arabic music, such as the Mouwashahat or better known as Mouwashahat Andalusia, and Roudoud El Halabia... Music of Oudh artists like Marcel Khalifa and Charbil Rouhana has a huge influence on me too.
As for western music, I am a huge fan of Andrew Lloyed Webber, Hans Zimmer, as Theatricals and Film soundtracks are among my fascinations in life... add to that my eternal love for Celtic Music that has been delivered gorgeously by Loreena Mckennitt (we covered one of her songs in the Hourglass’ EP Ancient Hope), and Classical Music such as Beethoven, Bach, Vivaldi, Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky... etc

Wissam Tabet was featured on Lord of the Night, composing all the orchestral parts for the album. Can you tell us about how that came about?

Wissam Tabet was the Keyboardist of Blaakyum during 2008 and 2009, when I wanted a permanent member to handle keys and orchestration, due to his lack of time and due to Blaakyum’s more Thrashy nature, it was evident that we cannot have a Keyboards player as a permanent member. So at some point during 2010 we had Joe Hannoush (a virtuoso player known for his work with his band Void) as our live sessionists player. When we decided to record the orchestral parts and include them in the album, I contacted Mr. Tabet again since he knew the songs. We worked on them together, as I actually composed the music, but since I do not have a good musical background, Wissam Tabet was our major arranger, and I chose him because unlike Hannoush, he is more into Classical music, especially Baroque, while Hannoush is more into modern music especially Jazz. Wissam is a musical genius, and we just click together, add to that another contributor in the arrangements, Mr. Anthony Saab, another genius... really this Land has an abundant amount of talents! Mr. Saab handled the Wind instruments, Brass section and the choir... so I guess this collaboration gave good results.

What got you into playing music in the first place? Do you have family members who inspired you to pick up the guitar or start singing?

As most know by know I was a break dancer, and I use to do my own choreography as well as organise musical dance pieces on the stage of my school where I was as well learning to become a priest. I’d have sometimes up to 15 dancers, whether it was Break Dance or expressive dancing... so I was in to that field ever since I was 12. As well my uncle had left me his two guitars, a gorgeous and expensive Classical “Contreras” guitar, which my neglect led to its blasphemous ruin (but that was way after I learned guitar) and an acoustic “Ibanez” guitar. As well as some of his Bob Dylan tapes, my father was a Beatles fan and had a band when he was young. But ironically my first instrument was Drums. I learned it when I was becoming a priest as the order I belonged to was that of the Salesians of Don Bosco, who was a saint devoted to the youth culture, thus the existence of the stage where I use to perform and the existence of a drum set at the monastery I was learning at. Then a nun there taught me my first three chords... later on, after I formed Blaakyum in the summer of 1995 I went and took basic courses with Mr. Tony Campbell, And that was it, from there I was self taught... As for singing, I have no fucking idea why I did that!!! Maybe because of my dancing shows I was use to be the frontman... And do not get me wrong, I had a horrible voice when I first started, I use to imitate in an immature way the high pitch of Axel Rose back when I as 15 and I used to use that immature high pitch to sing Europe songs, all this in my bedroom, to the horror of my family! Even the first Blaakyum line up change came after a dispute with the co-founding lead guitarist Jad Nohra, who is now an eternal friend, because he asked me to stop singing and focus on Rhythm Guitar or else he would leave. This whole thing led me to start taking vocal lessons with private tutor Mr. Edgar Aoun, who was known back then as “Le Tenor Du Liban” the Tenor of Lebanon...That was during 1998 and 2000 Ironically I never used my new learned techniques till I joined Communion in late 2002.

What have you been listening to lately?

Mostly Hans Zimmer and Nicolai Rimsky Korsakov, and a lot of Celtic music. On the Rock and Metal Side, mostly Whitesnake, Judas Priest and Testament.

Stepping away from Blaakyum for a moment, you also sing in The Hourglass, a Syrian band. How did that come about? You guys also opened up for Moonspell and Katatonia last summer! Can you tell us about that experience too?

Well in 2001 the split of Blaakyum affected me deeply, I was depressed, I think that aggravated my vocal problem as I had a throat disease and couldn’t sing for almost two years. When I recovered I was willing to do anything, that lead me to joining more than one band, Communion was the first, after trying out with the band Armory, but at that point I guess I was a bit sick of pure Metal, so I didn’t take the offer and instead joined Communion whom at the time were not musically as good as Armory, but I saw their potential. After that in 2003 I was approached by Mr. Salim Zahra who was the bassist of the Progressive Metal band Solitaire from Tripoli... I remained with Solitaire and recorded an unreleased Album. Rawad the founder and mastermind of The Hourglass was studying in Lebanon and was part of a Tripoli based Thrash band called Neo Blood. Later when he formed The Hourglass in late 2003 he was referred to me by a fellow vocalist called Razmig. We had already met in 2001 in Blaakyum/Alienz Rehearsal studio. So He came to Lebanon gave me the songs, asked me if I’d sing, I went to his beautiful farm in Homos, rehearsed, few weeks later hit the studio recorded the first album in 2004 and from there it went on.
About Beirut Rock Festival, that was my second experience of opening for an international act, as the first was with Blaakyum opening for Lake Of Tears... And in both times I was lucky to be in a band that got the actual opening spot, as in right before the headliner. What can I say, it was a beautiful experience, being backstage with Moonspell who were a childhood hero band for me, and Rawad is a classic doom lover, so Katatonia for him as well was a lovely experience. We had to rush our set though, playing only 3 songs out of the 6 intended... because of the not too accurate organisation. That blew away the thrill, although we were as one of Katatonia members said, a local band with an international level. Well you give and take, that is life.

Not only were you part of the Global Battle of the Bands in the past, but also you’ve recently been a judge for the 2011 contest! What did you think of the bands that participated? How do you feel about Lebanon’s rock and metal music community overall

I think you and many who follow my facebook account do know that I am extremely critical about the Lebanese Metal Scene and Lebanon itself, I call it the country of retarded uncivilised people... and I am very voicefull about my disgust of Lebanese mentality, politics, religion and what have you, so be sure that what I am about to say is not coming from any sense of patriotism or self praise:
My answer to your question, I think we have the best Metal Scene in the Arab world. And second best in the Middle East after Turkey.

If you could give some advice to a young aspiring musician from any country in the Middle East, what advice would you give?

UNITE! Our small local scenes are meant to fail on their own, our only hope is for the Middle Eastern Scene to become a single scene, and only then will we rise.
As for musicians, before you become a musician, specially a rock or metal one, be sure you want to make that choice, it is a life of pain and sacrifice, if you are looking for fame and fortune, or if you think being in a band will bring you p*****s to f**k, then either go sing pop, rap, or just work on your muscles and you have plenty of empty headed dumb chicks to f**k... If you make the choice of playing rock and metal, remember that this is not a hobby, if it is please f**k off, we do not need g**s like you, go have a scout music group for a hobby. BUT when you make that decision, remember that that was your choice, this is who you are, and once you start, never give up, everyone else will try to put you down, give them the finger, learn music, learn it hard, learn it well, and create, that is the ultimate pleasure, do not give up, support your fellow musicians, support your scene and grow with it. Remember that we are not fighters, for this war is never meant to be won, Metal is not pop nor mainstream, but we are eternal warriors, live by the code of honour of the Metal Warrior.

Do you and the guys have any pre-gig traditions before you hit the stage?

Yes, we come late (hahahaha)
Well, not really, maybe when we all have girlfriends, we would join in a big orgy before we play... Donno does that work?

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time when you aren’t writing or playing music?

Writing literary poems and prose, playing video games, annoying people who have neutral opinions, corrupting society, and especially the women who are slaves to men’s hypocrisy... it is time to crush our prehistoric traditions!

Are you guys planning any shows outside of Lebanon in the near future?

Yes we are. But first we are organising a Lebanese Tour, no band had ever toured Lebanon, I think far places like Bshareh/ Al Arz, Tripoli, Zahle, Shouf, Saida, Sour, all these deserve to have bands going there even if at the beginning it might sound strange.

Thanks so much for your time Bassem! All the best with Blaakyum and The Hourglass!

Thank you and keep up the good work Keeping Metal Alive \m/

Visit BLAAKYUM on: Facebook | Official Site

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