Dubai extreme prog-metallers Benevolent couldn't have been busier this year promoting their impressive full-length The Covenant. They're currently gearing up for Gulf Bike Week 2014 at Dubai Media City. Metalitys' Habib Tabaja met with guitarist and clean vocalist Hadi Sarieddine, and had a chat about the making of the album, future plans, and all the action happening at Haven Studio.

Hey, Hadi! How’s it going?

It’s going great, man. How are you?

I’m good, thank you. Congratulations on releasing your debut full-length album, The Covenant. What was the recording experience like? And what are your expectations for the band after this release?

It was a little crazy. The first thing I came up with was a month after The Divided EP was released, specifically in December 2010 when I started jotting down some riffs, all of which I deleted and threw away because they sounded like shit. In my frame of mind, the first thing that came together was the song The Seeker. After that, I think it was Metamorphosis. Those were the two flagship songs that dictated how the rest of the record would sound like. After Metamorphosis was written, that sound of really dropped tuning and all the celestial sounds in the background set the tone for the rest of album. After that, I wrote Asphyxia, which is my personal favorite on the record. I wrote the lyrics for that song during a period in which I experienced frequent anxiety attacks. The lyrics describe the sequence of events I went through while going through those anxiety attacks, so that song is really special to me. It’s about how everything seems a lot worse than it really is, and how all this imagined peril is believable.

We wrote most of the record between 2011 and 2012, and we sent the music files to Andols Herrick, who recorded the drums on the album. We went over a few different options regarding who will mix and master the record, so we decided that it’s best that we mixed it at my own studio, Haven Studio, which is where I also worked on producing the album. Acle Kahney from Tesseract mastered the album.

As for my expectations for the band after this release, here’s what I can say: When you’re in this whole music thing and your heart and soul are all in it as well, you look at ridiculous goals. Your job is to aim for the ridiculous. Aim for the unreal, and make it real. That’s that attitude that we have. Do we have some specific goals as a band? Yes, we have some short-term goals that we are trying to achieve, but the general consensus is to get that tunnel vision and keep chasing that thing at the end of the tunnel. Chase that bitch like there’s no tomorrow.

What was working with Andols Herrick like?

It was fantastic. He’s an amazing guy, and a lovely person. Very down to earth. We couldn’t believe the fact that he was working with us on our songs. He sent us two videos of him recording the drum tracks over our songs, and we were just sitting there, star-struck.
He is a great communicator and is really into the music we were working on, so that really inspired us.

Can you elaborate on some of your favorite lyrical themes in it?

The Covenant isn’t really a concept album, but we like to think of it as an “audible translation” of a timestamp, of a chapter in your life. An album usually comes together over a year or two, depending on how much time you spent working on it and how fast you wanted to get it done. The lyrics reflect us absorbing all of our daily and life experiences during the period in which it was written.
My favorite lyrics definitely include those of Asphyxia, as I mentioned before. It’s a very personal song. I also like Ascension, because it pays tribute to David Gold. That’s something really special to me as well.
The song Metamorphosis is a song we avoid nowadays, because it’s a really dark and negative song. I was discussing it with my brother Fadi (the growler of Benevolent) not too long ago, and he asked me “What the hell were you going through when you wrote that song?” The song is about somebody who gets possessed and incarnated by Satan, so that person starts to see the world differently. It’s a very dark song. We’re not a Satanic band nor a religious band in any way whatsoever. We stay clear of that. Whatever works for anybody, we’re on board. We don’t judge. We’re cool with everything and everyone. We don’t have that kind of agenda. We just like to absorb personal stories into music with a celestial twist. That’s the general way of the lyrics.

We’re seeing you at Gulf Bike Week this Thursday. What can the fans expect? Are there any plans for future shows in the near future?

There are definitely plans for shows in the near future. Bike Week is going to be fun. This is the second time we play in it. We first played there in 2012. We’re going to be mostly playing stuff from The Covenant, and probably one track from The Divided. It’s going to be a blast. We’ve never played in Dubai Media City Amphitheatre before, so that’s something exciting. It should be fun and pretty heavy.

 Do you have any pre-show rituals that you and the guys rely on for good vibes?

I like to walk around the venue a lot. My personal ritual is to get there early, and not leave the venue, even after we completed our sound check. I like to walk around, soak up the energy, and look at the stage from different places, and just be in that mental frame to imagine how the show will look like to the people. I have this OCD kind of thing where I have to be all the time at the venue before the show.
As for the band in general, we usually huddle up and have an emotional speech before getting on stage.

Your YouTube presence has been on the rise over the past year. How did that happen, and how important is it for artists to be active on YouTube?

I think it’s really important because the aesthetics of a musical product are greatly strengthened by visuals. We can listen to a great song right now and we’ll just say, “Oh that’s pretty cool.” But if we see the musician in action, showing how he works the chords and the instruments, while showing his or her facial expressions while playing the song, it really builds a stronger connection to the listener than would a song without video. It’s more enjoyable that way. People “listen to music with their eyes”. That’s why I think it’s necessary for a musician to have a YouTube presence.

How did it happen? Well it was December 2012, and it was about a year after David Gold passed away, and I had already set in mind a few months before that I wanted to do something to pay tribute to a really good friend who is not with us anymore. So I put together a cover of one of my favorite songs ever, Finality (by Woods of Ypres). I thought that if this tribute is going to reach people, it should be more than just an audio recording. At that time, I had just purchased a DSLR camera but I had no idea how to use it. Fortunately, I was living with my cousin at the time, who is a videographer, so I learned a few things from him. Then I recorded the video by myself and edited it with a video-editing software. The reactions to it were amazing and I had a blast putting it together. I then decided I should do more covers and videos. I tried to do one every month. I’ve done Lethean by Katatonia, Weak and Powerless by A Perfect Circle, and Until It’s Gone by Linkin Park. I’ve also got a Devin Townsend one coming up with a female guest vocalist who totally killed it. There’s also a song by In Color, which is a completely acoustic song. It’s just vocals and acoustic guitar, without harmonies. It’s something really stripped down. Making covers and videos like these is definitely something I enjoy.

You’ve worked on plenty of albums at Haven Studio, such as Svengali’s Unscathed EP and Voice of the Soul’s Catacombs. What’s next for Haven Studio?

I’m working with AKB (Alpha.Kenny.Buddy), a pretty badass Nu-Metal band. I always feel like I’m in the year 2001 when they’re in the room. It’s all straight-up Nu-Metal. Just 4/4 in your face, no bullshit. I love that. They’re really cool people to work with.
I’m also busy recording demos over there with the rest of the guys from Benevolent for the new album.

Was your cat ever part of the recording process? Did he help, maybe inspiration-wise?

Yes! Actually, both of my cats (Bear and Mini), helped massively on the record: [laughs] changing strings, dialing in my tones, and re-recording parts that I couldn’t play in my sleep so it doesn’t mess with my ego.

I’m a huge cat person. I’ve had them with me when I was living in Kuwait, and I got them here with me to the UAE when I moved here. They’re definitely a part of the family, a part of our music, and a part of our lives.

We’ve seen a few posts here and there about new Benevolent material. We know you can’t give away too much info, but how would you describe it in three words?

I don’t know. Those are the three words. It’s in very early phases. I don’t know how to describe it. Every time you really want to do something, you also want to evolve, but not forcefully. We are naturally evolving as individuals and artists. It’s good to be organic and capture that reality and genuineness into the music.

What songs have been on your playlist lately?

I’ve been listening to a bit of Animals As Leaders’ album Joy in Motion. I’ve also been listening to quite a bit of Katatonia, as always. I’ve been listening to things like Creed and Alter Bridge. Some really experimental stuff too. A friend of mine just put me to listen to Gotye’s “Heart’s a Mess”, and it’s been on repeat. I love that song. I listen to a lot of non-metal stuff too, you know.
I just go on YouTube from one song to another, then after 6 hours I end up listening to some band from I don’t know where. It’s like getting lost down the rabbit hole.

Any final words for the readers of Metality?

I just want to say thank you to Metality. They’re always very supportive of us and the metal scene here.

If you’re in town, come down to Gulf Bike Week and have fun with us at our show. If you can’t catch us now, stay tuned for future gigs. Grab a copy of The Covenant; it’s available digitally on iTunes, Bandcamp, Spotify, and Amazon. It’s available digitally on so many places that I can’t keep track of all the sites it’s on. You can also buy the physical CD from our BigCartel online shop. Thank you!

If you haven't had the chance to listen to The Covenant, start off with The Seeker and Radiate!


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