Lahore based Dionysus have enjoyed a growing worldwide following over the past few years. Their debut EP, 'Hymn To The Dying' (reviewed in an earlier column of mine) had international success following its release on the Salute Record label.
The band have followed that up with the news that they have signed to India's Transcending Obscurity and are currently writing new material for a follow up.
I caught up with Sheraz, Umair and Waleed and they took time out to give me this interview.
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Please introduce yourself, what you play and how long have you been together.
Sheraz: Thanks man, I am Sheraz Ahmed. I play guitars and write drum parts for Dionysus. I founded the band in 2010 along with Umair. Waleed Ahmed joined in summer of 2011, later we incorporated Sam for playing live drums for us. We're all brothers trying to have a good time doing what we love.
About the gear, I am a sucker for old school sound so my gear only comprises of ADA-MP1 preamp that I bought from ex Dusk's guitarist Aman Durrani, he used it in the recording of Dead heart dawning EP. It's a pretty old piece of equipment but it sounds killer. And Marshall Valve State amplifier along with a Boss HM-2 pedal. I play an Ibanez RG 370 that I bought from Waleed some years back. That guitar has a bit of history too since it was first used by Waleed. haha.
Umair: I am Umair Ahmed. I play guitars in the band. We like to play different kinds of music so ADA Mp-1 kind of fulfil our needs. Haha. I've tried alot of processors and effects but since I played on ADA MP-1 I couldn't find anything better. I play an Ibanez RG350EX and a tuned down Strat that Sheraz usually uses for the Marwolaeth songs, we like to call it war-strat. haha.
Waleed: Hey this is Waleed Ahmed. I'm the lead vocalist/ Guitarist/ Bassist and the producer of Dionysus. I like to experiment a lot with sound so Les Paul is my first choice as far as guitars are concerned. I've changed the pickups to DiMarzio liquifire (neck) and DiMarzio D activator (bridge). I play a fender P bass besides that.
What bands have been the biggest influence on you (both as Individuals and as a Band) also what was the Metal scene like when you were growing up?
Sheraz: The biggest influence? Well, my musical influences keep changing with time as I keep discovering new music every fucking day. haha. There is just a lot of different kinda music from 70s prog rock to old school heavy metal to death/doom to post rock to neoclassical shit to fucking electropop, there are no boudaries to the kinda music I find myself listening to, if its good I'll listen to it and I am not afraid to go out of the boundaries of metal when I write music, fuck standards!
That said, Dan Swano, Andrew Latimer, Jon Nodtveidt, Anders Nystrom, Chuck Schuldiner are the musicians that I can relate to the most in terms of the approach towards music. Only local metal band I knew when I was growing up was Dusk and I always loved what they did. I don't remember any local metal gigs happening when I was growing up, I didn't use to go out much anyway so I wouldn't know. The first show I went to was the one I was playing in.
Umair: I Can't name one band or an individual. There are a lot of musicians that have influenced me over the years. I listen to a lot of different kinda music, Jazz/Fusion/funk, Neo Classical metal, progressive rock apart from Dionysus' music. Talking about Dionysus' music, I am very much influenced by bands like Dissection, Dismember, Death, Agalloch, Anathema, Katatonia etc. As Sheraz said, when I was growing up, the only metal band we knew was Dusk. And, Faraz Anwar and Amir Zaki used to be my favourite Guitar players from Pakistan and still are. Haha.
Waleed: Ahh! Well I don't limit myself when it comes to music. I listen to all kind of genres, but if you ask me specifically, I love post/experimental/progressive kind of music. Steven Wilson is one of my favorite musicians and he has influenced me a lot throughout my musical journey. I grew up listening to bands such as Agalloch, Katatonia, Pelican, Explosions in the sky, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, Anathema - the list goes on. These bands have inspired me a lot and have influenced my songwriting as well as production. Umm about the local scene, there was not enough music to explore at that time, and most of the underground bands that forced me to dive into this scene were friends.
Apart from Catacombs and Aftermath, how much opportunity is there for live gigs locally?
Sheraz: Not many bro; no live scene over here in Lahore. Islamabad is doing pretty good in terms of live shows. But Lahore is dead. But fuck it, we get to spend more time in the studio writing/recording music so it's all cool. We don't whine about it and we don't want anyone to feel sympathetic about it either. I am not a very passionate live musician anyway, I love getting up on stage, but it's not what I started playing music for in the first place. I've never dreamed of playing big shows and touring around the world, this is not what I am in for. Converting my ideas into songs is what matters for me the most. Waleed lives in a Karachi now so we don't get to play live much as Dionysus but my other band Foreskin still plays live. Dionysus might play at Hellfest in January 2014 in Islamabad, looking forward to that.
Umair: There used to be a time when there were a lot of gigs happening here in Lahore back in '10. Now, it's all dead. When we first started playing live, there were a lot of opportunities but suddenly, all is gone. Islamabad is doing pretty good. As Waleed has shifted to Karachi now, we can't perform live as Dionysus unless he is in town. But I get to play bass live with Foreskin, so that's kinda fun.
Waleed: A lot of live gigs happen here in Pakistan, even more than you can think of, but no metal shows.
'Hymn To The Dying' had a phenomenal reception worldwide , were you surprised at just how far the EP spread?
Sheraz: I appreciate the love and support we've got from our brothers from across the world and you too. And of course, my mind was blown when Tony Sundstrand contacted me for releasing Hymn to the Dying on CD format, it really felt like we've accomplished something. Although it was doing pretty good on internet when we released it for free download first but knowing that our music would be out on physical format and that too from a label from Sweden, was a real grand feeling, it's just the beginning but yeah we cherish every little memory. Tony played a big part in spreading our music and I've my utmost respect for that guy. We're now signed to Transcending Obscurity India, Kunal Choksi (the owner) is one of the most humble people I've ever come across and he knows his shit so I know this will work out for the better in future.
Umair: Thanks to Tony Sundstrand for releasing 'Hymn To the Dying'. I appreciate the support from everywhere, thanks to all the people who bought our EP. It feels really good to accomplish something like this. And the best part is having the CD released from Sweden. haha. And now we are signed to Transcending Obscurity thanks to Kunal Choksi. Now looking forward to working on some new stuff!
Waleed: With all the hard work that we put in writing/recording Hymn to the dying, we kinda knew it would do well. And we're happy to be satisfied with what we did although improvement is a never ending process. Cheers to all the labels/zines/PR people who have helped us in spreading our music in the dark corners of the world.
What do your families think of the music and the success/Transcending Obscurity deal?
Sheraz: Success? haha! they were pretty happy when they got to know that someone from Sweden released our crap on CD and when underground zines and vinyls/tapes etc started showing up in the mail from countries like Singapore, Sweden, Holland etc. My mother has always supported me in respect of music but we all take it as a hobby and completing studies and moving on with my life is primary for me. Music will always be a big part of my life, but there are other things that are more important.
Umair: haha, they were pretty happy when they saw that the CD was released from Sweden. It was a big accomplishment for us. My mother supported me most in everything. Even in buying gear initally, lol.
Waleed: When my father got to know that his son has produced it, he made some copies of the EP and distributed 'em among his buddies. haha. He is proud of it!
What does that deal mean to you as a band - personally as well as musically ? (does this mean gigs in India might be on the cards)
Sheraz: It means a lot to me, since Transcending Obscurity is the biggest label in this region and with bands like The Dead, Drunk Honkey and Dormant Inferno on that label, I feel proud to be the part of the family. For the band, the deal means better promotion, better distribution and better quality of CDs and yes, if everything worked out we shall play in India one day as well.
Umair: I am really happy about this deal. And as some great bands are signed to TO, I feel honoured. Also, we might play in India someday so it's good.
Waleed: I think it's a step forward and it will help our music spread around the world easily!
Pakistani Rock/Metal bands are beginning to get more attention world wide - how do you feel being part of that? Do you get as much attention at home?
Sheraz: I am not a part of that. We're just lone rangers. We've a big local/international fan base but I don't promote my music with my country's name on it. And I want people to listen to my music without thinking about the drones and all the other shit that goes down in Pakistan. I am sick of those metal bands from countries like Iran or Iraq and other Asian/Middle Eastern countries who try to get attention by showing how they're coming from a 'muslim country' and how hard they work to record a 'metal' song in that country, I say fuck off! If your music is not strong enough, fuck where you're coming from. Too bad your Dad is an extremist mullah who doesn't let you play a guitar, you're not getting my attention.
But Dionysus/my other projects do get a lot of exposure in the underground circle, which is a good thing. Dionysus' bathing in unholy blood has been featured Underground United compilation released by Formasi Dajjal and B tattoo productions on CD, one of the new songs is featured on Doom metal front zines compilation which will be released soon. Foreskin's Antikvlt was featured on Ghalazat split featuring other hardcore/sludge/grind bands from Nepal. Another song called Raid the Stage along with Multinational corporation's Salaab was featured on "Never mind the taqwacore, HERE IS THE REAL DEAL" Compilation released on 7" Vinyl by Tam 89 records. Marwolaeth's Death lives on was featured on Wartorn Record's 4 way split featuring 2 bands from India and 2 bands from Pakistan. I don't even remember all of the compilation appearances actually. It feels good when people who have respect for your music show their support, that's why I love the underground. People love the music, no matter where it's coming from or who's playing it or if its popular or not!
Umair: I don't care about the commercial rock/ pseudo metal bands over here. Dionysus do have a very loyal fan base, and we appreciate it but it was never about getting 'attention'. Knowing that my music reaches the right ear is what matters to me the most.
Waleed: It does feel when people know about your songs and when you see people doing covers of your songs. Its a great feeling knowing other people can relate to your music.
Pakistan appears to the outside world as a country beset with conflict (sectarian violence, Extremism etc) how much of that affects you as musicians - how much of that side do you write about, also have you ever been told that you shouldn't be making music?
Sheraz: No, I've never been told that. In fact my teachers, my parents and everyone else respects me for what I do. I once got saved from getting expelled from my college due to short attendance because the principle found out that I am in a band! Instead he asked me to play at a function the next month in order to save my ass, the other guy who was with me got expelled and he didn't have anything to back him up. I felt sorry for the poor guy. LOL. But yeah, since there are a lot of problems like load shedding, economic crises, crime situation etc. It gets really tough sometimes but fuck it, I am gonna act like a black dude and say "a nigga gotta do what a nigga gotta do". hahahah.
Umair: Hahaha. I got accepted in Art School because of my music. Everyone here appreciates music in one way or another. Some people are always crying about load shedding and all, but it's not going anywhere. You gotta live with it. And to be honest, we humans learn to live in every condition so yeah, fuck whining about it.
Waleed: Violence and extremism doesn't affect our lives that much. Karachi is known as the most dangerous cities in the world, I think it's not true in any sense. Of course there are crimes etc like in every other big city around the world. But nothing that affects our lives majorly. I think it is the media who's to blame for this propaganda. I do music just as a normal person living in any other country, yes people here do not appreciate much of the things we do musically, but they do not stop us from doing it either. So the best thing we can do is focus on it.
New recordings planned - how will you record this differently from 'Hymn ...'
Sheraz: its pretty different now since "Hymn to the dying". Waleed lives in Karachi now, so basically Umair and I record guitar/drums at our studio over here and then send files to Waleed and he edits them the way it sounds better and adds bass, vocals, acoustic guitars and additional guitar parts then send 'em back to us. We've written 2 songs till now which are planned to be featured on a split release with a really killer and my personal favourite death/doom band. I am not gonna disclose the name for now, but you'll get to know soon.
Umair: What Sheraz said.
Waleed: It's a lot different, we've been exposed to a lot of new music since we recorded Hymn to the dying. And we've recorded 2 new songs, they sound pretty good. I think we're progressing in the right direction, you'll get to know soon!
You all seem to be involved in other projects as well - different styles etc. Does working with them give you fresh ideas for Dionysus?
Sheraz: hahah yeah, since we cannot limit ourselves to one specific style of music, we've ended up with a lot of shit on our plate.
Besides Dionysus, here is the list of my other projects that are active at the moment:
Umair: I am not involved much in other projects as Sheraz and Waleed are. haha. But I do play some different music on the side. I've been working on some Jazz/fusion music for a while now - am writing some songs. Maybe I'll release them someday.
Waleed: Oh yes! I love to experiment with sounds, whether it is metal or whatever genre. I've been involved in many other projects and have recently released a solo album called “WATERFORT” which mainly consists of progressive/ post rock elements, heres the link of the album: https://soundcloud.com/syed-waleed-ahmed/sets/waterfort-2-songs
Also check my previous post black metal project LOHIKARMA, Dreaming skies EP was released on CD by Moontone records (Thailand) earlier this year: http://lohikarma.bandcamp.com/
Thank you very much guys. Good luck with the new stuff, and we at Metaltalk.net look forward to reviewing it!