First UAE metal band to release single as NFTs on evolution of their music

Callous Minds band members also spoke about what they wanted their music to achieve long-term.


Tamanna Sajeed

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Photo: Shihab
Photo: Shihab

Published: Mon 13 Jun 2022, 10:43 AM

Last updated: Fri 17 Jun 2022, 6:55 PM

The music at the café proved distracting.

“You know this song?” asks Saud Al Ali, 19, his fingers rhythmically tapping the table along to the music.

Metalingus, bro,” answers Manav Chawla, 21, stopping mid-interview to identify the iconic 2004 Alter Bridge track for his fellow vocalist and the members of Dubai-based progressive metal band Callous Minds start to hum along.

City Times caught up with the group, who recently released six copies of their newest single Pool of Lies as NFTs, the first metal band in the UAE to do so.

“There are big establishments in the Web2 scene, but Web3 is still building up,” says Chawla, explaining the place the band would like to hold in the country’s new virtual zone. “If you’re starting off Web3 at a time like this, especially if you’re a flag bearer in the region, that can carry a certain amount of weight.”

Armed with a mindset as progressive as their music, the band consists of a diverse group of members. Initially formed ‘out of spite’ between then-tenth graders Al Ali and lead guitarist Ahmad Mohammad Haliss, now 18, the group grew to include drummer Mayur Raikar, 19. Initially calling themselves ‘Untitled Band 1’ after how they were brought on during Dubai’s Battle of the Bands, Callous Minds say they only kicked off in earnest after deleting their demo album Retrospection earlier this year.

“The production and songwriting (on Retrospection) was awful,” says Haliss. “It doesn’t represent us or our skills anymore. It’s too simple for us.”

Bassist Hijazi ‘Jazzy’ Zaiton, 19, joined the group in March 2021 and Retrospection was removed from all platforms in February 2022 after Chawla and guitarist Mehdi Syed Riaz, 32, joined as well.

“The amount we’ve evolved because of what we’ve learned from that album is seen in the songs now,” says Riaz, who the band says has bought a sense of maturity and an appreciation for instrumental layering within their sound.

“He’s definitely got the best ears within our group,” says Chawla.


Retrospection was soon replaced by their EP Insomnia, a six-minute rhapsody that the band says started off as a ‘Metallica rip-off,’ before morphing into a song that more accurately portrayed their sound. The band say they decided to lean into their prog metal roots, going the ‘Opeth route’ within their overall production.

“For the intro, we picked up samples of whale sounds, footsteps, raindrops, whispers,” says Chawla. “Basically, things that you hear in your subconscious minds when you can’t really sleep.”

“The void,” clarifies Al Ali, who wrote the song’s chorus. “The whole thing is based off of an experience that I’ve always had: l’appel du vide – the call of the void.”

Al Ali describes the song as a ‘cry for help,’ having lifted the lyrics from a poem he wrote at a low point in his life. According to him, Insomnia’s chorus was written long before he approached his bandmates with it, and remained unchanged up until its release.

“His chorus lyrics inspired me to write the rest of the song,” says Chawla. “We sat down together and figured out the rest.”

“Insomnia was tough. It was a very confusing era,” says Al Ali.

Pool of Lies

Pool of Lies was another emotional rollercoaster,” says Chawla. “It was us diving back into a situation we were in three or four months ago, looking at what we could have done better.”

Both vocalists say their inspiration for their second release came from their romantic relationships messily ending at the same time.

“It messed me up to a point where I found myself crying in my mum’s lap for a week straight,” Chawla recalls. “It was painful.”

Both vocalists describe the writing of the latest single as an overspill of bottled angst, something listeners can easily pick up on when going through the lyrics.

“That’s why it’s called Pool of Lies,” says Al Ali. “It’s everything, everywhere and all at once.”

Bringing as much emotion as possible onto the track was a priority, so the band bought in local singer Ananya to sing harmonies.

“Her voice, even without any editing, was spot-on,” says guitarist and in-house producer Riaz. Layered with Chawla’s vocals and combined with Haliss’ original instrumental arrangements, it was exactly what the band was looking for.

“I don’t have any emotional connection to lyrics,” Haliss says, laughing. “My emotional connection, to these two songs at least, comes from the breakdowns.”

Photo: Shihab
Photo: Shihab

What’s next

As for what’s coming soon, Callous Minds say they’re working with London-based producer Yatin Srivastava to have monthly releases planned for the next few months.

“He’s very well-knit within the community, so as soon as his name appears, it gives us a lot of exposure,” says Riaz. The Yatin Srivastava Project is a well-known standalone prog metal act, and he also works with multiple international groups.

The next Callous Minds track will drop by the end of June 2022, with a full album slated to release in early 2023.

The group will also continue working in the Web3 space, with a collaboration with a Bulgaria-based NFT company in the pipeline.

“They have a storyline for their NFT process that we’ve tried to express through our music,” says Chawla. “They do the artwork, and we do the music.”

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied

‘Making an impact’

Callous Minds was quick to answer when asked what they wanted their music to achieve long-term.

“For a few people to come up to us and say, ‘Hey guys, your music actually helped through a certain point,” says Chawla.

“We’re trying to express as emotionally as possible through all our songs, and that kills us. We have group therapy sessions when writing lyrics, but the end goal is for people out there to connect to our story.”

“At least one,” adds Al Ali.

“At least a few,” says Chawla. “If it gets to that point, we’re making an impact.”

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