The heavy metal landscape in Tunisia appears rich for the harvesting of rising talent! Already, with bands such as Myrath, Carthagods and Brood Of Hatred well known to us at metal4africa and even further abroad, it appears there is much more bubbling just beneath the surface. Or so it seems following a recent chat with Melik Melek Khelifa of Tunis-based metal band, Persona.
Persona is a female-fronted band with a well developed sound and superb instrumentation, which is noteworthy considering they have only been around since 2012. Our interest was attracted by the release of some teaser snippets from their forthcoming debut album. Elusive Reflection, as it will be titled, and is a showcase of the band’s second attempt at a self produced product. They admit to their first try at an EP to have been less than what they were satisfied with, and consequently scrapped it.
“In the same year the band started, we recorded at home with next to no knowledge in sound engineering. Needless to say, the sound quality was not that good. So with the upcoming release of our first album, we decided to take it down from the internet.” ~ Melik Melek Khelifa (lead guitar, Persona)
By means of the sampler now available, it is clear that Persona have come a long way in a short time with their production skills. Owing to the similar difficulty shared by many African nations of not having sufficient professional studios equipped to deal with the genre, all tracking was done by the band themselves and the final product was sent to Gwen Kerjan of Slab Sound Studios in France for mixing and mastering. At this time, Persona remain unsigned and independent, but have hopes for gaining some label attention.
“We didn’t start contacting labels yet; we’re planning to release one or two songs as singles with a music video or two, and we’ll take it from there.” ~ Melik Melek Khelifa
Intrigued with the band’s sound, we did a little digging and were surprised to learn that most of the members are self-taught. Of course, a secret weapon was revealed when we learned that Jelena Dobric, the voice in the music, is classically trained in singing. Additional to that, she has a masters degree in piano from the Music Academy of Belgrade in Serbia, no less! Jelena can be credited with the composition of most of the orchestration and keyboard/piano parts found on the album, although the assistance of Walid Bessadok has been enlisted in the band for keyboards and on stage. Melik admits to a little musical training himself, but only for violin and recorder in the years of his youth.
“As for the band experience; most of us have been playing around in different bands. My first gig with a band was back in ’98 with a Metallica cover band when I was fourteen. Jelena was the singer of a Serbian Goth/Prog band called Inumbro, and Nesrine was a member in a Tunisian Grindcore band called Gorebath. Yosri and Youssef have already played together in the Tunisian Melodic Death band Apostol. The only member without a prior band experience is Walid.” ~ Melik Melek Khelifa
Described on their facebook page simply as ‘metal’, the band, as already revealed just in their line-up of members, seem like quite a crucible for styles! Melik describes their influences as very diverse, ranging from classical such as Chopin, Debussy, Satie and more; to classical rock styles including Led Zeppelin, Queen and The Doors through to the full range of metal spectrum; anything from Metallica to Dimmu Borgir and Opeth.
“Of course, that doesn’t necessarily show in all our songs, but those are our influences” ~ Melik Melek Khelifa
Whilst describing the metal scene in Tunisia, Melik brought home to us all the pains of what we already know from most African nation’s local scene: no record labels; shortages in venues, and; the very few decent gig opportunities that go along. Yet, despite these setbacks, Tunisia can celebrate the same phenomenon that metal enjoys in every other corner of the continent.
“Metal fans are very devoted and show a genuine passion. So the scene manages to stay active, and it’s by the sheer force of will that some bands manage to break through. The most notorious one being Myrath, of course.” ~ Melik Melek Khelifa
In his enthusiasm, and with his own passions ignited, the Persona lead axeman seized this opportunity of talking with us to list a few more bands we should be taking note of in the Tunisian scene. Himself and Jelena also play together in Hemlyn, a metal fusion band which plans to record and release by the end of 2015. Cartagena, who are also expected to release an album in the near future, play a mix of progressive metal with oriental and Tunisian influences, and; also along progressive lines and busy on their second album are Lost Insen. Tunisia have a metalcore band, Dead Men Tell No Lies, who have been making waves since the recent release of their first EP. On the more extreme front are Devil Empire, widely accepted as the leading black metal band from the country, and although we’ve already pointed out Brood Of Hatred in this article (who are known to us since their delightful Skinless Agony death metal album), they got a mention too since main-man Mohamed Melki also served in Persona for a time; and a last mention went out to Vomit The Hate who play technical death metal, and pagan folk metallers Ymyrgar.
Join the Persona facebook page for regular updates on the forthcoming Elusive Reflections album, and listen to the song snippets in the youtube link below.
Jelena Dobric photo credit: Seth Photography
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