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MELECHESH

 
 

MELECHESH "Arising From The East"

Interview by Dr. Mality

They say that turbulent and difficult times make fertile planting ground for some of the best heavy metal. Is it any surprise then that the Middle East is starting to rise as a source of great metal? From Morocco to the far-flung fields of Kyrgyzistan and Uzbekistan, the sounds of screaming guitar are beginning to be heard. But every charge has its scout in the lead and for Middle Eastern metal, Melechesh is that vanguard force.

The mastermind of Melechesh, Ashmedi, is a man of unbridled creativity who resembles his band in that they are both between East and West, past and future, darkness and light. Melechesh has finally made its big break with new album "The Epigenesis", the first on metal mega-label Nuclear Blast. This is a really rich, intense and deep album full of the flavor of civilization's cradle as well as metal fury and intellectual power. It was recorded in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey, to really capture the magic of Mesopatamia.

I hitched a ride with a djinn and crossed the Mediterranean to speak with the upbeat and articulate Ashmedi. The following conversation is one of the best I've had...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Your new album is called "The Epigenesis". When I looked up the meaning of the word, it said that it is a theory that human development is a gradual process of increasing complexity. How does this relate to the album itself?

ASHMEDI: Yeah, it's a tricky title and could mislead some people. You're pretty close to the meaning. We meant the more spiritual aspect of growth. Spritual evolution to obtain spiritual enlightenment. In a way, it also reflects the life cycle of Melechesh. Growth...challenges...in a way that was meant to be. We thought that this album needed such a title because the songs are mature, diverse and confident. I'm not saying we reached spiritual enlightenment or our spiritual peak, but we are TRYING to. We're trying to obtain that.

WC: In comparison with your previous albums, the music seems to be more hypnotic or droning. Were you trying to create a certain state of mind?

A: Yeah, of course. It's very spiritual and we try to make it as organic as possible, which helps give you that hypnotic feeling. There are lots of extra guitars that add melodies that creep up on you. There's also a lot of improvisation there. We knew what we were doing and we kept in mind the live situation. And that's going to be pure energy. The songs are always modified for the live situation. And when I wrote this album, I had the criteria of keeping it spiritual and organic but I had another criteria of keeping the songs rocking or metal for the live situation. So some songs are purely made just for going on stage.

WC: I would say "The Ghouls of Nineveh" or the title track could almost be called "jam" songs in a way.

A: I would say that. The "Epigenesis" track WAS a jam song. We had a couple of riffs I wanted to jam on. I did demos for every song except that one. We just kept on jamming it and improvising all the guitar leads while recording. Which gives the listener the opportunity to feel what WE'RE feeling when we're making music. We want the listener to be in the rehearsal room with us. Obviously that's not practical so that song gives you THAT feeling...that 70's organic, spiritual feel...still black metal, still thrashing at parts...but very jamming. "The Ghouls of Nineveh" I think is more of a confident song. It shows that you don't have hide behind one million riffs. You can have one effective riff...and that takes balls, my friend, because it's easy to keep on changing the riff. And we do have songs with many riffs. But that song says "we're back". It's saying to you guys, get in the mood, and then the album afterwards is going to get more aggressive, more atmospheric. It's gonna be like a roller coaster ride, up and down.

WC: It sounds very cinematic. Not only is the whole album like a journey, but the individual songs themselves are as well.

A: They stand alone, like pillars, which are on the cover of the album. Thank you for this observation! We were aware of the cinematic aspect. When I agree to use a riff for Melechesh, it's a riff that has to give a certain image. It's not just like "oh, this is a B minor" and you use that because it sounds good. It might sound good, but I may not feel anything, I may not get an image in my head. Indeed, it has to have that quality.You have to let your mind go with the music. That's part of the experience, isn't it?

WC: Yeah, there are some Melechesh songs that without even a title or lyrics, you can tell it's a war-like song. The ones that use the traditional instruments exclusively are more mystical.

A: Yeah, exactly. We call them ritual songs. Even the songs with drums, like "Mystics of the Pillar", are ritual songs. Songs like "Grand Gathas of Baal Sin" are more aggressive, chaotic, avalanche type of songs. They sound like a storm or a whirlwind type of music. We say that to each other. These songs are more ritualistic and these are more for banging your head.

WC: The new record was recorded in Istanbul. How critical was that for getting the atmosphere you were after?

A: We are the first band ever to travel from the West to an Eastern place to record. Usually, it's the other way around, if the band can afford it. We had offers to record in the USA, the UK and Sweden. We loved those studios, we'll probably work with them in the future, but this time, forget them. I visited Istanbul last year and I fell in love with the city. This place is going to be perfect for making the album. It's the place where East and West meet...literally! The city is on the European continent and the Asian continent...the only city in the world to be on two continents. It's a a culture that deeply respects music. Everybody likes music there. It's a country where an Eastern type of rock been made since the 60's. As a matter of fact, one of the pioneers of that genre does a guest appearance on our album. And it's also a place where they love their heavy metal! It's so metal, that place, with a record number of heavy metal bars and metal shops. It's crazy! It's almost too good to be true. But it's still a risk, because we recorded at a place where they've never worked on a project like ours. They did more normal rock or pop music and the studio was brand new. So we took a risk, but it really paid off!

WC: Sometimes you can get a good result when you go outside of the box.

A: It could go both ways, my friend, it could go both ways! I've seen some disasters from that and I've also seen success stories.

WC: I have a special connection to some of the Middle Eastern bands. It's become an important part of the world for me. Would you agree that the Middle East and maybe India are the next frontier of heavy metal?

A: I don't kinow. I would hope so! It's growing. I predicted that ten years ago. I said, wait and see, there's going to be this wave of bands coming. The problem is many bands from the Middle East have problems with their governments, so they really have to fight to make music. They have to fight within their families, their societies, their governments. Everything stands against them. Not in every country, but in many of the countries.

WC: I reviewed an Iranian band called Ahoora and the guy I was in contact with was telling me some of the things they have to put up with.

A: I know that sort of thing very well.

WC: For example, it's only people outside of Iran that can review it. Their record is not even available in their own country. If they play a concert, it's got to be some kind of a secret gig.

A: Yeah, absolutely. They play in secret. I played a show in Armenia, which is a fairly liberal country, but because of its proximity to Iran, many fans from Iran came to watch the concert. I was moved by how much they worked for their heavy metal.

WC: My zine is not one of the biggest, but the guy from Ahoora was so grateful that I had reviewed his album, it inspired

me to get interested in Middle Eastern metal. When I hear people in my home town griping about a bad scene...(Ashmedi chuckles)...I mean, you have no idea! The things people go through to play this type of music.

A: Absolutely, absolutely. They really fight for it. It depends on the country. It varies, but it's not an easy thing to do. For us, we're in Jerusalem. We're not Israelis so it was a bit difficult. Our families are from a non-religious Christian background but the whole community frowned upon us at first. There are challenges and you have to deal with them.

WC: If you go to Youtube and put in a term like "Arabian metal", "Jordanian metal", "Syrian metal", it's amazing the amount of bands that will pop up.

A: There's a lot. It's a thing that's going to grow. They still have many challenges. Just to get visas to come to Europe to play can be very difficult. But it's happening.

WC: You were born in Jerusalem, but don't consider yourself an Israeli. Would you say you're a citizen of the world?

A: 100%, certainly! I don't belong to any place. All I can say is that Jerusalem is my home town. But my family is all over the planet. My grandma had a heavy Australian accent the few times I met her, which is kind of weird. How come my grandma has an Australian accent while my aunt speaks with her kids in Swedish? My family is all over the world. I was born in Jerusalem, but my family is Syrian/Armenian and that's it. I've never had an Israeli passport. I've got friends there and the bands operated there for many years.

WC: I've heard that you're going to put out a book on your experiences, correct?

A: Well, I've been invited to write several biographical articles for Decibel magazine. There's actually one up right now. But I've also been asked to make it into a book. I'm not sure if I'll do it, but I've been asked to do it. The material's there, I just need to elaborate on it more. Could be interesting for someone to read! It's a different perspective than something like "I started my band in this country at this time".

WC: I can't think of anybody who would have the unique perspective that you have.

A: I've lived in the East, I've lived in the West. I've made music which is both Eastern and Western. I think I can have a pretty accurate hindsight on things. But yeah, people have asked me to do a book. I don't know if I should. There's also a documentary about me...

WC: What's that called?

A: Well, it's still in the works. It just changed directors. The first director went mental. Literally, he's got mental health issues, so that's a setback. We lost some of the footage in the process. Once the second person gets settled in, we can start filming again. I'm the subject, not the creator. Unlike my relationship to Melechesh, where I'm the creator. Of course, I have a say, but it's not the ultimate say.

WC: A lot of the lyrics and music of Melechesh is related to ancient times...

A: Yes, it's taken from Sumerian and Assyrian mythology.

WC: Right. Do you ever feel like you're in the wrong time? Do you ever think you would have been better off in those ancient times?

A: I don't know! It's a good question. In one way, I think things were much simpler then. But I like things here and now. I may not like what people do, what politics does, what some of the technologies do. But then on the other hand, I love some of the technology. I'm a pragmatic person. Hey, I love watching "The Family Guy"! (laughter) I love having a fridge where you can get an ice cold drink! I appreciate it really! I like my dishwasher, I like cars! I'm not sure if I would fit in there, but it would have probably been much simpler times.

WC: It was a lot more spiritual then...

A: That's true, that's very true. There were no distractions, so you turn inwards. Also, you're more in touch with nature. After the recording, I went with my girlfriend to this luxury resort to rest. We didn't want concrete, so we found a valley in the Mediterranean that is a very alternative kind of resort. It's all treehouses and there's no light pollution. There's Roman ruins and a river that pours into the sea. The sea's protected, so there's no commercialism on the beach. You can start a bonfire on the beach, you can swim all night because the water temperature is beautiful. It literally felt like the old times. I saw the whole Milky Way, you know? It was really a good experience.

WC: I live in a good sized city. The whole bottom half of the sky, you can't see anything at night because of the lights. When I think of the ancient times, I think that even without computers or any advanced mechanisms, these people were still able to come up with some of the most profound thoughts. To me, the technology now is making people stupider.

A: Yeah, it's making people stupider. I can barely write anymore because I'm always typing! There ya go! My handwriting is shit now! Spelling? You start depending on Spellcheck. You know, it's a double-edged sword. I have heard rumors that they had some sort of technology in the past....maybe a simpler kind of technology.

WC: I'm interested in alternative archaelogy. I know there is an electric battery in Baghdad that is thousands of years old.

A: Exactly, exactly! There is something drawn in ancient Egypt that looks like a light bulb.There's also a theory that deities might be coming from elsewhere. They might have flying machines in their art, not just wings and circles. The Sumerians had sealed cylinders with something that looked the solar system, with all the planets in the right order. I'm curious about these things!

WC: I think a lot of human history is not known.

A: We're just arrogant. Look, science is sometimes arrogant. If it's not discovered by science, it's not real. Then, oops, what we thought is wrong. Now this is the new theory.

WC: You guys are going to be touring with Nile. That's a dream tour, putting the two biggest Middle Eastern bands together. How easy or how hard was that to put together?

A: It was actually very logical and very easy. Karl and I get along well, he's a good guy and a very competent musician, I must say. He really nailed that Middle Eastern vibe with Nile. I know some other guitarists who try that sound, but it's basically just Disneyland/Aladdin type shit. He has the feeling, he really does, and I respect him for that. We have mutual respect for one another. We've talked a couple of times about touring in the distant past, but this time around, this tour happened just overnight. The label said, you guys are going to be the special guests of Nile in Europe. OK, OK. Everybody's happy about it. The fans are really happy about it in Europe, they're thrilled, I see their reaction. "It's about fuckin' time", is what they say!

WC: I'd love to see it over here. Both bands have that Middle Eastern influence but they do it in a different way.

A: Yeah, absolutely. They do it more with a lot of death metal approach using technical skills. They have their own way of doing that Middle Eastern vibe and they have their mythological Egyptian themes as well. We do it more with a black metal/thrash metal/heavy metal approach. But its still within the same domain. It would be a great partnership for the States as well. HOWEVER! We are touring the States with Rotting Christ, which is also a great musical extravaganza because Rotting Christ is a mystical Mediterranean band. We are Mediterranean as well. So there is that common denomination. It's a shared set of atmospheres and philosophy as well. I see that also as a very positive thing. Each band has its own treat. Touring with Nile is great and touring with Rotting Christ will be great as well.

WC: What was the last CD or album you picked up just because you wanted to hear it?

A: Accept.

WC: The new one, "Blood of the Nations"?

A: I wanted that pretty bad. I was in the Nuclear Blast office and I told them "I...want...this." (chuckles)

WC: What did you think of it?

A: I liked it! THAT is a comeback! I think it's a pretty powerful album for a band that hasn't released an album for ages.

WC: I liked it, too, but to me, Udo is Udo.

A: I love the new singer, he does a great job. If I put the CD on, it feels good. I don't have any issues with it. What I like about Accept is that it's heavy metal, but it's AGGRESSIVE heavy metal. The riffs, the vocals and the production make me quite gratified musically.

WC: What was the last concert you saw just because you wanted to check it out?

A: Oh, don't go there, because I usually try not to go to concerts. But during the studio recordings, the Big Four came to Istanbul and Rob from Anthrax was kind enough to put me on the guest list. And I went there to say hello and get out of the studio and watch the Big Four. I saw Anthrax and it was a blast, I'm crazy about Anthrax. I saw Megadeth and it was good. I saw Slayer who were very good. And I saw Metallica also. It was just a blast. It was outdoors in good weather. And a week later there was a death metal festival next to the house where I was staying in Istanbul...I could literally walk there from the studio...so I went to see Belphegor and Behemoth, they are label mates and good friends. It was good to see them.

WC: In the history of Melechesh, was there ever a Spinal Tap moment...

A: Tons! (laughter)

WC: What's one of the more notorious ones you can share with us?

A: I don't know about notorious, but we've done a lot of stupid things accidentally. Once we had a show where everything went wrong. My guitar player was messing with my rig. I couldn't find the transformer for my pre-amp. The guitarist says, don't worry, I'll pack it. We go to the venue and it wasn't packed. He was ready to go one stage, he's shaved bald and wearing a leather vest. He ran back to the hotel to get it. He crosses the crowd to get to the hotel. At the same time, the hotel was hosting a gay pride parade.(laughter) Now we couldn't care less about your sexuality, it doesn't matter to me where you put your dick, I don't care. He's the same but all the people with other sexual preferences in the elevator, they see him in this heavy metal gear. It looks like he's going to the parade with them! "No, I have a concert!" (laughter) Well, he gets me my gear, but then the fuckin' pre-amp screwed up, smoke came out and it electrocuted me...

WC: Whoa!

A: I tried to act as cool as possible after the shock. I used my guitar to shut it off because it's made of wood. And then the guitar itself went dead. I just looked around...somebody get me outta here!!! The promoter said, " I fucking respect you guys...you stayed and played the fucking show!" The strap fell off my guitar. It's never happened before and it's never happened after! Everything happened in that one show!