Label: The End Records
Interviewed By: Ken Pierce, Editor In Chief
Melechesh: The Masters Of Sumerian Thrashing Black Metal – The music Melechesh delivers is bone crushing Black Metal, but instead of Symphonic or Theatrical adventures the band reaches deep into the mystical nature of the Mesopotamian region. Their focus employs both Middle Eastern riffs and textures which give the listener a Metal experience that they are not soon to forget. It is thunderous and yet very intelligent and most certainly will intrigue those who seek something “more” than the usual in terms of Metal music. On assignment for Metal Edge magazine, I met with the band when they came to New York City for the very first time to do press for their latest release “Emissaries”. It was great to meet Ashmedi (guitarist, founder, vocalist and band mastermind) and Moloch to discuss the band, the new album and their views on many things Metal. Based on print considerations the interview was edited down for use in Metal Edge and can be seen in their March 2007 issue. Since you have been able to enjoy that article we are now able to present to you readers the complete and unedited interview that we did. Read on.
PiercingMetal: So gentlemen, how would you say that you are enjoying the visit so far?
Ashmedi: I like it, but I like coming to the States in general because it feels good here and I get along with the people. Its been very productive for us these last few days as there has been a lot of media interest in the USA which is a good thing because already in Europe the album is exploding. The media attention is just great. We are glad to be doing this in the States as well.
Moloch: Yeah it is pretty much the same feeling from me, and it’s great to be meeting the people from our label in the States and getting to know the people more and to discuss our future plans.
PiercingMetal: Let’s talk a little about personal origins; what did you both find inspirational as musicians when you started playing music in the first place
Ashmedi: Well with Melechesh…….
PiercingMetal: Let’s discuss before Melechesh.
Ashmedi: I had actually been playing in other bands before that for years and I have been a Metal fan for a long time, since I was at a very young age and not that I am that old now, I did start out at a young age. At the time, I was very influenced by general Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal. Now I tend to be very broad based in what I listen to. So if the music is done with a lot of conviction and feeling then I am attracted to it perhaps. When I started Melechesh it was around the time I was very interested in Bathory’s album “The Return” but I still was consciously wanting to do something with Middle Eastern patterns so there you have it, Melechesh is raw Black Metal with Middle Eastern touches you know.
PiercingMetal: How did you guys come to meet?
Ashmedi: We go way back; actually we are related Moloch and I. He is much younger than me, but I always knew him as being someone who was very into Metal and I needed a guitar player so I called him up.
Moloch: And that’s what happened.
Ashmedi: So I called him and said “hey, join the band”.
PiercingMetal: From these influences in the beginning what led you to build this unique style you label “Sumerian Thrashing Black Metal”, tell me about this genre overall and what you goal is with it in terms of the listener.
Ashmedi: OK well as I just said the music started off as this raw Black Metal with some Middle Eastern touches from the beginning because I thought that Mediterranean drum patterns were not used so much in Metal and it has a certain groove to it that actually fits perfect with Metal music. You can head bang to it and you can relate to it basically. This is simply what I wanted to do, it was this sound and something with a dark feeling to it but eventually after we had started to do it – it developed into its own style because I wanted to make Black Metal music but I also wanted it to come from the Near East and be Mediterranean sounding and that’s what we have aimed to achieve in Melechesh. I think the words “Sumerian Thrashing Black Metal” is what it is right now which is our own sound because it is unique it is Black Metal at heart but it is Middle Eastern Black Metal with Thrash Metal influences, technicality and as you know the lyrical content in mainly about Mesopotamian mysticism and the occult, the kabbalah and so forth.
Moloch: And there are also many approaches to it and this is why every album sounds much different from the others because not only are we trying to create a new sound but also something that is diverse and potentially has a lot to offer. I’m speaking of the drum patterns and the ways of playing the guitar and the way the scales are used for the song structure. As a band we still have a lot to offer the listener.
PiercingMetal: Do you think that your ancestral background also had something to do with the formation of Melechesh and I mean in the sense that perhaps while growing up you heard some of the melodies that you incorporated into your sound.
Ashmedi: I’ll explain to you how this thing works, ok I am a mix of Armenian and Assyrian while Moloch is Assyrian and Palestinian but with Melechesh you see I grew up listening more to Rock music in the house but when you grow up in Jerusalem there is Mediterranean music everywhere. As far as the mythological thing happening well there were lots of bands here and there making references to the Necronomicon, which is stemming from Mesopotamian mythology and of course this is a fictional book but its idea is taken from there as far as our ancestral background and we are proud of that. With me, I am very attracted to the spirituality of the region, I wanted to incorporate that over time you finesse it and develop it, and I would like to say that I have a very spiritual side, which I explore with Melechesh. It’s really reflecting a lot of parts in my brain so that’s the best I can describe it. As far as the question on what we set to achieve well I would like to say that we would hope to leave a mark in Metal somehow because it has so many roots in it and it would be great to leave some sort of mark in this by using this style of music. Hopefully there will be more bands picking up on it.
PiercingMetal: What does Melechesh mean; I was not able to get any more information on the names actual origin.
Moloch: Melechesh actually comes from old Hebrew and it’s a word we composed ourselves. “Melech” means “King” while “esh” is “fire” so essentially “King Of Fire” and a lot of occult names actually come originally from Hebrew and we wanted to forge our own and that’s how we came up with it.
Ashmedi: If you read a lot of occult books you will see the word melech there. It sounds good, but we invented that particular word because we cut the sentence. Grammatically it’s wrong, as its “king fire” they way it is written, but “king of fire” is coming from the sentence and we wanted something original and exotic.
PiercingMetal: It certainly does have an exotic sound and power to it I will agree. So as founders of “Mesopotamian Metal”, do you think you will find other bands adopting this genre specification going forward. Because there are bands I am sure who are starting out in the area, and as I know from experience there are a lot of bands reaching into the ethnic side and incorporating that into Metal music which is a refreshing change as opposed to remaining on the “Traditional” side which is what we grew up on, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and so forth.
Ashmedi: Well first of all most of the Black Metal bands that I have known personally, even some of them had a riff or two that was Mediterranean and they liked what we were doing, so based on that I hope there are other bands that are picking up on the style and I do hear younger bands trying to endeavor in it, I mean really young bands. Arabs from many parts of the Middle East, and this is something you might know be aware of in the United States, but the whole Middle East and even North African Arab countries – their getting lots of Metal heads there now and I am shocked as well in the sense of how big its become and it is still kind of brewing. It’s a scene that is going to explode, and you can expect to see a lot of bands coming out of that area. I mean everyone has heard of some of the bands coming out of Israel
PiercingMetal: Orphaned Land etc…
Ashmedi: It’s not an often thing but it does happen and we are seeing this also in the Arabic countries and there are a lot of Metal band and they are fanatic about their Metal so much and they worship their music. So it’s bound to happen more, and occurrence of this nature.
Moloch: I think they see Melechesh as a sort of example where you can put forth sounds that you grew up with in this region and at the same time playing the Metal that you love to listen to. They see that in Melechesh because we read about it in letters from them.
PiercingMetal: What would you say are some of the differences with Metal using influences from the Middle East against the Folk Metal we are seeing becoming more popular these days.
Ashmedi: Of course the main difference is going to be the whole approach to music but also there are lots of similarities. In all actuality there are more similarities than differences in my opinion than in many parts of the world because it stems from certain…..now I am going to get kind of deep on this. What I am trying to say and what people don’t realize in general is “how come Metal works”. You have people who say, well yeah because it’s expressive music and all. No! Anything that works is stemming from the basic human need by the way. Anything on Earth that works comes from a basic human need and this includes Metal. People need the whole image thing.
*** Ashmedi stops to direct customer traffic to the pizzeria next door as our location has no bathroom, which he found out for himself when he sought one. He laughs and muses that he is becoming a total tourist.
Ashmedi: I’m a “New Yawker” now.
PiercingMetal: You need some more “Hey’s” in there.
*** The End Publicist brings up the Yankees story to continue the accent dialogue (minute 11:18)
Ashmedi: So anyways anything that has depth comes from a human need and that is the same in Metal music, which is coming from a basic instinctive need to express certain aggressions or certain moods now over in Folk music similar expressions are found. This is why the combination works together very well especially with Middle Eastern music because they have this magical, shamanic feel, and maybe that’s the wrong description for it but I cannot put it in any other words. With this approach to certain music along with the Metal, it makes the end so much more intense. Now as for the similarity well there are certain scales, which are sounding perhaps a bit more dark or something like that. I have heard some of the European Folk music sounding a bit happy but again you are also going to be able to do the same thing with Middle Eastern music and it all depends upon the approach. I do think that it is a great combination and while there are differences there are also similarities in the moods.
PiercingMetal: Lets talk about the new album, how much different would you say this piece of work is compared to your much acclaimed “Sphinx” which really focused on the Mesopotamian and Sumerian Mythology.
Ashmedi: If anything “Emissaries” is more accomplished and deeper and in the lyrical sense I am very proud of it. I’ve dug in deeper than ever before and musically I think “Emissaries” picks up a little more. I am going to say what other media people have said about it that it is our best album and I am kind of honored by that because I always thought that Sphinx was going to be hard to top. They say that it is our best work in the sense that it’s more mature and it’s picking up on the best elements of all the previous Melechesh albums and its delivering what it sets to. We don’t stagnate, we move forward slowly but surely and it sounds good.
We have yet another tourist looking for the bathroom at this point, and Ashmedi is getting a little annoyed since it is interrupting the creative explanation process. Well, he did decide on the location.
Ashmedi: Where was I, oh yes “Emissaries”, well I do think it is our most accomplished work, its very layered and has a lot of dimensions to it musically, lyrically. The lyrics are not just Mesopotamian mythology and mysticism and stuff because on this one there is a song about the Kabbalah, which I like very much, and I feel I express a lot with that. There is even a song about my perception of the Occult side of Jerusalem, which is called “Leper Jerusalem”. Jerusalem is a fascinating city and most people argue and fight about it in regards and relations to monotheistic religion but I find that to be utter bullshit because it has more to it. More cultures have been there and if people focus their mind and energy to it, when you do that you can feel the depths of the place. So I did express that in one of the tracks. Again I say that lyrically this is the most accomplished work we have ever done but apparently also musically the media seems to agree. I heard a statement once, I love it, and I don’t know why I have not repeated it much before. Someone described Melechesh in the following way. “Melechesh are a fine example of creativity in Black Metal and keeping things interesting”, but then he gave the punch line which I really like “Melechesh do things for the book rather than by the book”. I liked that line, I read it a really long time ago, and I truly think that this is what we set out to do.
PiercingMetal: It’s important when a band does that because nowadays we find too many bands that are not willing to raise the bar, and it’s almost as if they are afraid of the bar. Let me do this, because it is already widely accepted. Yet when it is already accepted and you do not excel at it you end up just being one of those who is following along to what someone else already excels at. This is why when I heard about the bands association with The End Records I felt that it was a nice mix. Literally every time you open a package from them you find yourself saying “holy shit”, and you need to get yourself in a zone because you never know what it is that you are going to hear.
Ashmedi: Right, there is nothing predictable. The only predictable thing about it is that you are sure to expect something that is unpredictable.
PiercingMetal: Well, you end up sitting down and tossing the press releases around and you say “I don’t know how to speak about this, what is it!!!”
Ashmedi: Well with Melechesh something that we did was completely unorthodox and different yet not alienating. It is still at heart Black Thrash Metal but it still sounds like us.
PiercingMetal: So given your thoughts on this release being your best album; as the creator how easy do you find it to write about such subjects? What kind of research or investigation do you go about doing in order to have the end result being as satisfactory as you demand being the guy who is in charge of the whole thing.
Ashmedi: Well first of all when we talk about thematically it is really a challenge since there is so much to explore. Some of the things I touch upon are the very origins of my kind and these are theories with endless possibilities right, so I am not worried about that and as a matter of fact the spirituality is in the increase, not that I live like a Monk or anything as I am a very practical guy who likes his computer and other things. It is nice however to get in touch with ones spiritual side but musically I just don’t think about it as I keep on going forward and composing and ok there is sometimes pressure which you expect as after Sphinx I really didn’t know what we were on about. They kept telling me “dude this is really good music” and I was like “yeah”, and this is because I can be very obsessive about it. They said I should relax because it was really good stuff. So based on that I can say that it seems to be going in the right direction and we are just going to keep moving forward. I think that ideas wise I don’t think that we are going to run out of them. If anything there is a lot more to explore. Thematically there is a lot of literature and a lot of reading that I do to get me in the state of mind but a lot of it just comes from the mind for it is a vast place. It’s a microcosm, and in this microcosm I find songs. I actually find songs coming out of dreams sometimes but then I relate them and explore. For instance the song “Delusional Dreams” actually started off as a delusional dream that I had and then I found some text that had some similar thoughts to it
PiercingMetal: What comes first, lyrics and thoughts or the riffs or is it just a little bit of the both at the same time and you adapt accordingly.
Ashmedi: I would have to say that the music comes first, yet the theme is there and the idea as well and the vision is there and then you go about perfecting and finessing the music. Then you get specifically into wording the theme and the idea and the feeling so the music is always there first as otherwise I would be writing books. We would be doing books instead of music but essentially the music is stemming from an idea and a feeling. The actual sound is most important.
PiercingMetal: How did you come about with the title “Emissaries” which I have seen defined as “secret agent”
Ashmedi: Well we are certainly not conspiring while we are in New York
PiercingMetal: And of course I don’t mean anything curt by this, it is just when you find a word as powerful as that as the album title you tend to look it up and see what might have been the thinking in using it.
Ashmedi: There is a strong meaning behind “Emissaries” – let me think for a second. It’s a double meaning in a way. One, who are the Emissaries, this you can explain in two ways but the main way is it is the ancient gods. I have to give you some insight into the philosophy on this, there are these ancient gods that came from another planet and they started humanity and I like that theory more so than let’s say Adam and Eve, it makes more sense to me. There is some logic to it, even from a scientific point of view given the fact that there is some possibility of life from another world. Of course I am not talking about aliens and stuff, but literally they are humanoid. So, Emissaries are the ancient gods but they came from another place to start this whole civilization, which stems into Mesopotamian lore. That is one meaning and this is one of the things that we sing about but also there is a thought that maybe it is us. We are emissaries to Mesopotamian Metal or Mesopotamian culture. So we do dwell on that as well. That’s essentially what is comes about from as its two levels for us and we were very careful to choose that name as I really like it. I really feel that it relates to the album because even in the lyrics you can find that the Emissaries mentioned in every song but in a different way. A set of deities, a set of occurrences and the last song “Emissaries Of The Mysterium Magnum” just really gets into detail as to who the emissaries are.
PiercingMetal: About the album, while I am sure you are most proud of the finished release as a whole body of work, what would you say stands out the most about the album, and what songs did you feel most passionate about after they had completed.
Ashmedi: That’s really a tough question.
Moloch: I think with time you relate to it differently because by the time its released people have had time to listen.
Ashmedi: When it was completed I couldn’t relate to it now I can.
Moloch: With time you sort of begin to understand more, and maybe it’s some sort of unconscious process about the creation and perhaps after a year some tracks will stand out more than others. The music even grows on us.
Ashmedi: We try to listen to it as the listener and not as a creator and not go to the nitty-gritty part and just simply try to enjoy it. As far as what stands out well there are many new elements such as group singing which we haven’t done before and while we sampled it on a 7” release, it is now done in a perfected way. One thing that stands out most for me, is the fact that what I had in my mind was actually realized in the recording. I like that because a lot of times it doesn’t happen. It sounds good but it is not exactly what you had in your mind. So you sit back and say “whoa it came across” and I was quite, quite happy with that but as you know every song has its own touch and that’s the thing it is really hard to compare them. It’s not one particular part, it is many moods there and it becomes hard to compare the atmospheric mood against the more aggressive one. There are so many moods on the album.
Moloch: And the new things that we tried out on this album seem to stand out and you find that after listening to it once it recorded. “Oh ok, this works” . You start to learn from the things you did and I think that this grows on us as well.
PiercingMetal: How difficult was the recording process for this album.
Moloch: The recording itself was very smooth and the studio was perfect and there was enough time to record this and we really appreciated it. The downside and what really went wrong was the mixing. We used the person who mixed the albums of Judas Priest and Halford and Fight so we were expecting a lot of that as well as the label, and he simply did a very horrible job, which made things very bad.
PiercingMetal: (Ashmedi returns) – We were talking about the mix.
Ashmedi: Yeah I know I heard from the side and it was a horrible job.
Moloch: We managed to get by since we ended up using the mix of the Engineer who was working with us and that turned out ok.
PiercingMetal: Let’s talk about working with Xul as he really seems to be on his game for the recording as every track is a very powerful and thunderous drumming vibe happening. This is his first recording with the band after all.
Ashmedi: He was actually performing live with us for a while but let me tell you something about Melechesh. As long as they are talented and can play it is always going to sound Melechesh. This is because I also write the drums but with a guitar. That is why the patterns are recognizable since day one. When we started it was Black Metal and all these blast beats but then we changed it. With Djinn it worked with our initial drummer and then some songs with Proscripter on Sphinx and now with Xul. This is always going to sound the same but it will bear the character of the individual drummer each who varies in their approach to drum rolls and such but in general it will always sound Melechesh because I am writing the drums with my guitar. So I do the demos and the drummer listens to it and sometimes I go to the rehearsal room and listen to the drummer and say “please play this pattern and such”. If he is a talented drummer or he is willing to, they will catch on. So that’s how it is and so far this is working with Xul and we had done demos for every song and if I had doubts I say them in the rehearsal room and we would do the work. He was very enthusiastic to do it and he is very technically capable and as far as the outcome of recording the album well the audio recording of the drums is outstanding. It’s very bombastic and it’s a studio where Dave Lombardo (Slayer) did some work.
PiercingMetal: As a drummer by passion I appreciate that sort of thing.
Ashmedi: You see that is the thing I am a drummer by passion to, but I don’t drum.
PiercingMetal: I find this is one of the things that stand out to me in Metal because you not only want but you need a good drummer to do it correctly. Let’s use this as an example, pretty much any Black Metal band that you hear Frost is a part of you know that it is going to be pretty good because Frost is not the kind of player who has time to waste.
Ashmedi: Yes Frost is a great drummer whose approach I like very much.
PiercingMetal: Lets talk about the working with the End Records, how excited is the band about this new relationship. What does the band hope comes of this and what led you to them in the first place.
Ashmedi: In Europe we are signed to Osmose Productions, although now we have fulfilled our contractual obligations but The End Records does not release everything that Osmose releases over here in the USA but instead they are very selective as to what they will release. The fact that they chose us to work with is important for we feel that they believe in us and so far it seems like a very good collaboration. There is a lot of motivation and a lot of drive so I think this is going to be a good thing.
PiercingMetal: What are some of the touring plans, and who for that matter is the perfect band for Melechesh to perform on the stage with. Who would you like to see yourselves performing with.
Ashmedi: We are thinking about touring and of course coming to the States so you can watch for an announcement on that. The thing we can say is that the idea on us coming to the states is more real than many might think. We are currently playing festivals in Europe and as far as bands go well as long as they are cool people that have the right atmosphere in their own music but I am pretty open to that and never really decided on who it should be when it happens.
PiercingMetal: In worrying about peoples insecurities are you a little worried about any security concerns based on having an album titled “As Jerusalem Burns” in your back catalog when it comes to touring. I ask this because of everyone seeming to be up in arms about every little thing nowadays and we have seen bands be stopped for less on occasion.
Ashmedi: Well, the thing is “As Jerusalem Burns” was never meant literally. It’s meant theologically but if people choose to think that simple, and we are simple creatures there is nothing we can do about it. We can’t stress ourselves and be tense about it. It’s not such a bad title anyway, I think it is a beautiful title but it really about ideology.
Moloch: I would say that it was more of a problem being in Jerusalem at the time when the album came out more so than today in trying to come over to the States. Unless the national security has all our bios on their computers.
Ashmedi: Well, if you look at the lyrics we write they are either going to get really confused or something else.
PiercingMetal: Of course I only bring this up because we are hearing of tours being cancelled more frequently because of stuff like this.
Ashmedi: We try not to think much about it actually.
PiercingMetal: What does Melechesh mean for Heavy Metal listeners today, meaning in this where do you feel you fit in best and what listener base are you hoping to get your music over to more than some other types.
Ashmedi: I think we can appeal to various people because Power Metal and traditional Metal people like it as well as Extreme, Black and Thrash Metal fans. I think that this is the case because there is some depth to it and as a result offers more. Personally I like it when I see people relating to what we do or they understand the atmosphere we give. We are doing this stuff with conviction and there are people who are tuning in to that. So based on that the potential is there and my objective is creation period. Whatever happens, happens.
PiercingMetal: This question might sound similar but it is not meant in that fashion. What are Melechesh bringing to Heavy Metal against the view of all the genres together and the overall vibe of the business.
Ashmedi: Maybe perhaps making fantasy a reality, credibility, conviction and determination. I’m not saying that others don’t do that but it is really what we want to do. Innovation without alienation because I don’t like to alienate. I think a good teacher is one that makes you understand not one who confuses you so they feel smart. So that is kind of what we are doing and I hope that is how it is perceived as well and I think it is. People seem to respect what we are doing and I like that and appreciate it. This motivates me and as a result I don’t really care what other bands are doing. We do what we do and while it’s a rather unorthodox approach but then again it is a new thing the sound we have. Yet again it is not alienating and people can get into it because it plays on certain grooves and certain dynamics, which are not strange to the human need as well as not being strange to Metal.
PiercingMetal: So as a band that you started out as a solo project originally in 1993 and now we are almost in 2007 has it met your approval .
Ashmedi: No, you should never be completely satisfied because it you are its nice but maybe that is part of the torment that you have while composing. Also the strategy and drive to do better and move forward. I have different needs that I need to explore with Melechesh but I never imagined it to be like this when I first started it and wanted to have this original sound maybe but with the future stuff and when it started to develop I had no idea what would happen because I did not even know how to play the guitar that well back then.
Moloch: I remember our first rehearsals where we would use cut up telephone cards to be guitar picks. We were really undisciplined in the beginning. Now its Black Metal man but then it was very raw and dirty. It is also a creation process but it is strange how things turn and you don’t plan them
PiercingMetal: Anything you would like to say before we close out?
Ashmedi: I think you pretty much touched upon the subjects that I wanted to discuss yet I can tell one last message and that’s “those that are sleep walking, they should wake up, and those who are awake, should question everything”…..the end.
“Emissaries” is the bands fourth album and follows up the often referred to as brilliant release “Sphinx”. This is an incredible piece of Metal and quite possibly will go down as the bands signature release. After the interview we walked around the Downtown area of NYC, as Ashmedi wanted of all things for dinner “Buffalo Wings”. We also met with some fans of the band which surely made there day and from there additional talking, joking and drinking was done. Good times – check out Melechesh on The End Records.
Official Web site: www.melechesh.com