MELECHESH – Destiny
Five albums in, Eternal Terror thought it was due time to find out what’s the driving force behind the creation of the new album "The Epigenesis" and other topics. Marcin Lewandorski (Deathster4life) and Roy Kristensen wrote to Ashmedi to find out why he had to be nude while doing the vocals.
Why did you have to relocate from Jerusalem in the late 90’s? Melechesh relocated from Jerusalem in the late 90’s, and we opened by asking Ashmedi what led to this decision.
“Various demographic, personal and socio political reasons. I got fed up musically, there was no progress, personally I did not like what was going on there. Being neither Israeli nor Palestinian somehow I was stuck in the middle.”
Based on interviews Melechesh appear to be a very spiritual band and are classified as a black metal band who uses inverted crosses in their logo. Are you guys Satanists after the manner of Anton La Vey and Aleister Crowley or like Nile, like dark ancient mythology and history?
“The logo is fine, we like those things to me look like spears now not inverted cross, but anyway our spiritual concept is complex and important to us, Sumerian /Mesopotamian mysticism play a large role, near eastern occult.”
"Epigenesis" seems more like one great story broken into several pieces than a set of heavy metal “hits” ala Megadeth or Death, even though I can still hear influences of both bands. However, the band are more akin to Nile, Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me, and Tool in that they write and compose musical pieces that remind me of Beethoven symphonies rather than traditionally structured metal songs. The album appears to be the biggest departure from traditional black metal in favor of eclectic songwriting. Was this a conscious decision?
“I am not influenced by Nile, Mastodon, Megadeth, Death or Tool, never heard Between The Buried and You :), but all the aforementioned bands are very good. This album had influence from the 70ies psychedelic rock and hard rock as well, yet it is extreme metal with blackened thrash and near eastern music, you know music of our heritage. And yes, we wanted to have this journey into music and a jam session feel yet each song carries its own weight and has an own identity – like a real metal album. So I tried to balance all these aspect, keep aggression, headbanging moods but also tripping. Basically I compose music I want to hear, riff and drum beat oriented catchy yet has substance. That’s how it comes out.”
What is epigenesis?
“The epigenesis has several meanings, we refer to the philosophical spiritual angle. In this context, it relates to what some call destiny, it is a series of causalities that are meant to happen for one specific reason and leads to growth, spiritual enlightenment, if you like!”
We challenged Ashmedi to describe Melechesh’ music to a listener who never heard "Epigenesis" or "Emissaries"…
“Well, we invented the near Eastern or Middle Eastern sound and approach to black metal / thrash metal/ extreme metal, call it whatever you like … However, Melechesh is certainly not a one trick pony. Our musical abilities and our musical style are confident and very versatile. So, we do deliver songs with their own identities as we also do albums with their own identities. Yet they all exist within Melechesh sphere of sound. The music offers aggression, mystical moods, and various other atmospheres. We have songs that are ideal for concert situations and songs which are ritualistic and trippy.”
From your experience in Jerusalem, do you think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will ever end and what do you think it would take to make it happen?
“Melechesh is not a political band. And sadly the depth and significance of Middle East and its impact to the world culture, music, spirituality, mythology and art is often overlooked, clichéd, diminuated and usually politicized. However, as an individual naturally I have my own political awareness and as an individual with my own opinions I developed one form of statistic to measure who is the aggressor or who is wrong at least. So I count the dead. That is my measure. You do the math. The rest is political talk and brain washing.
Will there be a solution between Israelis and Palestinians? One day yes, every conflict ends but not anytime soon. Yes I’ve seen hostiles and aggression. I know people from both sides that have died. And I was stuck in the middle. I also was literally stuck in the crossfire when I was in East and West Jerusalem.”
What do you think of pre-emptive strikes like American invasion of Iraq?
“There is no morality in striking. Who said it was pre-emptive? Was Iraq ever gonna invade USA?”
Ashmed was accused for “dark occult practices” back in 1995, but the charges against him were later dropped…
“This was very long time ago. In Israel it’s liberal for music and art and lifestyle. But Jerusalem is more conservative to some extend. And we lived in conservative East Jerusalem and Bethlehem where socially it was unacceptable to be metalhead. At one point I was the only headbanger in East Jerusalem. And worst still, interested in the occult. So socially I was cast-out there. In West Jerusalem they didn’t mind about it that much. Till one day a journalist for a major newspaper wanted to make a story about us. And we told them as long as it’s about us, the “black metal band” yes sure! He even offered us money which I turned down. Next day we were on the front page of the newspaper with a headline “Satanic cult in the holy city!” The cops were immediately interested in interviewing us, however the newspaper did not give our real identities. But the cops were going downtown where the “alternative” people were hanging out asking for Ashmedi. We dodged them, eventually they lost interest, they had better things to worry about.”
Do you think metal ought to stay underground or to be more mainstream popular like in the U.S. during 80s or the current metal/hardcore trend?
“As a musician the more fans we get the more pleasurable the experience. So I have no problem with growth of the market but I don’t like it when it’s synthetic.
What do you think of the direction metal will take in the future?
“There shouldn’t be absolutes because that leads to stagnation and limitation of creativity. There are many bands and many styles doing many things in metal. Some will preserve the tradition while some will push the boundaries. It will always be this way I assume.”
Imagine you could incorporate any musical genre within the metal framework of your compositions. Let’s pretend fans and the label are okay with that, if you catch my drift. What genre would you incorporate and which you wouldn’t and why?
“I am exactly where I wanna be musically. If I wanna do something I wouldn’t wait for a green light from anyone I’d just do it. Maybe mixing some blues, more hard rock, more acoustic eastern music and 70s rock music would appeal to me.”
What is your take on the current extreme, far Christian right-wing driven intolerance of Islam in America, whereby Muslims are not even allowed to build mosques?
“Are you asking me that under the assumption that I am a muslim? See most people assume I am either of Muslim background or a Jewish background. But I’m neither. My family comes from a non religious Christian background. Personally I feel religion does more harm than good so do all sort of right wingers which includes but not is not limited to religious extremists.”
I assume that like me, you are no fan of organized Christianity. The Catholic Church and Adolf Hitler both used this religion to excuse genocide, oppression and enslavement of mankind, yet it persists regardless of the Enlightenment freeing us of its dominion. Why is this religion so pervasive, especially in the U.S. where the fundamental leaders push for theocracy?
“People who stick to religion are afraid of death. Some keep things in reasonable context but many follow blindly so I guess that explains your question. If these people count how many people died because of religion and other man-made paradigms such as race and borders they would see how dangerous such things can be.”
I envy your great understanding of physics, metaphysics and mathematics and ancient history, as well as musical theory. Even though I am agnostic, I always found the connection between spirituality and science real, relevant and fascinating. Were you, like Karl Sanders from Nile, self-taught or do you have a degree in any of these disciplines? I am specifically referring to your Pitagoras and music-mathematics references. Can you recommend works or authors regarding these matters?
“I did a lot of research and readings and basically I feel that metaphysics or magick if you like, could be defined as undiscovered science. Personally I hold a masters degree but that’s in management so not in aforementioned disciplines. Yet I also see that such things need not be taught unless you wanna look at them academically rather than spiritually. I suppose it’s in the individual’s DNA. For example a philosopher would not necessarily have to be in a university studying philosophy. As for mathematics if you look at things from a Kabbalistic concept or if you look at Sacred Geometry, order and chaos are intertwined.”
You will tour with amongst others Nile in 2011. What can we expect from a Melechesh concert?
“We have a short tour in a couple of weeks in central Europe and then indeed we’ll be touring with Nile. Well, our music comes across very well live because the riffs are very understandable.”
How important is the sound, having in mind that the music of Melechesh is quite complicated if one moves below the surface?
“Having a good sound is obviously a priority and giving very sincere and genuine show is a known part of us. The music comes through live and we have gained a reputation for that.”
The new album opens with the catchy "Ghouls Of Nineveh". Do you accept that people may listen to the album as music only, or should one rather read the lyrics at the same time? (in this digital promo times, we cannot read the lyrics since they don’t accompany any promotional file)
“When I make the music to me the lyrics are very profound and important. However I’m aware many people don’t read the lyrics yet they do get into the music but also the whole atmosphere and this is fine by me. If they want more substance they can dig in deeper and that substance is there.”
A bit naïve perhaps, but why did the instrumental have to be so long, instead of perhaps including some 4-5 instrumental as shorter interludes? It’s not that they aren’t good or anything, they just feel a bit too long since I am, after all, waiting for the metal to happen…
“Usually these are ritualistic meditative experience. Indian ragas and near eastern Sufi music all indicate this as well. To get into those journeys you need time plus adjustment of the breathing and the state of mind and the right mood. So the length of the pieces is appropriate for this. Some people would wanna just hear the metal parts and that’s perfectly fine. That’s why there’s the skip button on the music player. Howeverm many Melechesh fans do want this from us and it has been requested by countless people. It doesn’t make the album any less it certainly makes it more.”
Your songs are quite long, and I sense that it has a bit to do with the meditative approach that your music possesses. But the longest is the closer, "The Epigenesis", a major and big track, if you see what I mean… How is it to write such a long song compared to writing a shorter one, mentioned "Defeating The Giants" closing in at 3.25?
“As I said before the album has many moods it is quite comprehensive. So we wanted a long epic track and the reason for this is we often jam improvised music in the rehearsal room. These pieces are an hour long or more sometimes. And we usually feel bad that no one else hears them. So this song in a way enables the listener to feel that they are with us in the rehearsal room in the music creation process.”
I’ve read something about rituals and magick and nudeness in connection with recording the album. Do you think fans will be able to feel what you’re trying to share with us, or must one have closer to the same references and inspirations as yourself when listening to the music? Or, to rephrase myself, how would you, if you could decide, like us to listen to your creations?
“What can I say – I am a flasher. Haha! Listening to music is an entirely personal process so listen to our music the way you want to. However, during the recording of this album I wanted to be entirely primal. So I decided to do the vocals only late at night till dawn, I kept all my occult jewelry on but I didn’t want clothes on me. I had the whole floor to myself where the recording booth was, pitch black with a small red light and a few symbolic items. The control room was one floor above and I didn’t want anyone in the control room besides the engineer.”
My favourite is "Sacred Geometry". It’s catchy, yes, but also bombastic and quite heavy. And as a European from the quite cold north, it’s often great to listen to the Middle Eastern musical influences. How do you work to combine the lyrics and the music and how do you decide which music belongs to which lyrics?
“When I write riffs I only decide to use the ones that I have a mental image from. Almost like a soundtrack to a movie. Now you can understand once you have images you have a context, “a script”. Even the main riff of Sacred Geometry is geometrical.”
A bit on the side, but what does "Sacred Geometry" deal with?
“Sacred Geometry is a spiritual concept, that many elements in the universe are of a geometric shape. Like the crystal, the atom, the DNA, the sound waves such as octaves, thirds and fifth harmonies and many spiritualists think that this geometry is a result of order and chaos and to a large extend sacred.”
How do you view the development from the beginning of Melechesh to date, in a rather brief version?
“Actually it is a classic scenario of The Epigenesis. It’s a natural progression of a band that started at one point and developed itself against the odds. And now for the last few years the band is receiving recognition for it.”