Reviewed: April 2004
Released: 2001, War Is Imminent Productions
With all of the accolades being heaped upon this black metal Mesopotamian horde lately, I figured it was appropriate to take a step back in time and revisit their hellish debut, the brilliantly titled AS JERUSALEM BURNS…AL’INTISAR. First though, some history is in order, because I’m sure not many know the origins or Melechesh.
The band was formed in Jerusalem in 1993 but didn’t really begin to make a name for themselves on a world scale until the following year. Through a slew of concerts and promos, the band began to gain some attention in their homeland and abroad, going so far as to become the minor Middle Eastern version of Norway’s Black Circle and running afoul of local authorities. Through it all the band kept working on their music, alchemically fusing the seemingly polar influences of brutal black metal and Mediterranean music. It all came to an alarming head with this debut album.
Initially released in 1996, AJB…A’I was a swift kick in the quickly shriveling ball sac of black metal. Where other bands were going the “symphonic” keyboard route, Melechesh instead decided to expand the genre into their own niche with the aforementioned Mediterranean influences. One quick listen to the bizarre syncopation at the beginning of “Assyrian Spirit” quickly unveils that there is indeed something different going on here. Though Ashmedi’s tortured howls are pure Norwegian black metal, and the music swirling and churning around him is deeply routed in traditional Darkthrone-influenced black metal, Melechesh manage to keep an identity of their own.
“Sorcerer’s of Melechesh” continues the band’s unique blackened approach, seemingly switching at random between pure buzzing breaks and more refined style. In fact, this song and “Dance of the Black Genii” are basically the precursors to what the band would later go on to accomplish on their following albums DJINN and SPHYNX.
At this point though, the band hadn’t quite mastered their craft and was a little too reliant on tried and true black metal methods. A few songs on this disc are a little too rote and unnecessary. Still, compared with the legions of copycat bands that are released on what seems like a monthly basic, Melechesh stand proudly alone. Though the band’s later albums eclipse this one in both quality and ingenuity, AS JERUSALEM BURNS… stands as a worthy achievement, and a fascinating document of the band’s origins.
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