Interview and pics by Arto Lehtinen
Transcripted by Blake Wolfe
Melechesh, fronted by Ashmedi and Moloch, have travelled a long way to conquer European soil with their unique sound. Each album by Melechesh have had incredible moments of journeys into ancient oriental culture. Melechesh embarked on their European tour with Immolation and did a triumphinant gig in Finland. Therefore, it was more than a good opportunity to have a chat with the band’s frontman Ashmedi.
TOURS AND FESTIVALS
Is this your biggest tour yet?
What happened was we weren’t crazy to play live too much. But the couple of years we started doing that, and we thought “this is good.” And there’s demand – people wanted us to play a lot. We said “fine, but we refuse to tour until we get the conditions we wanted.” Many bands just throw themselves out there, like “oh yeah, please, I’ll pay you,” all that bullshit. We’re like, “no thank you,” we’ve got good lives – we don’t have to do it unless we get the right circumstances, and these are the right circumstances. This is a great touring company and great bands, so for us this is great.
Last summer you did a bunch of European festivals – I guess this is an important thing for you to play these bigger festivals and expand the name of Melechesh?
For me, it’s not about expanding the name – believe me, I never wake up in the morning and go “I want to be more known.” What I want to do is play to people who want to see us, and with the festivals, people come from all over the world – not just from Europe but from other parts. When we played at Party San there were people from Jerusalem, from Finland….
Oh, you were there – I hope you liked the show!
I liked it but it was too goddamn short…
We can’t do anything about that. We’ve got to respect it – there’s a lot of bands and some people come for other bands, so there’s a schedule we’ve got to respect. But that’s why we like those festivals, and it’s pretty relaxed. You just come and do the festival and you go. You don’t live too far off – we’re in Europe, after all. So yeah, it was great – we did a whole bunch of festivals, to be honest.
But the weather condition was really horrible experience…
Yeah, the mud was insane! I thought it was pretty ironic, because they call it the summer fest season, but it was just mud everywhere. We had a comfortable hotel and we were treated very, very good, but one of the fans said “you want to come visit where we stay?” to show us the tent. It was all mud and insane, like a scene from World War I, in the trenches where everything’s muddy because of the shelling.
There was no sense in putting the tent up and we had to leave it and sleep in the car.
It would be much better. I saw people with tents, and their pissing in the water on the mud where their sitting. Basically, it’s all mixed piss, mud and water – it was insane!
We left immediately after Malevolent Creation as we couldn’t spend any more time there! But how did you like the Asphyx reunion gig?
Awesome! Great! We were hanging out backstage and just couldn’t wait to see them play, and when they did it was a very good experience.
I was taking pictures of them and I was like ‘Oh shit…!’
Yeah, it gave you goosebumps.
I had been waiting to see Asphyx a long time…
They’re really great guys, by the way. We’re into each other’s music, and very good vibes come from them.
NEW HOME AT NUCLEAR BLAST
You got a new deal with Nuclear Blast, after being with Osmose. Was Nuclear Blast the obvious choice for you?
I think so. People sometimes get the wrong message when you sign with some labels – they wonder why you did that. It’s not an issue of money, because what Osmose offered us to stay was beyond generous. Other labels also – we had a bunch of interest from just about all the decent labels out there. But I thought Nuclear Blast has great distribution for the albums. When I say I’m not crazy about playing always just to spread the name, I mean it. But what I do care about is my music being heard that I write on the album, because I really put an effort into that. It’s a very big label with a big reach, so I thought that was the right choice – maybe not. I personally feel very positive about it.
As you know, there are tons of bands on Nuclear Blast. Do you think Melechesh will succeed and get all the support and promotion aspects, if they had to put the money in some bigger bands and smaller bands may suffer?
Yes, I know and that’s the thing. Some labels wanted us to be their priority band, with the full-page ads. But really, what does that do to me when some headbanger in I don’t know what town in I don’t know what country goes “I couldn’t find the album.” That’s one, and two, indeed there was an element of risk, and I knew it. I assessed the risk and said the biggest risk in life is not taking a risk, because you always get a very predictable outcome. There’s an element of the unknown there, but the vibe is quite positive I must say, from both them and us.
As Nuclear Blast is behind you, I suppose you can put more effort into the art and the layout of the albums nowadays?
I think that the layout and the art on all our albums are just supreme. You can’t top those – the limited digipaks…
What about more video clips and stuff?
Oh yeah, indeed! We did talk about making a video clip and I hope we can achieve something. In the end, in the metal scene – I’m going to repeat the tired line – because there’s not much TV media, it’s not always the wisest thing to put all the investment in the video clip. But for me, it is very interesting to do it, because it’s a visual interpretation of your music, so it’s part of the creative process. Hopefully with whatever tools or budget you have, you try to achieve something. I find that is actually a very adventurous process.
Did other labels try to get you with a big money?
Yeah, there’s labels that offered even more. It wasn’t about the money, I promise you. I really sat down and had to think about it. This is really a lot of money that was offered, and I thought I’ll take Nuclear Blast, which was also a very good budget, the royalty rate was really good, but I’ve had more money offered to me by other labels. But I took Nuclear Blast.
You just said that Osmose tried to keep you anyway?
Yeah, the relationship with Osmose is a bit different from normal with other labels because we’re also like friends. So he came over and just sent me another offer and I said no, and he said “I understand.”
I still remember when Osmose came into the picture, in the very early 90s with the second generation of black metal, you had to mailorder all this stuff from Osmose… I guess you got impressed by old bands from Osmose in the first place?
Yeah, I like it. I used to tell them when it had the Osmose logo, to expect a quality and unique band. Indeed, that’s why I liked them. Osmose, I respect that label totally, because they’re doing the dirty job that many labels aren’t. They’re actually doing the job of signing young, unknown bands and trying to make them known and then letting them go. They’re doing that dirty job but some labels don’t do that.
I used to do the same thing – “Oh! Osmose band – I’ve got to pick it up!” – in the 90s.
They had very good bands in the past.
How did you end up with Osmose? Was it after the first album came out?
Let me explain to you the irony about black metal. Everybody was singing about ‘holy annihilation, blah blah blah,’ but if you we’re not a suburban, middle-class Scandinavian it was very hard to be signed. You had to be a suburban, middle-class Scandinavian where your school community gave you the facilities like rehearsal rooms and maybe cheaper instruments or whatever, then you could make it. We actually practiced what we preached – we did black metal in the holy city of Jerusalem. Somehow that didn’t click with the labels – they didn’t understand that. I’m not being over-passionate or anything, but I do think the riffs on AS JERUSALEM BURNS are very good black metal riffs. It was not an issue of music, but it was hard to get signed. Very, very, very hard. We had to work twice and thrice as hard and that kind of slowed down the release of the second album. With Osmose, it was a few people including Proscriptor and two other people who told him “you better listen to this album!” because we recorded it before we were signed. But it was very hard to get attention from labels. Most of the labels who now want to sign us are all like, “we didn’t hear your stuff.” One guy we told him, “here’s our DJINN promo, do you want to listen to it? No thanks.” Obviously you’re an ass and you’re doing a bad job with your label.
Nowadays you can expect some high-quality metal from your home country, too.
Orphaned Land blew me away.
They’re a very good band – they’re the best Israeli band, I can safely say that. We’re not Israeli, I don’t compare us together. They’re the best band from Israel as Israeli people.
You just said it was very hard to get signed. Is that one of the reasons you were on a more underground label, Devilish Music or something, before that?
Before that, actually, the first album was released on, the guy from Judas Iscariot, before he made that band he made a label, and he wanted us to be his first release. We didn’t know about the label or about him – he contacted us – and we were like, “oh, fine,” because we wanted a label to release our album. And indeed, there was an underground label in Germany that released the seven-inch, which is now re-issued. Next month it will be out on Proscriptor’s label, just for collectors.
CREATION IS LIKE PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE
I guess you’ve got a new album in progress?
Yeah, I’m writing new material but it takes a while to make new music. I don’t shit it out. Some people just go “I want to make an album” and they make it. This is a very big psychological process. It’s warfare in the head.
Will it have different influences, or will it be like EMISSARIES or SPHYNX?
All I can say is none of our albums sound alike, but they do sound alike. There’s the Melechesh trademark, but each one sounds different completely.
You’ve got an unique sound that you can immediately identify that this is Melechesh.
Yeah, and it’ll stay like that with increasing boundaries but subtlely. I’m not like an experimental jazz musician. In the end, it’s a rock/metal band, and we try to expand but subtlely. It’s hard to talk about music, to be honest – it’s feelings. If you feel like doing it, you do it.
It’s like the pain of creation.
It’s like psychological warfare. I had therapy after finishing EMISSARIES. I fucked my brain up.
I’ve always been a big fan of Melechesh. There’s something there – a unique sound and catchy riffs.
There’s a lot of thrash, black metal and even hard rock roots all mixed to make our sound with the Middle Eastern scales. It was my attempt to invent Middle Eastern black metal, and it just evolved from that. When I first started, I was like “I will invent Middle Eastern black metal,” and from there it started to progess to something different. We put Sumerian thrash, Mesopotamian metal on it, just to tell people it’s a bit different but it’s our own thing. You have to hear it.
You’ve got really killer sounds on all of them. You’ve worked with Andy La Rocque and Dennis Koehne…
There’s many ways to make an album, and I’m still looking for places to work. But yeah, if I go into a studio and I feel the engineer is just pressing the record button, like falling asleep, I’ll leave – fuck it. I won’t record that album until—you have to have a good partnership with the person behind the recording. So it’s always a risk factor. You say, ‘this safe, I’ve been here, I know what I’ll get,’ and that’s good, but you also say ‘I want to try new stuff’ like new studios, then there’s a risk that the person’s a complete jackass or they may be someone who is worthwhile working with. With the last two studios, it was a good experience. Andy Larocque is a great guy – I’ve got nothing but great things to say about him, attitude-wise and professionally.
The most legendary guitar player of King Diamond…
Yeah! He’s well-known, he’s a great guy.
Do you feel flattered to see all the positive and praising reviews of Melechesh albums in the press?
Yes of course I feel flattered. I’m a human being and I have and ego. It’s not like I’m an egoist, but if I get flattered, well who wouldn’t? But I also get nervous. That stuff makes me nervous, man. When we put out SPHYNX someone was like ‘try to top that!’ and I’m like ‘shit!’ That’s not easy for me – I don’t know what the limits are. Then I made EMISSARIES, and again , ‘try to top that!’ You try to ignore that.
So you can say that you’re a perfectionist?
You should see me iron my shirts with the buttons – it takes me fuckin’ two hours! Because I keep seeing another wrinkle. You always know you can do it better, so you never finish.
But you are mainly responsible for writing all the Melechesh stuff? Do the other guys bring stuff to the rehearsal room, like your long-time guitar player?
Yeah, you look at it percentage-wise, Moloch gets around 10 to 15 percent of the riffs, sometimes 20, it depends on the album. On top of that, I do the drum arrangements, around 95 percent of those, and the whole arrangement of the songs and the lyrics. Usually I do all of the lyrics – on EMISSARIES I did all of them, on SPHYNX Proscriptor wrote two, and on DJINN he wrote one. So he did three lyrics for Melechesh, but I write the lyrics, musical arrangements and the riffs. But of course, other members I encourage them to bring something to the table, because you get that synergy effect. You get more that way.
As for lyrics, you are more or less influenced by the Mesopotamian gods?
I found it very great and flattering that many bands out there call their bands and songs based on part of my culture, since I’m half-Assyrian. By the way, Armenian mythology is very close to Assyrian and Babylonian mythology. So I found it very flattering, and then I thought ‘whoa – I’m actually an Assyrian person, so this is my mythology.’ That’s how the interest started. Since I was a child there’s all these words from Mesopotamian mythology thrown around the house. I just found it very fascinating. But then it evolved – it became beyond mythology. It became about the quest for the knowledge of the origin of mankind or the origin of civilization, and who are the ancient gods. Are they gods, or are they just advanced people? These kinds of questions come up in a very mystical and cosmic way, so I use that. I also like just general occult themes – that’s always fascinated me, stuff from the Middle East. There’s so many cultures and mystical things going on there, it’s crazy. So that’s all driving the lyrics.
Do you travel a lot in Armenia or Assyria?
Well, Assyria, what is that? It’s not in existence now, but the people are in diaspora. Assyria is north of Iraq, south of Turkey, some parts of Syria and some parts of Armenia as well. But the Assyrian empire was all the way to northern Egypt. It was a very big empire. But I’ve been to Damascus, Aleppo – those are in Syria – I’ve been to a few sites in Jordan, which are very mythological. I haven’t been to Iraq or Armenia though. I should go to Armenia but I haven’t been yet.
Let’s go back to the first album. This is a stupid question, but I got mine through tape-trading – did you re-record the album all over again?
We recorded it like any band that first does a demo and then the album. We did a demo called AS JERUSALEM BURNS, but then we did an album called AS JERUSALEM BURNS…AL’INTISAR – it’s a continuation. It’s like As Jerusalem Burns – ‘The Victory,’ but Al’Intisar is classical Arabic like Latin to Italian. Actually, it means nothing about physically burning Jerusalem, because that city I love very much. I’m very passionate about that place. It’s about the ideologies, of all religions and all these rotten people there that just destroy that place. It’s been damned for so many centuries – for thousands of years there’s been war in that city. Hence, I wrote a song called "Leper Jerusalem". I always use paradoxes. It’s untouchable, but it’s for no one and everyone. That’s the position on Jerusalem, but also the title of the album, the first one, I come back about it now. They’re different – similar songs, but re-recorded, re-arranged and stuff like that.
When the album came out, I wondered if they put the same demo out as an album. There’s all kinds of different versions of the album around there, because you a made a license deal or something like that, right?
For As Jerusalem Burns? Four versions at the moment, I think. There will be five eventually. There’s even talk maybe of re-recording that album with better sound, because I really like the guitar riffs there. I think their very good guitar riffs on there.
CHANGES IN THE LINE-UP
Speaking of the line-up, it’s a little bit changed now. Moloch is living in the States currently.
Yeah, but he was playing all the festivals, obviously. He was living in the States then too, but he couldn’t make it to this tour. He’s still in the band.
You’ve got the temporary guys – who are they anyway?
They’re from Thanatos. The bass player from Thanatos and the drummer is from Thanatos, but he’s my drummer. The guitarist is their friend, and they have a band together.
Would you have re-schedule issues between Melechesh and Thanatos if all of a sudden Thanatos f.ex. had to do something, like a tour or just getting an offer for gigging that nobody could expect in the first place?
If they get that opportunity finally, then why not? We arrange it like mature people. We work in individual gigs, of course. They’re not that busy at the moment, but when do we sit down and see what are the priorities, if they have a very big festival and we have a small club gig, well they do the festival. And if we have a big festival and they a small gig, then they reschedule it. We have always set agendas, become some members of Thanatos play in Asphyx and Hail of Bullets, so it’s like the four bands, also Gorefest, have one agenda and we send them to each other. So if Gorefest, Hail of Bullets and Asphyx are on tour – and I have nothing to do with those bands – it’s the same agenda because where my band goes to do gigs, they have to know to cancel a rehearsal of Thanatos and re-arrange another rehearsal with another band.
Sounds a little complicated but I guess it works anyway…
Proscriptor from Absu used to play on the second album and..
Actually on DJINN and SPHYNX.
But he had to pull out for some reason…?
I told him I want someone nearby so I could do more shows, to be honest.
Did he bring some new ideas to the band?
I don’t think so, no, because I’m very controlling about my art. I always love for people to contribute, and coincidentally we share the same interests, hence, we worked together. It was the same ideology and the same mythology. We didn’t sing about any Celtic stuff. He’s a skilled musician and a very inspiring person, so it was very good to work with him. We still work together – he did a couple of screaming vocal lines on the album. I just wrote three lyrics for the new Absu record.
Have you ever thought of relocating to the States?
Yeah, I was going to go before Moloch actually. I like it there actually. I lived there when I was young, in Los Angeles and Miami. I did think about it, but I didn’t do it anymore.
You now live in Holland – do you follow the metal scene there? Do you check out any new bands or do you rather stick to the old ones?
Nah, I’m not one of those puritanical guys. I check out everything and always wish I find something I really like that will enhance my life. I always look for new stuff, and sadly much of it is not good, but sometimes there’s good stuff.
Do you think the old bands can put out more brutal and high-quality stuff than the new bands?
They’re actually exceeding the limits of brutality. If you talk about brutality, they’re pushing those limits, death metal bands nowadays, with insane drumming or whatever, so I don’t think so. Every scene when it starts, the first row of people there are very passionate and visionary. Maybe that’s why there’s some romanticism and quality. On the other hand, after that fully matures, new things start to come up and you have interesting new stuff to listen to.
Thank you for your time!
Thank you for your interest.
The official Melechesh sites :