MELECHESH – Interview With Ashmedi

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Interview With Frontman/Founder Ashmedi

By Peter Atkinson

Photos from www.facebook.com/melechesh

If there’s been one constant for self-proclaimed “Sumerian Thrashing Black Metal/Mesopotamian Metal” quartet Melechesh over the past 20-some years, it’s been change. Well actually that and frontman/guitarist/band leader Ashmedi, who has been along for the ride since Melechesh – which translates roughly as “king of fire” – formed in the early ’90s in Jerusalem.

The band relocated to Amsterdam in 1998 due, in part, to conflicts with authorities over religious grounds – it probably didn’t help that Melechesh titled their 1996 debut album As Jerusalem BurnsAl’Intisar. Ever since, there has been a steady stream of bassists and drummers in and out of the band’s ranks – including Absu’s Proscriptor McGovern for six-year stretch.

Intellectual pursuits have been at the root of some of the lineup changes, along with the typical musical or personal differences. Original drummer Lord Curse moved to the United States to continue his art studies and later went to work at George (“Star Wars”) Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic. Long-time guitarist Moloch had to take a studio-only role as he pursued his doctorate in political science, also in the United States.

But all the turmoil hasn’t done much to stand in Ashmedi’s – and by extension Melechesh’s – way. After four ever-better received albums that spread the band’s name and unconventional, Eastern-flavored extreme metal around the world, Melechesh signed on with Nuclear Blast, which further bolstered their profile with 2010’s Epigenesis. The band’s sixth and latest album, Enki, which saw Lord Curse return to supply the drum tracks after 15 years away, was just released.

Via e-mail, from his new home base in Germany, Ashmedi offered the following about the band’s unique set of circumstances and evolution, their new album and the great group of guest musicians who appear on it, and how more change is likely inevitable for Melechesh.


 

Greetings Ashmedi, I hope this e-mail finds you well. Thanks for taking the time to answer these.

Ashmedi: Pleasure is all Mine.

I see that you are now based in Germany, was the move from Amsterdam a matter of practicality for the band/business, or just for a change of scenery?

Ashmedi: I have been in Amsterdam for 17 years. Last few years, I rarely spent time there since we toured a lot and on my downtime I’d spend time in sunny places like Jerusalem, Istanbul, California … Since some members live in Germany, I said “OK, let’s spend time there.” Now the album is done, I need to be available for gigs. Other than that I am free to spend time in sunny places again 😉

How are you finding the social climate in Europe? It doesn’t seem to be the best of times to be someone of Eastern descent in many parts of Europe right now, or parts of the U.S., sad to say. Have you encountered any problems yourself?

Ashmedi: Well it is not often but if I would sense discomfort, and I did in Holland, it would be a mistaken identity. I am Armenian/Assyrian of Christian background. If they see any tanned person – Spanish, Greek, Armenian – they might assume I would be, or they would be, Moslem or such, which is quite a sick way of thinking, totally wrong. In California, I never feel this. But also body language, personal style, differentiate me, but there are no shortage of idiots out there.

In Holland, I just heard comments here and there, especially in the metal scene, hehe. (One week I was called a fucking Moslem and a filthy Jew [in the] same town. Quite repulsing, but hey! Some are just cancerous. Hahahaha.)

In Germany, it is more balanced or at least I see it that way so far. But, generally, Middle Eastern people are pretty much fucked anywhere they are thanks to global politics. Even Mediterranean people sometimes like myself.

Melechesh founder and frontman Ashmedi
Melechesh founder and frontman Ashmedi

Oddly enough, I recently have received promos from several Middle Eastern bands – Voice of the Soul (Dubia/Lebanon), Nervecell (Dubai), Shredhead (Israel). Does that region seem to have become more accepting of metal, or do you think things are even harder than they were since you left Jerusalem for Europe?

Ashmedi: Yes and No. It depends where you are from. Some countries allow metal, some don’t. Some bands struggle and work hard and some purchase their way in the scene. It all depends on the country and band. Many bands, many countries. But compared to when we started, the Middle East has countless metalheads now.

Regardless of the political/social climate, there certainly seems to be an audience there for metal and a hunger for it.

Ashmedi: Yes, absolutely. I always say that Metal is the soundtrack of the Middle East.

To totally change gears, how was your 70,000 Tons of Metal experience?

Ashmedi: Quite a new experience and an ultimate de-stressor after the difficult and hectic time recording Enki.

That must have been a nice/fun may to being the run-up to the release of Enki?

Ashmedi: Well, it was also a good opportunity to promote the upcoming release.

Melechesh live
Melechesh live on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise/By Pit Art Photography

Now I guess the “real” work begins, since the album is out any day now?

Ashmedi: Lots of promo, interviews, and we are dealing with gig offers and such. Never a dull moment, but, hey, that’s good, right?

What has signing with Nuclear Blast meant for the band as far as exposure, helping to get your name out there and touring opportunities?

Ashmedi: Definitely better distribution and reach. It is a large label and many people I know there are just awesome.

Did you see a big change in the promotion/opportunities you had for Epigenesis as compared with your albums with Osmose? Especially in the states, where Nuclear is more established?

Ashmedi: When Emissaries came out [in North American in 2007 through an exclusive licensing deal] on The End Records, the Late Adrian Bromley (RIP), such a great guy and such a big loss [Bromley died in 2008], he did an amazing job promoting us, the next logical step was Nuclear Blast. Osmose did their best in Europe and they did fine, but indeed being on a larger label you get more exposure.

Does it seem like that support is carrying over with Enki?

Ashmedi: It seems so and I sure hope so. I mean there are no shortcomings promo wise, so I have a positive outlook. The anticipation for this album has been great, so I guess people know this album is coming out.

Melechesh, the Enki lineup. From the left,  bassist Scorpios, guitarist/vocalist Ashmedi, drummer Lord Curse and guitarist Moloch
Melechesh, the Enki lineup. From the left, bassist Scorpios, guitarist/vocalist Ashmedi, drummer Lord Curse and guitarist Moloch

The band’s lineup has been in a somewhat constant state of flux, do things seem to have solidified at the moment?

Ashmedi: I seriously doubt that. Hell, we still try out drummers [indeed in a posting on their Facebook page March 6, the band noted “It is time for a permanent solution, who is then missing link? MELECHESH will be auditioning drummers for the live circuits or for a permanent position!”] Change is not always bad, it’s good as well.

Has it the instability of the lineup been frustrating or do you prefer to work with new faces live and an in the studio as a way to keep things fresh?

Ashmedi: I write most music, as long as there are good people with good attitude who can play and have a CAN DO mentality and not self saboteurs then we are good.

What brought Lord Curse back to the band after so many years away and how has it been working with him again ?

Ashmedi: We never lost touch. He is a close friend and he always was somewhat involved. We needed to retrack drums and we did it. He was an ideal option.

Will he be playing live, or just on the album?

Ashmedi: No, he works for George Lucas and he is happy where he is. He can’t leave for tour nor does he want to play with other bands professionally.

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I guess the same goes for Moloch, has he finished his PhD studies? And if they are complete, is he working a “real job” now in that field and unavailable to tour?

Ashmedi: Moloch always had his position in the band reserved for him. He is a good friend and a talented musician. He cannot tour. He teaches in Universities and thus scheduling can be problematic, but for the last 2 years we have a good session guitarist [Nomadic Soul] who does all live shows.

There is an interesting batch of guests on Enki – Max Cavalera, Sakis from Rotting Christ and Rob Caggiano. What led you to pursue their contributions? How was it to work with these guys? And what in particular did each bring the table for the track they appeared on?

Ashmedi: I know these great musicians for a while now. When you are an active touring band you meet a lot of other artists. And at times you get messages from some etc. Max, Rob and Sakis all like what we do and vice versa and expressed that several times and they all have different things to offer.

Max has a powerful voice, I wanted a different vocal approach than mine, him and I have several parallels on a personal and band way, both come from unusual place started doing black or black thrash metal and evolved, etc … and have this tribal feeling as well.

Rob, I knew him since Anthrax days. He is a killer guitar player, very agile and open minded. I knew he can do a solo that serves the song.

Sakis is an old friend. Called me up, said he wants in. I had the part for him.

With Enki being your sixth album, was there anything specifically you were looking to do differently sonically or stylistically on this album?

Ashmedi: How different can we keep going? We have invented our own style and we keep pushing it further and further. Each Melechesh song sounds different sonically. I have used 12-string guitars throughout the album for a deeper sound and tuned to 432 hz for some extra spice.

Even though the album is quite brutal, I found Enki surprisingly catchy in parts, starting right off the bat with the surging riffs on “Tempest Temper” and “Pendulum.” There’s a nice flow, with the “Eastern” parts blending seamlessly with the “metal” parts.

Ashmedi: We are not a gimmick band. We do Metal music rooted in rock with hints of our region. It seems to work well. Why be streamlined? It’s good to have different feelings and atmospheres in the songs, no need to be a one-trick pony.

Ashmedi rocking a 12-string guitar
Ashmedi rocking a 12-string guitar

Epigenesis was recorded in in Turkey, Enki was recorded in Greece. Do you prefer to work in more “out of the way” places? Are they good spots for maintaining that “Eastern” vibe as opposed to recording in Germany or Sweden, or is a simple matter of economics or the personalities at the studio?

Ashmedi: A bit of everything. We wanted a Mediterranean place with the right moods, weather, etc … economics also were more favourable when it comes to living expenses. I spent around 3 months, so things add up on the budget. We did mix the album in Sweden at Sound Lounge.

I see Melechesh has some festival shows lined up, and there appears to be a tour in the works with Keep of Kalessin, do you have any more concrete touring plans laid out for the rest of the year?

Ashmedi: Yea, we got a few festivals coming up as well as our tour with Keep of Kalessin. It will be our second time touring with these guys. They are cool and a good band. Well the dates have now been announced and this will be a one-month tour, but we will do a second part later on to cover further countries.

Do you expect to be touring in North America sometime this year?

Ashmedi: Maybe this year yea, maybe next. If we do it, it will be for the spreading the word as touring North America is debilitating and expensive.