posted on 12/2006 By:
I first heard of Melechesh in the same context that I imagine most people hear of them: “They’re that death metal band from Israel, maaan!” Turns out that such is not exactly the case; though the band was originally formed in Jerusalem, they are not Israeli nationals, nor are they a death metal band. Rather, the band is now based out of the Netherlands, and the members are Armenian, Syrian, Dutch, and Ukrainian, respectively. Emissaries is my first experience with Melechesh, but if it’s at all representative of their catalogue then I’m going to have to do some digging; this slab of (slightly gimmicky) black metal kicks off Osmose Records’ new year in excellent style.
Like so much quality metal, Emissaries is a triumph of execution and stylistic mastery rather than genuine creativity. The riff-oriented songwriting and reliance on winding, sand-swept octatonic melody will draw comparisons to—who else?—Nile, but there’s no question that Melechesh are first and foremost a black metal band. Look no further than top-drawer opener “Rebirth of the Nemesis” for proof; the band substitutes swirling blastbeats and wonderfully thematic tremolo-picked guitar lines for cheesy theatrics. Unlike many black metal bands, these dudes require little aid from acoustic interludes or keyboards to elicit Lovecraftian visions of pre-ancient desert gods and demons. Melechesh is equally adept at mid-paced numbers, as they prove on follow-up “Ladders to Sumeria,” which sees the first of the band’s nicely understated chant-like sung vocals. Like their European peers 1349, these guys wisely elect to abandon the traditional kvlt black metal production and opt instead for a clear, biting guitar tone and even mix that brings their deft riffing capacity to the fore. The performances on this album are simply excellent; guitarists Ashmedi and Moloch employ a rather limited melodic vocabulary (they rely almost exclusively on Near Eastern melody) but use it to great effect. Meanwhile, Ashmedi’s black metal howl is fairly traditional but bears far more incantatory force than the average whispery rasper. The real standout, though, is Dutch drummer Xul. Neither overbearingly technical nor simplistic, his skinwork is diverse, groove-sensitive and extremely well-suited to Melechesh’s complex, linear songwriting.
If this band has a weakness, it’s one shared by virtually all other bands that employ such an obvious, gimmicky theme. I hate to draw the Nile comparison again—Melechesh do not play hand-cramping technical death metal, nor do they sing about Egypt—but both acts ultimately encounter the same problem; though I’m very partial to their melodic motif of choice, it starts to wear thin about halfway through this sixty-minute marathon (the inevitable “we are using traditional Middle Eastern instruments” instrumental track seems especially tired). Even so, Emissaries is a joy to listen to for three or four songs at a time, and their refusal to rely on traditional black metal aesthetics is refreshing. This album is apparently being distributed by The End Records in the United States, and I can’t think of a more appropriate label relationship for this band; expansive without abandoning their home genre, Melechesh is for black metal listeners who aren’t afraid to venture outside cold-woods-spikes-corpsepaint territory.
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