Melechesh – Ashmedi (vocals/guitars)
MELECHESH was founded by vocalist/guitarist Ashmedi (pronounced Aash-meh-die) in 1993 in Jerusalem. The band’s name is a combination of two words of Aramaic and Hebrew origins originated by the band, which mean “King of Fire.“
Their blend of black metal and Middle Eastern influences, along with a Sumerian and Mesopotamian zest, is a unique brand of metal that really no other band can claim. Although death metalers NILE have Egyptian and Mesopotamian influences, they lack the black metal sound that MELECHESH produce. The use of sitars, 12-string guitars and Indian musical scales also add to MELECHESH’s unique sound.
MELECHESH’s latest release, The Epigenesis, the band is destined for bigger and better things. The buzz on the band, especially in the US, has happened rather quickly, but MELECHESH are fully welcoming their recognition.
Ashmedi is an honest and articulate speaker. He’s very sincere in his thoughts and observations. Forming the band in Jerusalem as a non-Isreali (he is Armenian/Syrian), Ashmedi has seen things that most Americans take for granted.
Speaking from his home in Amsterdam, where he has lived for 12 years now, Ashmedi spoke about his religious beliefs, the recording of the new album and his Middle Eastern influences.
Your new album, The Epigenesis, is a great album, and there’s quite a buzz on you guys at the moment. How do you feel right now about the release of The Epigenesis and about the band getting some decent recognition?
Everything is moving so fast. I actually find it exhausting, to be honest. So many months in the studio, then coming here to Europe for a few shows. Then promotion, which is not stopping, which is a very good thing. We’re doing promo in Europe all this time. We’ve just started in the USA, I’m glad there’s a buzz in the USA as well, because in Europe it’s really well. I couldn’t ask for more. It feels good. It’s really appreciated when it’s getting recognized.
You recorded the album in Turkey, was the environment and atmosphere an inspiration on your writing and recording?
The music was written already in advance, but it was definitely there on the side of the recording. We did add things to keep that organic feeling of the music. Istanbul was wonderful. It’s a great city. It’s a very dynamic and multi-layered place. It’s where east and west meet, literally. The city itself is the oldest city in the world and exists on two continents. A half a mile away, it’s the other continent, Asia. It’s very inspiring and has a long tradition with rock music, and eastern type of rock music. And as a bonus, it has a great metal scene, lots of heavy metal and rock bars. And that’s always a plus when you’re spending so many days somewhere. We took a risk, because no band has gone eastwards to record. We had options to record in Scandinavia, USA, UK, Germany … and we decided to do something completely different. And it worked, it actually paid off.
The thing I love about the album is the directness of black metal mixed with a sense of melody and Mesopotamian and Sumerian mythology, as well as the Middle Eastern atmosphere. How did these influences creep into the Melechesh sound and what interests you about these themes?
It’s pretty obvious in one sense. We started the band in Jerusalem in Bethlehem, in the Middle East. We’re Mediterranean people. I’m Armenian and Syrian and my guitar player (Moloch) also has a Syrian background. I knew from day one when I started Melechesh that I wanted to do black metal, but with a Middle Eastern touch. The first rehearsal and the first song we did was raw black metal, yet there were Middle Eastern drum patterns, which I haven’t heard before in extreme metal. It’s worked because both heavy metal and Mediterranean music are coming from a tribal place. It’s diverse, and it’s evolved into all sorts of music. We kept on refining it to make it our own. Lyrically, the Sumerian stuff, is part of my culture. I like bands that toyed with Mesopotamian subjects. They used the fictional book, the Necronomicon. The ancient origin is related to the Assyrian Empire. It’s very interesting to see that we kind of belonged to this and we were fascinated as well. It felt natural to do it, and we took ownership of this.
I was interested in reading about the use of Indian scales, sitars and 12 string guitars used to create the unusual and trance-inducing sounds on The Epigenesis. Explain how you went about successfully integrating these elements into your music.
While we were playing the guitars, we were doing a thrash, black metal approach, or aggressively approaching even hard rock and metal. But we kind of do these scalings that are Mediterranean or Middle Eastern sounding. But we wanted to explore more of them with this album. We also went in a couple of places, Indian sounding scaling as well. We also use 12 string guitars because, the way we play 12 string electric guitars, we play it exactly like a six string, with power chords. We play it really aggressively. So it still sounds almost like a six string, but in the background, there’s this extra tone. Almost like it’s accompanied by a very low-volumed keyboard, in some parts. We use it on three songs. I thought that was a very refreshing thing. It made me look at the guitar in a different way, because the dynamics are different. We used the sitar and also the acoustic guitar. And that was a challenge to play, because I had to learn it there for a few days. I felt very comfortable to record with it. There were other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern instruments played on the album. I just want to clarify, first and foremost, we’re a metal band. There are direct enhancements accompanying the music and they fit very naturally, but the music is a hard rock relationship.
Was Quorthon and Bathory a direct influence on the music Melechesh create? Who else were an influence on you?
When I wanted to make Melechesh, I was extremely into the album The Return of Darkness and Evil by Bathory. Nothing was a demography or anything like that, it was just the music. A lot of what I know, the guy from Bathory (Quorthon), was a normal musician who wanted to make better albums. I find that album very charming, almost punk in attitude. That was influential at first. It doesn’t resemble us now at all, by far. Other stuff that influenced me was generally heavy metal and thrash metal music. It wasn’t particular bands. Music is evolution, and we all listened to music and wanted to be musicians ourselves. The trick is to then recreate something they used to listen to and those who create something new but still listen to both is acceptable. We’d like to think that we create new music without it being experimental.
You seem to not care about the so-called black metal code and incorporate different elements into your sound. Were you conscience of the whole ’90s black metal movement but wanted to stand on your own?
The whole movement? Let’s be real about it. Is it credible? I mean, there’s a lot of great bands I respect and like. In the older days, in the early ’90s there was a lot of people with the black (metal) feeling and I respect them. But we didn’t want to follow them, we just wanted to do our own thing. We liked that movement and we have albums from great musicians and we enjoyed the music they made, and the atmospheres they made. But we came from a completely different place, man. We came from Jerusalem, the holy city. And we did black metal and death metal, we were practicing … practice what you preach, or whatever. Sometimes I don’t see the credibility in metal, due to some people I suppose. Here’s an example. I was in Norway, and we met some of our Norwegian acquaintances. And there was an American girl there. She had a very strong accent. She didn’t sound American. So I found out she’d only been living there four months. I thought she had been living there for 10 or 15 years or something. I thought she grew up there. I thought she couldn’t be American, she was sounding more like Norwegian. I found it very funny. I had friends that were cool and were into black metal. And when they went there (Norway), they sucked in their voice and changed their accents There are a lot of people like that. Not very credible. People are not acting very credible now days. Luckily, there’s still a handful of credible bands and credible audiences.
I ascertain from your lyrics and music, that you’re into the occult, but do you consider yourselves Satanists. What are your religious views?
I don’t know. That’s the answer. But when I say I don’t know, don’t take it out of context. I’m still searching for what is concrete information about what’s life beyond. I don’t know. No one knows. There are no absolute terms when it comes to spirituality. No one has been to the other side. The rest are trained. You can say, “I would like to think as such.” And this I credit as more credible and absolute terms. As you can see, people of absolute terms have caused war, and have taken religion to extreme. And that’s just because of absolute terms — “They are right, they are wrong. End of story. That’s how it should be.” I certainly am trying to say right now, with my certain ability, is that I would never want to be one of those. I’m a learner, and I try to pick up everything that is useful for my own spiritual enhancement. I don’t like to impose my ideas on others. I can see through the lies very easily and I can see through the true conviction of things. Sometimes they are misled and sometimes they are not. It’s hard to understand more than that. I see more harm than good in organized religion. I find this subject very personal, yet we are dealing with that. So you can’t shy away from that, but it is a very complicated thing to talk about.
What’s next for Melechesh?
Just keep on making credible music that is original — our take on extreme metal. To create, not re-create. To lead, not to follow. At the moment, I can’t think too far ahead because everything is happening so fast right now. Just thinking about the next tour. We’ll be with Nile in Europe and Rotting Christ in the States. More festivals and more concerts next year and then start thinking of new music.
By Kelley Simms