Middle Eastern metallers Melechesh have built a solid reputation in the metal underground over the years. Over the course of a 22 year career the band have become a key figure in black metal. We speak to frontman and mastermind of the band, Ashmedi, to discuss the band’s brand new record Enki, the metal scene in the Middle East and the correct method when it comes to writing music.
Your new record, Enki, has been out for several weeks now. How have you found the early reception?
Ashmedi: It’s been very good! It’s been very well received worldwide, I mean it’s topping the playlists of journalists and it’s got good reviews. It also entered the charts in Germany so yeah it has been received well.
When it came to start recording for that album, did you try to improve the sound compared to your previous records?
Ashmedi: No, we never do that. We just go in and we take it step by step without looking behind yknow? We just record what we feel is right and what compliments the music so that is why none of our albums sound the same, even audio wise.
You started the band back in 1993, was this to try and kick start the metal scene in the Middle East?
Ashmedi: Well there wasn’t much of a scene at all, in Jerusalem there was a little scene. Afterwards in the Middle East situation, the scene was more or less non-existent. To represent the area we were trying to be like black metal or black thrash which comes from our area. Since many bands in the west sing about subjects from our culture, we might as well do it also.
When you started building the band and started releasing music, was it difficult to build a reputation in that area of the world?
Ashmedi: We never knew we were getting known, there wasn’t the communication we have today and you can’t forget that there aren’t diplomatic relations with the countries there. I think through the internet we just started getting known so that was pretty cool. But it was hard also to break through everywhere in the world, why sign a black metal band from the Holy City which are practising what you preach when you can sign privileged people from a suburban place in Europe? That’s what was going on at the time.
And do you think that with your style of music and where you originate from gives the band a unique edge?
Ashmedi: For sure yeah; the Mediterranean drum beats work well with the metal music. It’s also how you do it, it’s not like black and white; you don’t put this with this and it works, you have to plan the music and be a good composer. If I was a bad composer, it wouldn’t sound right.
You and the rest of the band relocated to Europe in 1998, what actually fuelled that move?
Ashmedi: Mainly demographic reasons but we also wanted to progress our music and move forward with our lives. Being in Jerusalem and not being Israeli or Palestinian, you are kind of stuck in the middle of the conflict that you don’t want to be part of.
With all of the political things going on at the time and even today, was it dangerous to be part of the heavy metal subculture?
Ashmedi: Being involved with metal in Israel was never a problem. Israel is liberal for the Israeli’s, it’s a very liberal lifestyle. We are black metal in Jerusalem, that kind of raised some eyebrows yknow haha? Taking our demographic background, that didn’t help as well.
And now with the internet today you have bands emerging from all over the world, do you pay much attention to the Middle Eastern scene?
Ashmedi: Not so much. A lot of extreme metal bands are not very good at playing any more and they don’t compose so well, they are just copying each other all over the world. So I’m getting disenchanted, I’m not listening to a lot of bands. But I know there are a few good bands in the Middle East.
In 2008, Melechesh signed to Nuclear Blast, one of the biggest labels in the world for metal. Do you think since signing with them it’s helped promote the band to bigger and better things?
Ashmedi: Well we wanted a label that has better distribution and reach so for sure yeah! They are a big label so they can reach more people.
As the band got really big, you started writing monthly columns for magazines around the world. Given that from a journalist perspective, do you think that is helping promote the band as well?
Ashmedi: I don’t know, I mean everything you do can promote the band. You could also start a fight in the street and that would promote the band haha! The problem is trying to be as credible as possible. My columns weren’t really journalism, it was more like writing my own biography because of the story of my life. It was nice to do, I like writing.
So when it came down to writing music, what influences and factors do you bring to the table?
Ashmedi: I listen to lots of different types of music so when I’m writing it’s not mechanical. Again, death metal and black metal are so mechanical, even in the studio. But for us this is intuitive, this is honest. What you do is you just listen to music and get influenced and it seeps into your music without you really noticing; be it Indian raga or hard rock, psychedelic rock or rock like metal. You as a maker of music get the ingredients of music and you make the songs. Too often people have this logical answer because the music is becoming so logical, it’s like trying to describe when you are horny exactly per verbal word. It is a bitter, sour, anxious, tiring feeling. Nobody can explain it. And that is being honest about music.
The band has the traditional Middle Eastern sound involved as well. Was this always an aim of the band, to include that alongside the traditional black metal formula?
Ashmedi: Well we always say first and foremost that we are a metal band. We don’t use the traditional elements as a gimmick to hide behind, if they are used it is just as a cosmetic.
You got announced for Incineration Festival in London on May 9th. Are you looking forward to performing there?
Ashmedi: For us it is part of our European tour actually, so we are going to be stopping there. But yeah of course I am looking forward to playing, the last time we played in London was 2011 and that was great, we had a great reception so I’m looking forward to playing there again for sure!
Does it still surprise you today when you go on tour and you see that you have so many fans of your band?
Ashmedi: Why is it a surprise? We are getting more and more noticed. It is impressive yes but not surprising. But it is a good thing.
And really my last question is, now the record is out and you have got Incineration Festival and the European tour. What is next for the band following that?
Ashmedi: We have festivals everywhere and we have to do some touring in the States so we are going to be quite busy!
Well I really appreciate your time, thank you.
Ashmedi: Cheers, bye.
Enki is out now via Nuclear Blast.
Melechesh perform at Incineration Festival on May 9th.