Just to Hear What He Sphynx
CoC interviews Moloch of Melechesh
by: Aaron McKay
If you've never heard the new effort from Melechesh, entitled _Sphynx_, this interview was conducted give you reason to remedy that -- not that you should need it. This effort -smokes- and has everything your enraptured heart could desire. From start to finish, Melechesh makes giant steps forward on this disc to push the envelope of metal as we now know it. Cop a squat and absorb the insight presented here about one of the genre's best kept secrets.

CoC: To begin, Moloch, congratulations on _Sphynx_! It is a killer release, for certain. How would you compare it to your other releases? Say, _Djinn_ and possibly the 7" limited release, _The Siege of Lachish_?

Moloch: Thanks for everything. To answer your question, _The Siege of Lachish_ started it all in 1996, when we used, for the first time, Middle Eastern rhythmic patterns and melodies with extreme metal on the title track. So everything started there and continued on _As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar_ and then _Djinn_. Compared to the latest, _Sphynx_ is a more in-your-face album, it's heavier and thrashier. All albums are Melechesh albums, and all have the same trademark, the same Mesopotamian metal sound (except for _AJB_ which is more traditional black metal). It's important for us to have our own sound, but at the same time not sound exactly the same twice. That why _Sphynx_ explores other dimensions that were left untouched when we wrote _Djinn_ or earlier material.

CoC: Labels like Mesopotamian black metal seem to mean precious little when describing all that is involved with the complicated sound of this band, though; does that label restrict Melechesh, do you think?

M: I don't know. We forged the label of Mesopotamian metal to find words to describe our music, but I don't really believe in labels. You can manipulate words as much as you want; the music doesn't necessarily follow. But in the case of Melechesh it does, that's the reason why we stick with the label of Mesopotamian metal, without sticking to the whole labeling thing in general. But you can call it what you want, it's still Melechesh! I believe that with _Sphynx_ we have reached a point where Melechesh has its own sound and trademark, and that's what really matters. The label doesn't restrict Melechesh because both are coextensive: Melechesh is Mesopotamian metal and vice versa; if one changes so does the other. It just represents the whole world the Melechesh spirit dwells in, and there are still many aspects that we need to discover.

CoC: Most people already understand the impressive background and origins of Melechesh, so I won't waste your time rehashing it here. That said, the band has come a -long- way since the underground scene in 1993 -- what would you attribute this to?

M: I think the fact that this band was built on a will of creating its own sound made us go through these ten years. When you have things to discover and to create you don't get discouraged. On a musical level, you're pushed to continue because you feel that you're getting somewhere, and on a personal level, the music you do is a kind of spiritual fulfillment. Besides all this, it's also the discipline, will and respect that we have as band members towards each other and towards what we do in Melechesh.

CoC: As a key member of Melechesh, you seem to contribute a great deal to the band's overall. How does the membership dynamic work within Melechesh?

M: Yes, I've been there since the beginning with Ashmedi, and so far everything has gone through the two of us before happening. But it is actually Ashmedi who is the key member of Melechesh, because he came up with the whole idea and he has always been the main composer. He's also managing the whole thing (even if it's something he doesn't particularly appreciate!). But Al'Hazred (bass) and I co-composed some tracks and Proscriptor (from Absu) wrote half of the lyrics on _Sphynx_. We all contribute, because each of us can bring different aspects to the band that can only make it more interesting -- be it musically, lyrically, visually, etc. But, of course, there is always a limit, because a band cannot have its own sound and trademark if it's only a free expression zone for all its members.

CoC: Specifically, about the three minute mark on the new release, track three, "Annunaki's Golden Thrones", is a personal favorite on the album. Would you elaborate a bit on that song and the heaviness of that cut found on the track, please?

M: That track is the fastest song on the album. We're more of a mid-tempo band, no need to go two thousand miles an hour to be heavy, but in some cases it helps -- and that's when "Annunaki's Golden Thrones" comes in. Conceptually, the song deals with a visual hallucination of the planet Nebiru, where the Annunaki Giants were supposed to come from in Mesopotamian mythology. The planet appears as a cosmic desert, with too much gravity -- a sort of black hole, but made of sand.

CoC: Hands down, the -thick- feel of "Apkallu Counsel" is my choice for another of the premier cuts off _Sphynx_! It changes texture, from start to finish, with ease, but never leaves the listener questioning the ultimate direction of the track. What are your thoughts on this song, and do you attribute that to Melechesh's 'no bullshit' approach to metal?

M: "Apkallu Counsel" is one of those tracks that was written by us all; it's not your typical song with rock 'n' roll structure, and instead has a very complex progression of riffs and beats. It's like a story -- you pass from one world to another with riffs intertwining with other riffs, lots of breaks and rhythmic changes. All mid-tempo and fucking heavy! Like you say, it's complex, but it keeps your head banging. Lyrically, it deals with the myth of the Seven Sages (called the Apkallu Sages) who were wise men sent by the god Ea to bring seven arts and crafts to mankind.

CoC: In my opinion, the band has an incredibly fresh appeal, not only on this album, but your entire back catalog as well. Is this due to the unique composition of the band members, your topics of interest, both, or something else entirely?

M: It was the will of the band to create its own sound, find different rhythms, different ways of riffing, etc. Now on some albums you can really hear it, like _Djinn_ and _Sphynx_, and on [other] albums a bit less; that's the case of _As Jerusalem Burns... Al’Intisar_. Because first Breath of Nights Records wanted to re-release our demo, then we decided to re-record the demo and add some other material (everything which was straight to the point black metal with some oriental touches).

CoC: Just for a minute, I'd like to explore the lyrics behind _Sphynx_; obviously these are well-researched and in-depth. How would you say they differ from albums past, and what all goes into communicating what exactly Melechesh gets across to the listener?

M: Lyrically, we have always dealt with two main subjects: Mesopotamian culture (mythology, history, mysticism...) and the occult. The originality of _Sphynx_ is that all the lyrics are related conceptually. They all deal with the time in Mesopotamian mythology before humanity when the gods created men and brought them civilisation. That's the role of the Annunaki, or the Seven Sages, who it is believed came from another planet and from the sea (which was believed to surround earth) to bring civilization to men. Also there's the "Tablets of Fate", which were believed to contain the destiny of everything that lives -- the whole idea of Destiny introduces the notion of history and the withdrawal of humanity in time.

CoC: The two instrumentals on _Sphynx_ happen late on the CD. Some bands use tracks like this to develop an atmosphere, but it doesn't seem to me that is the case on the most recent Melechesh offering. Are they indeed there to create a mood on the album, or is there a more of a grand scheme to their inclusion on the disc?

M: They are there to create atmosphere and to plunge the listener deeper into our world. Also it's the space for us to use traditional oriental instruments that we play -- just another way to build the whole Mesopotamian ambiance.

CoC: From the onset, Melechesh seems to have a calculated edge to the band's sound that totally enraptures the listener, I believe. Do you think this is accurate, and how does Melechesh seem to consistently 'develop' without losing their core defining approach to metal?

M: It's hard, but the whole thing with Melechesh is to keep the extreme metal core. The main guitars will always remain heavy guitars, pounding drums and warm bass supporting everything. But our personal contribution is to bring the "Mesopotamian sounds" in these instruments by introducing new rhythms on drums inspired by Middle Eastern rhythmic patterns, and also on the guitars by finding different ways of riffing, scales, bridges, etc. We're ready to do almost anything in order to recreate the Mesopotamian feeling in our sound, except for one thing: losing the extreme metal core that is the basis of our music.

CoC: It seems the cover art on _Sphynx_ (by Mr. Woodall) is indeed a dramatic reflection on the material presented on the enclosed CD. Could you express some of your thoughts on how that came about and its connection to the tracks it represents?

M: We contacted Ron Woodall because we wanted someone that could easily express visually what we easily express musically and lyrically. Ron Woodall is a graphic designer in George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic. He worked in movies such as The Mummy, Star Wars, Jurassic Park; it's his job to create visually what a director sees in his head. So we contacted him, gave him the visions we had of the _Sphynx_, the whole conceptual background, and he delivered the result as you see it on the cover. To cut the whole story short, you see a Mesopotamian sphynx in a cosmic desert atmosphere, with light coming unto him from the sky. This light represents the civilization the gods were supposed to have brought to mankind. So basically, the sphynx is the guardian and symbol of this knowledge brought by the new race of gods that dethroned to old order (the one of the primordial gods: Tiamat, Apsu, Anshar, Kishar, Mummu, etc.).

CoC: I understand Ashmedi has an endorsement deal with Vigier Guitars. Can you tell us about that a little bit, please?

M: Ashmedi got in touch with Vigier Guitars because he had heard a lot about them. He sent them a promo package, they were interested, and they signed an endorsement deal. Ashmedi uses the Marilyn Guitar. It's a fucking great guitar, extremely light, every note sounds crystal clear.

CoC: Please end this with any parting words you might have for the Chronicles of Chaos readers...

M: Thanks a lot for the interview! For more information about _Sphynx_, you can check the enhanced CD-ROM section of the CD. For more info about the band, you can check out our site at www.melechesh.com.

(article submitted 10/8/2003)

2/4/2007 J Smit Melechesh: Frayed Ends of Sanity
8/12/2001 A Bromley Melechesh: Mesopotamian Hunger
11/15/2006 J Montague 8.5 Melechesh - Emissaries
8/31/2003 M Noll 8.5 Melechesh - Sphynx
8/12/2001 A Bromley 8 Melechesh - Djinn
7/14/1997 S Hoeltzel 8 Melechesh - As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar
3/28/2011 J Carbon Rotting Christ / Melechesh / Abigail Williams / Lecherous Nocturne / The Ziggurat The Gates of Sumeria
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