Black metal traditionally invokes sensations of darkness and cold. First realized in the bleak winters of Scandinavia, it's since spread like plague around the globe as more metalheads have identified with its inherent malice. What makes the subgenre so fascinating isn't its traditionalism; rather, it's an emphasis on atmosphere over technique that's paved the way for drastic evolutions of style.
Jerusalem's Melechesh are chief among the bands who've left the standard black metal template behind and struck out for territories all their own. If the subgenre typically exudes iciness and murk, this Israeli quartet's version opts for searing clarity and heat instead. Melechesh's discography captures this gradual transformation expertly, standing as both a marked deviation from black metal's blueprint and a defiant stand against convention in general.
2010's The Epigenesis is no exception, manifesting as the latest in a long succession of mesmerizing releases from the band. For the uninitiated, Melechesh's style of "Mesopotamian metal" consists of odd time signatures, seductive rhythms, and overwhelming majesty. Exotic yet extreme, it perfectly captures the tension and mysticism of the band's native Middle East.
Take "Ghouls of Ninevah." Droning like an esoteric chant, its hypnotic guitar grooves and ever-shifting percussion are nothing short of trance-inducing. After this, "Grand Gathas of Baal Sin" snaps the spell with a sandstorm of blastbeats and whirling melodies. Gradually, it coalesces into a march through abrasive, speed-picked guitar lines and ominous, pulsing percussion. "Sacred Geometry," for its part, opens with a flurry of chaotic guitar notes that's downright algebraic, only to burst into galloping grooves like charging Bedouin raiders.
What follows are the smoky opening chords of "The Magickan and the Drones." Ethereal and wispy, they drape over eardrums like incense before exploding into a hack-and-slash of roaring guitars and thunderous drumming. "Mystics of the Pillar" next shimmies with a belly-dancer's lithe rhythm, if belly-dancers were guitar riffs that crush eardrums. It all leads towards "When Halos of Candles Collide," an eerie journey through alien tones that's at once sinister and otherworldly. Quiet and moody, it provides the album's longest respite before the band strikes again like a cobra.
"Defeating the Giants" is that moment, Melechesh clubbing listeners with a barrage of blastbeats and unchanging riffs. "Illumination – The Face of Shamash," meanwhile, starts as a dull rumble before swelling into a torrent of booming riffs and speed-picked guitar notes. It soon works itself into frenzy, culminating in one of the record's best extended jam sessions. "Negative Theology" rounds out the trio, providing a musical palette-cleanser by way of twisting, turning metal.
Everything beforehand prepares the way for "The Greater Chain of Being," itself the introduction to the album's massive title track. It's a mix of tribal drumming and Middle Eastern string instruments which clears one's mind for the daunting finale. Said tune – "The Epigenesis" – is a dizzying adventure through menacing palm-mutes, fluid drumming, and goliath guitar attacks. Serving as both journey and destination, it proves to be an intoxicating last chapter for Melechesh's latest round of mind-blowing music.
The Middle East could someday be as renowned as other heavy metal hotspots for its quality of musical output. For now, The Epigenesis towers like a monolith over the competition. Melechesh are the region's ruling regents, and if they keep creating music this worthwhile, it won't be long before they conquer the rest of the world.
Ghouls of Ninevah
Grand Gathas of Baal Sin
The Magickan and the Drones
Mystics of the Pillar
When Halos of Candles Collide
Defeating the Giants
Illumination – The Face of Shamash
The Greater Chain of Being
Check 'em out at www.myspace.com/melechesh
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. His writing also appears on his Heavy Metal Hensch blog at The Washington Times.