Melechesh – Sphynx Review

Originally written by Erik Thomas

Hindsight is 20/20 of course but after seeing this album on many a year end list I picked it up and when you consider Osmose recently released Bestial Mockery and Abominator, I’m truly blown away by some labels’ ability to sway from this fine, fine album to something like Bestial Mockery.

For those that don’t know, Melechesh are a (extremely talented) act from Israel (although I believe they have relocated to the Netherlands), who play an enthralling Mesopotamian black metal, and might be more famous for having Absu drummer Proscriptor in their ranks. While foreign to their two previous albums (As Jerusalem Burns… Al Intisar, and Djinn), it’s clear that this outfit is forward thinking, progressive and adventurous. While their Middle Eastern leanings may have some of you projecting images of Nile in your heads, forget it; Melechesh are far less brutal, but no less mystical as their desert like riffs and ancient lyrics are more graceful, and their overall sound seem far less forced with the entire album coming across like a audio book of the dead seas scrolls rather than some music with some Arabian riffs thrown in.

Not as chaotically raw as fellow Middle Easterners Arallu, and not death metal like Salem, Melechesh are fine crafters of deep, captivating songs that offer barrages of controlled blackened razor sharp fury along with interludes of ethnic artistry and twisting guitar work. The rich tapestry of sound produced is often hypnotic, as the riffs are dynamic; rarely predictable or stagnant. The overall feel Melechesh gave me was that of a snake sifting through the merciless heat of the desert-shifting and slithering as a symbiotic musical creation of both the loathsome and the beautiful. “Of Mercury and Mercury”, begins with a rousing war chant and riff, before opening up some stellar guitar work from Ashmedi and Moloch that bridges riffs in an eclectic manner more akin to Emperor. The fact Melechesh seem to ignore boundaries, make Melechesh resistant to being pigeonholed, as their sound covers all realms or extremity with the same eloquence. As if to deliberately offset the prior song’s writhing pace, the blistering tempo that starts “Secrets of Sumerian Sphynxology” is a sandstorm of savagery equaling Absu or Arallu, but still, the deft understated riff behind the main assault is clever and compelling. As with most of the songs, it slows down to a more manageable pace to allow the more controlled Sumerian/Mesopotamian elements to breathe, but still the sheer artistry of the band never stops even during the more peaceful sweeping respites.

What I also enjoy about Melechesh is the Middle Eastern element never seems forced-they are content to allow a natural infusion of Arabian grandeur permeate the songs, not just throw in a Lawrence of Instrumental tracks “The Arrival Ritual” and “Caravans to Ur”, while containing the most ethnicity of all the songs on Sphynx, never comes across as hokey or forced, but purely elemental and ingrained within the music.

The Andy LaRoque production is a little thin for my taste, imbuing crystal clear spring water rather than a vast, hazy desert scape or unspeakable evil ritual below the earth. But it’s such a minor quibble on such an interesting and attention sapping album, you will hardly notice the sounds as the mesmerizing structures and riffs dance before you like a dancing serpent-ready to strike in an instant, and often Melechesh do.. Throw in fitting cover of Celtic Frost’s “Babylon Fell”, and I can see why this album found its way into a few top ten lists for 2003, as in hindsight I may have had to so some rethinking. Osmose seems to find some killer acts and then some not so great acts, this ranks up there with not only the best on their roster but possibly the scene.

Posted by Old Guard

The retired elite of LastRites/MetalReview.

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