Metal Part III: Assyrian Occult Death Metal

Melechesh is one of the most unique bands I’ve ever come across. Its Assyrian and Armenian founders from Jerusalem were set on creating a Middle Eastern black death metal band with occult themes to regional spiritualities, namely the ancient Mesopotamian polytheistic religion that reaches as far back as 3500 B.C. With pride in their heritage, the band members of Melechesh write their music with a timeless, spiritual quality as an ode to these dead gods and an exploration of philosophy the modern era has lost.

Cartoon by Lo Wall

“Ladders to Sumeria” is an immensely catchy track for the listener to warm up to the band. Gratifying Middle Eastern-inspired riffs drive the melody of the track, with hoarse, hissing vocals on top. The drums vary between classical death metal patterns to slow, understated rock beats. Then after a drum roll, the drummer breaks into a violent blast beat, emboldening eight bars of music.

A “blast beat” is comprised of relentless sixteenth notes in a symmetric and simple, but remarkably fast pattern. Typically, as in “Ladders to Sumeria,” the sixteenth notes are kept in the kick drum where the drummer blasts away at two kick pedals with both feet. Other genres don’t use more than one kick pedal, but metal drummers need two to convey sheer violence on the ear by accentuating the section with an underline.

The lyrics accompanied by the blast beat read, “On the grand white temple of Uruk / Lie the zenith mark… Ascension.” An ancient city-state, Uruk was a great regional power whose influence was symbolized by a white temple atop a ziggurat. The temple was embalmed in a gypsum plaster that would reflect sunlight to onlookers for miles across the plain of Sumer (now Iraq). A limestone staircase was climbed in processional rites to reach the ziggurat, hence the name “Ladders to Sumeria.” While the “grand white temple” symbolized the political prowess of Uruk, in “Ladders to Sumeria” it symbolizes the dominance of ancient civilizations in Mesopotamia—the heritage of the band.

Enki is the album where Melechesh hits a consistent, polished stride. The album art resembles an Alex Grey painting, with intricate, interwoven patterns, and depictions of sphinxes and gods all imparting a psychedelic Assyrian aesthetic.

With marching blast beats, guitarists’ shredding exotic melodies, and screeching vocals, the opening track “Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged” invokes the hot rage of a disappointed god. The lyrics spell out the perspective of Enlil, a Mesopotamian god who determined the fate of the Earth and granted kingship, saying “Inheritors of Earth awake / You have lost your ways / A blanket of hypnos seal the pale.” While the ancient kingdom of Mesopotamia was vibrant with life, divinity, and virtue, Enlil is enraged that the inheritors of that kingdom have lost their way with apathy.

The observation of Enlil rings particularly true in the current region of the Middle East, where the ancient kingdom of Assyria ruled. In an interview, Ashmedi, the creator and head of Melechesh, explained how many of the lyrics in Enki, particularly in the track “Lost Tribes,” are a reaction to a traumatizing event where his cousin was shot by a member of ISIS. When asked about the destruction of ancient Assyrian artifacts and archaeological sites at the hands of ISIS and religious fanatics, Ashmedi responded, “How can you destroy and erase the history and culture of all the proud and ancient people that once dwelled and prospered in that region?” (Interview: “Ashmedi from Melechesh,” Echoes and Dust). Through allusions to ancient gods in his music, Ashmedi describes his outrage at the destruction and fall from grace of his home, while also lamenting the tribalism of laws that persecute his family for their Christian beliefs.

In “Lost Tribes”, Ashmedi directly addresses religious fanatics, such as those who shot his cousin: “Your omni / Two-faced idol has lost your dignified origin / It weighs you down.” Here, “omni” might reference Allah as the all-powerful god, where two-faced references the fanatics’ perversion of their faith. The “dignified origin” laments the trampling of the vestiges of Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization. The chorus echoes the sentiment, reflecting the lost civility and grace of the region: “Lost tribes / Look beneath the roots / Rise / Leave the cross you bear / It weighs you down.”

Much like Horrendous, the band explored in the previous two articles, Ashmedi and his band Melechesh lament the perversion of modern society and call to the latent divinity within.

Below is a link to a Spotify playlist with the songs and albums by Horrendous and Melechesh mentioned in the last three articles.

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