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Melechesh

Emissaries

Review by Mike Korn

This is one of those albums that's not only a high water mark for the band, but for the entire genre they work in. Emissaries is an effort that clicks in every way possible and which has already emerged as my favorite metal release of 2007. The idea of extreme metal based on Middle Eastern motifs is not a new one. To name the most obvious example, Nile has blended Cannibal Corpse-style death metal with an ancient Egyptian vibe. Morbid Angel has also been known to dabble in Middle Eastern riffs and guitar stylings. But with Melechesh, this esoteric art is completely perfected in every way. Every hammering note and screaming guitar tone on Emissaries is redolent of the ancient world of Sumeria, Mesopotamia and Assyria. Even the drumming is notably different and reflects these long-gone empires. As you listen to the harshness of this music, your inner mind envisions stark columns and monuments rising from the shimmering desert sands. And at the same time, you're getting blasted by 100% thrashing death metal with a strong feeling of black metal added to it. This is not Melechesh's first CD but it's the distillation and perfection of all that has gone before. This is the album they've been building towards and it will stand as an all-time monument of the metal art in much the same way that the Sphinx has outlasted the remains of lesser cultures.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Rebirth of the Nemesis
Wow! A scorching hellfire wind of fury comes blasting right out of the desert with this opening barrage. Not only does one immediately note the war-like "Mesopotamian" feel to the music, but also the very harsh and acidic guitar sound, which matches Ashmedi's rasping black metal roars. This is the music of ancient demons marching to battle, conquering all before them! So awesome!
Ladders to Sumeria
Not quite as blazingly ferocious as the first cut, this is still heavier than the pyramids. Based on some classic Middle Eastern riffing, this allows drummer Xul to show his sophisticated chops, demonstrating some unusual timing not found in most "Western" heavy metal. The chanting vocals on the chorus take some getting used to but add to the authenticity of the "Sumerian" sound. There's a lot of dynamics and shifting tempos going on here, but never enough to overload the listener or detract from the metal.
Deluge of Delusional Dreams
This cut breaks into two separate "acts". Act I is "Cast Tempest From the East" and cuts loose with a cool guitar arpeggio that builds and builds until it becomes a Mesopotamian monster! A bit more melodic that the previous cuts, the main theme sticks in the mind. More priest-like chanting embellishes the tune. Act II is "Enlil's Retaliation" and has a more groovy feel to it while still maintaining the quick pace of Act I. It's amazing how catchy this is and yet how completely raging at the same time! A slower riff towards the end reminds me of what can only be called a "Middle Eastern" breakdown. The lyrics are taken entirely from Sumerian writings.
Touching the Spheres of Sephiroth
This is the most overtly "black metal" of all the tracks and is a real blasting scorcher that unfolds at a whirlwind pace, hitting some truly awesome twin guitar work. This is short and to the point.
Gyroscope
The intensity drops somewhat, as this tune has more of a measured "power metal" feel to it, but still based completely on Mideastern motifs. It makes for a very cool break between the album's two heaviest cuts. I look at the credits and find out this is a cover of a song by Canadian psychedelic band The Tea Party! What an amazing adaptation Melechesh have made to their style. This proves how far ranging their talent and vision is!
Double Helixed Sceptre
Prepare to be crushed by the most intense Melechesh attack yet! Striking with the rage of Pharaoh's war chariots, this is just superb straightforward devastation show how well extreme metal and Sumerian/Mesopotamian themes mix. Ashmedi's vocals are more bitter and spiteful than usual. Some great mid-paced sections and demonic drumming help this classic unfold.
The Scribes of Kur
The album makes its only stumble with this acoustic, authentic instrumental. It's not that I mind a purely ethnic track...quite the opposite...but this just goes on for too long and shows too little variation in the main theme. A simple acoustic motif is repeated as percussion, woodwinds and other instruments join in gradually, making the track a dense exploration of a mysterious and mystical mood. It's an ambitious tune, but a couple of minutes trimmed from it would have helped.
Leper Jerusalem
It's back to metal with this bruising, simple cut based around a catchy, powerful riff that will get your head banging for sure. It makes a great "bookend" with "Double Helixed Sceptre" while maintaining its own separate identity.
Sand Grain Universe
Once this one really gets going, it's the fastest cut on the CD by far - just absolutely blazing and again anchored by Xul's superb drumming. The band never lose control of their instruments even at these incredible speeds and there's still some very cool "grooving" riffs to balance things out. Instead of easing up, the album increases in intensity as it goes on!
Emissaries and the Mysterium Magnum
The album proper ends with this epic, where the band eases up on the speed factor. Instead, this tune has an ominous "stalking" feel that is accentuated by the Middle Eastern feel. You can really picture in your head warriors and wizards of ancient Mesopotamia going into battle as you listen to this excellent track. It's tremendously atmospheric and crushing at the same time.
Hidden Track
Stick around for this "hidden" instrumental, which reminds me of a metalized Arabian war march. I would have stuck this in earlier, but that's a very minor quibble on an album of this amazing quality.
 
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