Interview with vocalist and guitarist Ashmedi
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: August 2, 2015
Originally based in Jerusalem, Israel and using the Hebrew word meaning "King of Fire" the band Melechesh, led by Murat Cenan (a.k.a. Melechesh Ashmedi) released their 6th studio album of Mesopotamian/Sumerian-themed music on Nuclear Blast Records at the beginning of 2015. The band has become known for their strong Middle Eastern influences over the years and Enki is no exception to the rule.
At the beginning of the band's existence religious controversial surrounded the Metal act in their homeland of Israel. In 1998 Melechesh made the decision to relocate to The Netherlands in order to continue without all the hassles from the religious authorities. With each new record Melechesh's fan base has been getting larger all over the world a fact that has allowed the band to tour many corners of the globe.
The following interview with the songwriter and brains of Melechesh mostly deals with the band's latest album but Ashmedi also talked about some other "hot topics" in our conversation.
Luxi: So, this is your first concert on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise. What kind of experience was it? Would you do it again if you were invited?
Ashmedi: At first I did not know what to expect and I was actually quite apprehensive about the whole thing but it turned out to be fantastic. It was a good start for us, concert-wise and we needed a vacation.
Luxi: Were you happy with the way the cruise was organized or was there anything you'd like to direct to the organizers as constructive criticism?
Ashmedi: Yes sure, we'd definitely want to do it again. As I said it was a very positive experience and everybody there was very cool. We liked it very much. As for the constructive criticism, it was a well-organized cruise. I actually liked everything about it personally except that in the beginning the lines were insane waiting to get on the boat. But other than that I really cannot complain. I mean, organizing something this huge obviously isn't easy. I am pretty happy with it all in all.
Luxi: Enki is the title of Melechesh's sixth studio album, which was released in Europe at the end of February, March 3rd in the UK and March 10th in the States. I just learned that Enki is a god of Sumerian mythology (later known as Ea in Akkadian and Babylonian mythology). Why did you choose this name for the album? Is there a concept or story related to Enki that links all the songs to each other in one way or the other?
Ashmedi: There's no concept behind the album. Melechesh is a band like - how can I say it - a band with an idea; a band with themes but no single concept. Enki is a suitable title because I am very interested in the creation of mankind and Enki created mankind; he's the god of gods. We used the word as a focal point or landmark for the entire album but it's not a concept album at all.
Luxi: Your previous album, The Epigenesis, was completely recorded, mixed and mastered in Istanbul, Turkey. Enki was recorded in Athens, Greece and in New York, USA (drums) and mixed and mastered in Avesta, Sweden. Why did you use different studios this time? Wouldn't it have been easier to do everything in one studio like you did for The Epigenesis?
Ashmedi: Yes,The Epigenesis was done in Istanbul. The studio was huge and everything was in-house so we did the entire project there. In Enki's case we had to go to several studios to test theircapabilities. At first we were approached by the studio, which records guitars, bass and vocals and also does mixing. Later we had to find a studio for the drums and that was a long story. We found one that was fantastic. Then we went back to the first studio, Grindhouse in New York, for mixing but when we heard the result we felt like we need to re-mix it. This advice came from our record company so re-mixed the whole thing with Jonas (Kjellgren) at Black Lounge Studios in Sweden. In the end it turned out fantastic. Yeah, maybe it could have been easier working at one studio but this is how it worked out.
Luxi: What was it like making Enki from scratch? All your previous studio albums have been very unique in their own way and have received lots of praise from Metal fans around the world. Did that put any pressure on you to top yourself? Was there a time table or expectations from Nuclear Blast?
Ashmedi: Yeah, there was a lot of pressure and to start from zero was demanding. It is like building up a country or making a kid or making a movie. When you start at the beginning it's always a little overwhelming but when there's a will, there's a way. It just takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication. I remember I was stressed at first because we did something like eight tours and I am doing most of the writing on my own. It becomes an issue of man hours. It took a long time to write this new album but in the end it all turned out well and that's what counts. If it didn't turn out well it would have been a disaster for me. But we averted disaster and Melechesh proved themselves one more time.
As for strict timetables I don't like them. You can never compromise your art because of time; the album is there for all time. There music is eternal so what will a few days change, if you know what I mean. For Melechesh it is sometimes a dilemma because the way we usually work is like "artistic Rock" or "alternative project" yet we are an extreme Metal band and very often extreme Metal bands just go in to record their parts and leave and that's pretty much the market or scene that we are in. The way how we operate is more like a creative Rock band and that means it takes a long time to get things finished. Sometimes we feel that we need days for improvising things or changing things so sticking to timetables is really difficult but still reasonable of course. It's not like we would deliver the album in January and not release it until the end of the year. It does not work that way. It's just a one or two-month delay and nothing more than that. We are doing our best, you know. The record label tends to back us with that, so why not?
Luxi: Are you happy with how Enki turned out, both its content and production? Do you feel like Enki might be the most pleasing record you have done with the band thus far?
Ashmedi: Yeah, I think Enki turned out fantastic and that's not because it's the new album or anything. I heard the final mix while driving a car and then went away to get some "brain rest" on the 70,000 Tons of Metal (I barely slept) and then came back and listened to it again I just smiled and said "wow, this is just overwhelming; this is a very good album". So yes, I am very happy with the way it turned out. I have no regrets and there's nothing there on the album I would like to change afterwards.
Luxi: What can you tell us about the cover artwork on Enki? How much personal influence did you have on it?
Ashmedi: Yes, the artwork is always a little bit of a collage; it's not just one theme. A lot of it is based on various themes in our lyrics and the mood that we built. I always write a bunch of moods and send those with the lyrics and song titles to the artist, he starts sketching and from there we pick it up. The central design of the palm is basically the song "The Palm the Eye and Lapis Lazuli". The straight pillars are like the song "Doorways to Irkala". It is an inclusive art; we are blending, agalmating Persian, Middle Eastern, Sumerian, whatever works. It's an inclusive vision this organized chaos that we do.
Luxi: Since the days of The Epigenesis you have changed your drummer and bassist. Your old drummer Lord Curse, who was with the band as far back as the As Jerusalem Burns demo in 1995, is already back in the recording line-up and you have a guy called Scorpios playing bass on Enki. How well have they fit in the Melechesh line-up?
Ashmedi: I don't know. Look, I write the music and I just want to keep good and motivated people around me. That's the only criteria because you don't want someone dragging you down. You don't want someone to throw a bucket of water on the fire. For me, as long as your character is cool, you are an ok person, you are dedicated, you want to come to all the shows and you want to ADD fire to the band, then you are welcome. If not, you are not welcome. As you can hear, the album turned out well. That's all I can say. I am very happy with Scorpios in the live setting; he's been doing a great job. And Lord Curse does not tour anyways, so he's a good friend and always will be, so we just decided to do it like that this time.
Luxi: Did they bring anything new to the recording sessions for Enki? Were they able to support the same musical and artistic vision that you had in mind for this new record?
Ashmedi: I don't know what to say to this question. Melechesh is done the way it's been done; not many people bring much into it. Scorpios plays with his fingers and not with a guitar pick for the most part. That adds a little bit to the "bounce" of the bass. Then again, you have a band like Metallica that use a guitar pick in the recording. There's no good or bad, just different. In this case the bass was played with plucking fingers and that's cool. He did a good job at recording as well, so...
Luxi: What happened to Rahm and Xul and why were they replaced? Was lack of motivation the reason they are not a part of the band any more?
Ashmedi: I don't want to talk about that. It's the past and it's irrelevant. Nobody knew Rahm before and no one knows him now, so end of story. He was really into the music but more for the travel. I wish him the best. He has a good heart - he's not an evil guy. Yuri, who is Xul, I think was overwhelmed. He's the type of a guy that likes taking life at a slower pace and we are on a faster pace. We are still in touch and I wish him good luck.
Luxi: Do you have any plans to shoot a video for one of the songs off Enki to help promote the album?
Ashmedi: Yea, we could have done it by now but I am so antsy about it. The budget for recording a video clip is not big and you have to get the band represented in a visual way. It's just scary for me, you know. The band is being presented visually so, until I find the right situation and sceneryto make a clip, there won't be one. There's a budget for it and the record label expects me to do one but I won't until I will find the right environment.
Luxi: Melechesh have always been connected with Mesopotamian and/or Sumerian mythology. What are some of your recollections from your youth when you started studying these mythologies in a deeper and more detailed way?
Ashmedi: One of my first experiences was "Wow, this is my culture. I am so proud of it". I see a lot of bands singing about it. We were told you have to be proud of it. It's a very old heritage, you know. There is a lot of pride but then when I started getting into mythologies I found they were so twisted and metaphoric. It's mind-boggling and maybe that's why they a little hard to decipher. But it's also less marketed than, say Egyptian stuff, because that story spread from France and America when the exhibitions came around and created a big awareness for Egyptian stuff. It got into popular culture much more quickly.
Luxi: Since all this history related to Sumerian mythology isn't something that every Metal fan knows much about, do you think many Metal fans that like Melechesh's music don't pay much attention to the lyrics because they are so hard to understand?
Ashmedi: Well, Melechesh is a band that plays music and has lyrics and even a message within the lyrics. Saying fans don't pay attention to our lyrics; c'mon, gimme a break. If you listen to a lot of extreme Metal bands the lyrics are pretty crappy and people don't really care. They just want to listen to the music and have a good time and/or bang their heads. However, if you choose to dig and find substance, that's what we offer. That's the option we give to people. They don't have to know exactly what we are talking about, but if they want to know more, it's all there. They can research it. At least there's substance and not just empty mumbo-jumbo. Besides, it's our thing and I am very proud of it.
Luxi: You played a gig in Jerusalem on March 28th of this year and it was your first show there in 11 years. Was it easy to get the gig booked there knowing that you had to relocate the band to The Netherlands?What did you expect from your show in the "Holy Land"?Has the religious climate changed in Jerusalem to be more favorable for Melechesh?
Ashmedi: The gig in Jerusalem went just fine... or wait, it was not in Jerusalem but in Tel Aviv. It was very good to see the origins of Melechesh. Nobody bothered us and everything went fine though there was a little bit hassle for me personally at the airport leaving the country. But yeah, the show went great and the crowd's reaction was very good and that what really counts.
Luxi: When you released your infamous As Jerusalem Burns... demo in 1995, do you believe that it was a bit too much for some religious groups and authorities in your ex-home country and that led to the decision to leave the country back in the day?
Ashmedi: Jerusalem has always been burning metaphorically speaking. There's always been fighting. When I say something in my lyrics, it is from the metaphorical point of view and not "physical" in any way. I like the city. When you say such things, some people really get upset and some people don't. It depends on the state of mind of these people. Maybe we did them a favor because everybody needs a crusade. Look at the ultra-fanatic Christians around the world; when they picketconcerts, they are happy. They have a cause. Otherwise they are living a mundane life. We give them their Lord of the Rings and maybe that's what we did when we released As Jerusalem Burns... It is a metaphoric title in any case.
Luxi: Have you had trouble in other strongly religious countries?
Ashmedi: In other countries we have not. We have had a few people showing up to concerts and holding signs but you can tell they are full of hypocrisy. It's very mundane and sad. In a way it's all for no reason. It just goes "poof!" Oh well...
Luxi: Are you enjoying life in Germany where you recently moved to from The Netherlands? Did you not enjoy living in The Netherlands?
Ashmedi: I lived in Holland for around six years and I just moved to Germany. No, I did not enjoy living there. I don't like the weather or a lot of other things there like the social structure. A lot of people over there look friendly and smile but deep inside they are lonely and depressed. I met a record number of depressed people. Due to the social structure, individualism is misinterpreted and people are lonely. Being an individual that means you think your own way and you don't have to prove anything. I didn't like it much but from a practical point of view for the band it was good. Personally, I did not meet many interesting people there. I met a few good people with good hearts like everywhere in the world but I don't have deep or great memories of living there. Anyway, I have moved on and things are back to normal and stabilized, which is why I am happier again.
Luxi: Overall Israel seems to have a bunch of new Metal bands that have a good chance to break into the international Metal music scene. Melechesh is a very good example and bands like Hammercult, Shredhead, Spawn of Evil and others seem to have the potential to make it big some day. What do you think of the current Israeli Metal scene?
Ashmedi: Well, I don't know much about the Israeli Metal scene because I haven't been there for so long. Also, we have never been a true Israeli band. None of the members are actually Israeli citizens. We were a little ostracized yet on the other hand many bands applaud and support us so, like everywhere in the world there are different opinions and states of mind. There is some talent in Israeli as far as some upcoming bands are concerned and that's undeniable. I hope all that talent continues making music. We are all on the same side making music, right?
Luxi: Can you tell us about your touring plans for this year?
Ashmedi: As for gigging plans, we are doing festival shows this year for sure. We just finished a headlining tour which was a lot of fun. We played with Keep of Kalessin, Tribulation and Embryo but we have to do the other side of Europe as well meaning we have to go to Scandinavia, the Balkans and the Baltics, hopefully as soon as possible. I am sure it will not be before early 2016. Meanwhile we're busy doing festivals. We have a few festivals lined up including going to Columbia, to do this HUGE event there (Rock al Parque, the largest music festival in Columbia, held in Bogotá since 1995 - Luxi). I am really looking forward to that.
Luxi: Are there some goals that you would still like to achieve with this band?
Ashmedi: Something that I would like to do is an interesting DVD where we get to jam and play medleys, free style, without imitation and not just audition our own songs. I'd like to do this in a suitable setting, like in a desert or something. By the way, doing it in a desert is very good because it's like being in a studio; there's no sound bouncing. But it takes a lot of effort to convince people to do that when it comes to the business side of things. Another idea is to make medleysof Melechesh riffs and to play them with acoustic instruments. These things I'd like to achieve, sooner or later.
Luxi: I guess that's all I had in mind at this time. Thank you so much for time Ashmedi, and hopefully 2015 will turn out to be favorable for Melechesh. Do you have any closing comments?
Ashmedi: Thanks a lot for your interview my friend and I am so sorry for all the delays. Forgive me and take care my friend.
|Other information about Melechesh on this site|
|Review: As Jerusalem Burns… Al'Intisar|
|Review: The Epigenesis|
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