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Interviews   

Moloch & Aladdin


Hard to write an introduction for such a rewarding interview! As their latest successful album The Epigenesis is released, we were able to have chat with Moloch from Melechesh on the phone. The man who has a PhD in political philosophy and is also the guitarist of the band for the rest of the time discussed the album in detail. He described from the philosophical and spiritual interpretations of the album and song The Epigenesis up to the artwork and writing process. The album was recorded in Turkey, which unknown to most of us is a country that has important ties with the metal world. His portrayal is both interesting and full of praise.

Since Melechesh are the pioneers of the combination of metal with oriental sounds, we were curious to find out what Moloch thought of the sudden increase in recent bands using the same format. We both agreed that this increase often resulted in some hideous clichés or “Aladdin style music” as commented by the guitarist.

The interview ends on the subject of his double life as a musician and a thesis writer… Which could be interesting to all those who still wonder how to successfully juggle the two!

« Turkey is a country where it is simple to access Europe and the Near East quickly. […] For example, we were stuck in the studio at one in the morning because we couldn’t find a good guitar sound. A phone call later and the guitarist from Pentagram was there to help us find it with metal sounds. The next day, it was a flute sound, and once again, after another phone call, a music engineer specialised in oriental music arrived.»

Radio Metal : You stated that you wanted to change your habits and record outside of Europe. You found your inspiration in Turkey. Does this mean that you find Europe more inspirational?

Moloch (Guitar) : Well… I believe that it makes more sense to write our type of music in Eastern countries, which is where our band started. This does not mean that Europe is less inspirational for us but we needed something different this time. After having recorded in Sweden and Germany, we felt the need to write this next album from a different aspect and Istanbul happened to be the missing piece in the puzzle. I think that it added a lot to the album. After having spent many years in Europe, we needed to go back East and I believe that this was the right thing to do.

Does this mean that location is really that important to you and to the writing process?

Not really for the writing process because… (he hesistates)… actually, yes it is because we wrote most of our music in Holland and in Europe. As for the recording, it is really important to be in a good environment that brings inspiration because you are stuck in the studio for a month or two at a time. This really helps. I hadn’t felt so good since the first album. I think that we all agree that it was our best session in a long while. Istanbul played a great part in this, so yes it is really important.

We recently interviewed Wolf Hoffman (Accept), who told us that moving to a new country has no influence on music composing and that it was bullshit. Can you understand that some bands find inspiration in other origins and geographic locations or cultures than their own?

I do not agree with what he said. The advantage with Melechesh is that the band started in Jerusalem so it wasn’t hard to bring over our influences to Europe, having spent ten years in the Middle East. In a way, whether it is France or Holland it is not that hard. But there are other factors to take in depending on the place you find yourself in. The atmosphere in the streets, the climate… All of these things depend more or less on influence, a bit like the music that you listen to.

You say this about your relationship with music, but perhaps some people also get their inspiration from elsewhere: films, newspapers or life experiences…

Exactly, my influences cannot be reduced to only music. Lots of factors come into play when you write music. According to us, the location counts a lot, especially between Europe and the Middle East, which are completely different.

Throughout your career and since the band was formed, you have travelled a lot; first in France and then in Holland. This could explain why you need to change environment regularly to find inspiration…

Yes, moving around a lot is an advantage. First of all this has a lot of influence on us as people and then it plays a role in the music. When we started Melechesh, I didn’t know if we would change location for each album and whether we would be changing geographically or musically. For example, I live in the United States at the moment. This enriches the band when others might think that it would destroy our band.

Could it be said that you feel obliged to change environment each time you make a new album?

It has become a rule for us to change each time otherwise we could be remaking the same album. We love doing that and it would be boring to repeat ourselves. Of course, our band has an identity, a base but our idea is to force ourselves to move around in order to evolve from album to album. In fact, this is also the reason why we have large breaks between the albums.

Why did you choose Turkey specifically?

To start off, this is probably because Ashmedi (guitar/vocals) has a lot of contacts in this country, and notably his girlfriend (and perhaps future wife) who is Turkish. Turkey is a country where it is simple to access Europe and the Near East quickly. Istanbul is a city where you can find influences from both of these parts of the world in metal, guitars, amplifiers… At the same time as having oriental music as well. For example, we were stuck in the studio at one in the morning because we couldn’t find a good guitar sound. A phone call later and the guitarist from Pentagram was there to help us find it with metal sounds. The next day, it was a flute sound, and once again, after another phone call, a music engineer specialised in oriental music arrived. So for us this was ideal.

It seems that Turkey has a much larger rock and metal culture than what we could have imagined for an Eastern country. Could you tell us a bit about what you witnessed in their approach to rock?

It was amazing! In fact, I hadn’t seen as many metal bars, metal shops and people who listen to metal. It was really very impressive. In France, besides from in Paris, I don’t know many metal bars, whereas in Instanbul, I must have seen at least four. Since the 70s it is a tradition for them to have bands that play rock and metal. They eveolved in the same way as in Europe and the United States: with pop music from the Beatles, the whole 70s progressive rock wave and solely metal bands such as Pentagram.

In the various album « making of’s », we see you trying out new instruments. Is this why you stated that it was one of the hardest recordings to do because of getting used to the new instruments? Did you need to reevaluate yourselves as musicians, which complicated the process?

Not at all. I play an oriental intrument called the « bouzouki » which is called a saz in Turkish. The problem was that it didn’t work very well when we tried to record it in a European studio, even though we had specialised sound engineers with us. The same things happened with the percussions. Conversely, it was easier for us this time because we were in the ideal location to record this type of instrument and we could also invite other musicians with other instruments to play with us. Our main difficulty was to do with the way we worked. This time we were very professional and in a high quality studio. We worked very hard but the atmosphere was very friendly so it was a great experience in the end. However, recording for two months is very exhausting. When you have to pay special attention to each note that you play for a vast period of time, you start to go a bit crazy.

So this explains the pain killers shown by the lady in the second video?

When you sit on your ass for a whole month and the aspirin stops working, you have to turn to other remedies (laughs)!

The album contains a lot of improvisation and crescendos on a certain riff, melody and motif that is repeated ofr a few minutes, notably on the last track « The Epigenesis ». Is this your way of revisiting the jam concept in the oriental style?

Yes, you understood the track exactly right. Actually, this track is partly from a jam between Ashmedi and me at this place. We then developed the track in a rehearsal room and we decided to continue it along the same lines. We jam and improve a lot amongst ourselves, and this time we pushed it even further. In oriental music, there is always an improvised part. It starts with a basic rhythm that someone improvises on. You can find this in “The Epigenesis” but this is also the case for the instrumental parts. All of our tracks are improvised in the studio. This allows us to capture the moment, create a memory and link this track to Istanbul.

How did you record this last track? Did you try to record a minimum of takes in order to preserve the spontaneity of this exercise?

We rehearsed together a lot before recording the track, in order to make sure that we all knew what was going on. Unfortunately, we were not able to record this track live in the studio. We wanted to at first but we realised that this would create a gap between this track and the rest. So we had to record it in session, which wasn’t difficult since we had rehearsed it so many times. However, the guitar solos were completely improvised.


« Everything comes to an end, but there are many external factors that lead it there. We chose to interpret this idea with music creativity in mind, which can go further than the music itself since it contributes to the development of the mind. […] However, the idea is also that these factors contribute to the development of something a lot bigger and important than the starting point which is something that Man will never be able to explain. Whether creation is spelt with a capital letter or not, it is part of a process that is larger than itself.»

During one of the trailers for the album you stated that « the biggest risk is to not take risks ». Do you believe that Melechesh fans expect to be surprised by each new album rather than playing it safe?

Definitely. It is already a big risk to start a black metal band in Jerusalem with oriental sounds. I remember that when we first started, the black metal scene didn’t really understand what we were trying to do. Change has always been one of the band’s motivations. In a way, this always encourages us to go further. Without this motivation, we probably would have stopped the band years ago. I think that this is also something that the fans expect from us. There is always something new in what we do, however the band’s identity always remains the same. It’s a way for us to explore the music genre with each album that we do.

Are you never tempted to release an album that is more on the safe side?

No, it is quite the opposite because this is something that scares us a great deal. We take a lot of time to release albums and when we do, we always think that we will never be able to top that album. After a while, we thought that we needed to do something different and this makes things a lot simpler. Until now, this process has works so it’s all good.

Elbert Hubbard once said « The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one »… You agree with this right?

Yes, I absolutely agree. Honestly, it really scares us. When we were in the studio recording this album, we had no idea how it was going to be received and I’m really happy about the reception.

As more and more metal bands are being inspired by Middle-Eastern or North African culture today, you are one of the first to have been mixing these influences for almost 20 years. How do explain your current success as a result of this mixture of styles?

First of all, there are some Middle-Eastern bands that are starting to emerge from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon… So this must be part of the reason. After that, I don’t really know how to explain it. When we first started, we hoped that other bands would follow us by exploring new styles. I am very happy that this has worked but I honestly can’t explain it.

Do you think that this trend could catch on and take over from popular metal styles like metalcore and also become fashionable?

Not so far. I believe that each band takes its own direction in order to create its own identity, and therefore, each direction is different from the others. For example, Melechesh, Nile and Orphaned Land are very different. We each have an idea that we explore individually, so this style hasn’t been defined just yet. I don’t know whether it will become a fashion and if it will detract from current trends. I just hope that people will take this path and create their own identity from it.

Everything happens for a reason, even the most hazardous accidents. Could we relate this to the theory of chaos with the butterfly metaphor?

It is not only a concept of causality; Epigenesis defines a kind of determinism as well as the influence of exterior factors. For example, a person is genetically defined; however, exterior factors such as the area they live will also determine aspects of this person. These exterior factors which define the causality of situations are very important to the philosophy of Epigenesis. Everything comes to an end, but there are many external factors that lead it there. We chose to interpret this idea with music creativity in mind, which can go further than the music itself since it contributes to the development of the mind.

So these many external factors make it impossible for us to explain the reasons for a particular event…

Yes. However, the idea is also that these factors contribute to the development of something a lot bigger and important than the starting point which is something that Man will never be able to explain. Whether creation is spelt with a capital letter or not, it is part of a process that is larger than itself.

As well as evoking the concept of causality, Epigenesis also relates to the idea of a spiritual climax. It is as though are experience, our difficulties and our mistakes lead us to a spiritual awakening. However, is this process natural? Does everyone eventually go through this process or is it something that you must seek out?

No, I believe that this is something that must absolutely be sought out and that is something that is mentioned a lot in the album. We were inspired by unknown mystical bands who take part in this spiritual quest. I think that since ninety per cent of people aren’t searching for such an awakening so they don’t ever find it. Therefore, there is a research process that needs to take place in order to reach this awakening.

Is this something that you felt when you were recording this album? It seems like the ideal name to represent what you went through while writing the music…

We became hardcore mystics (laughs)! No, it is just a philosophical and spiritual theme that we wanted to explore throughout some of the tracks. If you listen to each track separately, you can perceive different ways to reach this awakening and each song is full of ideas for this. It can’t be said that this album has a running theme but rather a vague idea that is displayed throughout through various different means.


« I sometimes wonder why these bands don’t make more of an effort to create something different and original. […]They always use the same colours like tones of red and they feature figures with horns like goats or devils. Although I find these images great, they are too repetitive and they get boring after a while. I don’t even look at album covers anymore despite the fact that I used to a lot.»

The artwork has a three dimensional illusion. This technique was also used by artist Leonardo de Vinci. Can you tell us a bit about this?

On a technical level we should mention John Coulthart, the artist who designed the artwork on the album cover. In my opinion, it is the arabesques that give out the three dimensional illusion. If you look closely, the arabesques are super imposed over themselves. Originally, we wanted it to be very three dimensional so this is what we asked the artist. However, I hadn’t thought of Leonardo De Vinci.

As album sales are free falling at the moment, artists are putting more and more creative effort into the artwork for their albums, making them into pieces of art that people might want to collect rather than just an mp3. According to this, we could say that the decline in album sales is actually beneficial from an artistic point of view! What is your opinion on this?

Artwork has always been important to us. Music is not limited to a series of musical notes but there is also a great visual aspect. When we are composing riffs, we also say that it creates dimension or a new feeling. It is possible to talk about music in other ways than by merely referencing notes: it can be described through visuals or emotion. It is very important for us to recreate our music on a visual level and I think that our cover is very successful on that level. I hope that this will also be the case for the music video that we will be making soon. As for the decline is record sales, we noticed that many people were discussing our album cover on forums because they found it very enigmatic, which surprised the artist very much. A few years ago, people were talking about the music industry crashing but today they are actually taking the time to talk about the artwork.

Do you think that the effort that is put into making CD covers appealing is enough for people to start buying albums again?

I honestly doubt it. I get the feeling that the generation accustomed to downloading is also used to seeing the album covers on their computer screen, so I have no idea if this will ever be enough. In our case, it is always important for us to have a cover that is artistically appealing even when there is no album. Either way, I hope that this will not be the case.

As a result, more and more musicians are considering the creators of artwork as actual members of the band. Is this the case for you?

Absolument ! Je pense qu’on a trouvé l’artiste parfait pour nous avec Emissaries. Déjà, avec Sphynx, on avait un artiste qui travaillait pour Georges Lucas et qui apporté sa contribution pour des films comme Star Wars. C’était vraiment une superbe pochette. Mais avec John Coulthart, on a vraiment trouvé notre artiste, quelqu’un qui est capable de retranscrire en image ce que l’on pense. Il suffit de lui envoyer les paroles, quelques idées, rien de plus. Juste avec ça, en lui donnant carte blanche, il nous pond des superbes artworks. Evidemment, on change toujours des détails mais ce n’est pas grand-chose. C’est quelqu’un qui comprend vraiment le groupe et ça, c’est très important.

The artwork is filled with hidden meanings and symbolism; it forms an important part of the album. Do you find that too many bands don’t put enough effort into their album covers ?

Yes. I always get the feeling that I am staring at the same cover with the same images of a goator the devil a thousand times over. After a while this type of thing loses its value. I sometimes wonder why these bands don’t make more of an effort to create something different and original. It might not be in other bands’ greatest interest to do the same things as us because people often find that our covers are a bit too weird. Who knows, perhaps people actually prefer simpler visuals.

What is the cliché found on various album covers that annoys you the most?

They always use the same colours like tones of red and they feature figures with horns like goats or devils. Although I find these images great, they are too repetitive and they get boring after a while. I don’t even look at album covers anymore despite the fact that I used to a lot. When a 10 year old sees an Iron Maiden cover, there is something that attracts you to the music. I don’t get that feeling anymore when I look at album covers that are released nowadays.

Have you seen a cover lately that really got to you?

I’m sure there is but I didn’t even see the name of the band. I just looked at it and thought « what the hell is this shit?» (laughs)!


« I don’t want to criticise anyone but sometimes I find that you need to be a subtle in what you do. Sometimes I feel like I’m hearing Aladdin in the melodies and this has nothing to do with what is done in the Near East. […]. Whether it is musically or culturally, it is a cliché. I wouldn’t like to wake up and realise that I’ve produce cultural shit on a record.»

You stated that it is important to you that artwork be representative of something without being cliché. Is this a criticism of the emerging metal bands influenced by the oriental style musically and visually in a crude way?

It’s true. I don’t want to criticise anyone but sometimes I find that you need to be a subtle in what you do. Sometimes I feel like I’m hearing Aladdin in the melodies and this has nothing to do with what is done in the Near East. You mustn’t pay attention to this type of cliché, but it is very easy to fall into them since they come from a culture far from our own. This is the reason that people mistake Egypte for Mesopotamia. Whether it is musically or culturally, it is a cliché. As for us, I think you have noticed that we are always very careful not to fall into such traps and to stay subtle instead. This is our philosophy.

It’s funny that you mention this. You said that these oriental influences were a part of your own influences but that you were careful in the way that you use them. Do you believe that the bands that distort these influences force you to be even more careful than before?

This is also true, but there is also the fact that we know what it is actually like over there and we also know what it is like to have a crude interpretation of these influences. This works on various levels. I wouldn’t like to wake up and realise that I’ve produce cultural shit on a record.

In a way it is a good thing that these bands exist. If they didn’t, you might have ended up like them (laughs)!

It’s true! When we are writing riffs we often say the line: «no, this sounds like Aladdin, we don’t want that!». It’s a way for us to avoid falling into the clichés and killing the music in one way or another.

Come on, tell me a band in this style that you are particularly annoyed by?

You’re asking me something pretty difficult here. Most metal bands that take the oriental “path” are pretty good. This cliché can be found in many areas, like other music styles, films…


« For us, there is not only the music and it is a philosophy and a way of life […]It is neither one nor the other but both at the same time. I won’t be playing a Melechesh record to my dissertation committee or talk about philosophy when I am on stage, but the two are not contradictions; they relate to each other in an interesting way. »

All of the band members have extensive educations. For example, you have a PhD in Philosophy. What is the link with your career as a musician? Can you support yourself financially through the music?

Not me personally, but Ashmedi can. He also manages the band so he doesn’t have time to do anything else even though he would like to. The other members don’t either.

Since you chose to further your education to PhD level, is your goal to live from the music or not?

I would like to but the situation with the music in France is not so simple. When I was there, I always needed to be thinking of something else on the side and philosophy is something that I love. For the time being, I am continuing my final dissertation because I haven’t finished it yet. For us, there is not only the music and it is a philosophy and a way of life. You could even go so far as to say that it forms part of a spiritual dimension. It is neither one nor the other but both at the same time. I won’t be playing a Melechesh record to my dissertation committee or talk about philosophy when I am on stage, but the two are not contradictions; they relate to each other in an interesting way. In Melechesh, there are always philosophical themes displayed in through our music rather than a book, so the music represents our opinions.

How does your thesis committee or your students react when they find out that you are also in a black metal band as well as being a philosophy teacher?

They don’t really understand; especially when I have to go away on tour or to record an album for a few months. However, I am an adult and I don’t always need to justify myself, so for me this is what makes a little life more interesting. People see both aspects of my life as a contradiction whereas I see them as a singular thing that I like.

Isn’t it too difficult to go away for so long? You must have a lot of work obligations for your studies?

Of course. When I was in France, there was someone to replace me during my concert dates in the States. Furthermore, I return to Europe quite often and I don’t want to give that up. Sometime Ashmedi and I go to spend a few months in Holland to write music. These are some of the advantages that exist with university; I can write my final dissertation autonomously.

Have some of your students been to see Melechesh play a gig and liked the band?

Yes, some have. I never talk about it at the university but I have bumped into a few other students after some concerts. It is kind of strange to keep a distance between these two parts of my life. I never advertise the band during my classes but if anyone wants to ask me about it afterwards then I will gladly answer.

What is the subject for your thesis?

I study political philosophy so the subject is about narrative identity and political conciliation. For example, if you and I were representing two different countries and that we were fighting over something, the idea would be that we would separate the territory in two and we would each take our side. My main focus is on finding out whether we could negotiate despite what has happened in national history which was often the main cause for war.

Your band is touring with Nile and Rotting Christ. Is it important for you to tour with bands that have a similar interaction with music as you, meaning that they exploit many cultural elements linked to a particular country or region in the world?

It is very important. When you are on the road, you don’t always choose who you tour with but this time we have been really lucky. Nile and Rotting Christ have their own band identities and I like bands that have their own identity and things to say. This tour is going to be very interesting.

Don’t you think that it’s a shame having to play with bands that have a similar style? I love thrash metal but it would bum me out to have to watch four thrash bands in a row in one night…

I also get pretty bored of it. In fact I’m not a big fan of festivals; I much prefer seeing a supporting band that might have something different to say. If I see four bands with the same message, I get bored and I would rather stay at home. I don’t think that this will be the case on this tour.

So you prefer eclectic band line-ups?

In the same way as with albums, I would not say eclectic. I am more responsive to bands that have something to say, even if they do so through very little subtleties that make all the difference. This is the case if I recognize the band amongst many others. I can’t stand people who have nothing to say. As for bands that copy other bands, I prefer to listen to them at home rather than seeing their concerts. On the other hand, there is also the process of development since all bands start off by imitating a style before finding their own way.

They can also imitate bands that have a lot of talent. I think that a band like Airbourne are a total imitation of AC/DC but they are also incredibly talented themselves.

Exactly.

Interview by phoner on the 4th of octobre 2010
Myspace MELECHESH : www.myspace.com/melechesh



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