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Behold the face of Shamash! - 95%

Ribos, January 12th, 2012

Emissaries was (perhaps appropriately) my introduction to Melechesh, and I was immediately blown away by the viciousness packed into that record. I wasn't sure how the band could possibly follow up on that, but Ashmedi, Moloch, and cohorts did not disappoint. Speaking of whom, it's worth noting that the band finally found a full-time drummer, and while it's no small task to follow Proscriptor's performance, Xul is up to the task and brings quite a lot of personality with him.

First things first regarding the album, it's not Emissaries part 2. It's just not. Some people will be disappointed by this. Those people can shut the hell up. Melechesh has never released the same album twice, always displaying a remarkably disciplined sense of progression. As Jerusalem Burns... was a straight-up raw black metal debut, which fed into Djinn's increased pronouncement of the Middle Eastern elements. Sphinx refined the formula and focused it into a much more direct assault, and Emissaries took THAT to a whole new level.

But now that Jerusalem has burned and the Djinns of this earth have departed, carried in the colossal sphynx-like chariots, the emissaries' task is fulfilled. This is the testimony of the Epigenesis. Which is to say, if Emissaries was the unstoppable rampaging warrior, The Epigenesis is the arrival of the king of fire in all his majestic glory to lord over the conquered lands. The album is ridiculously nuanced and intricate, with all sorts of hidden melodies and subtle textures just below the surface. I'm still finding new elements with each new listen nearly a year later. But of course, I wouldn't have it any other way.

See, here's where it all comes together for me: Melechesh have done their homework. Unlike certain other bands (coughNilecough) who throw in some scales with a minor second interval between scale steps three and four, Melechesh actually understand what Middle Eastern music consists of. If you look at the classical music from that part of the world, you'll see complex melodies in slightly odd but – dare I say it – danceable rhythms and enough musical filigree to put the western Baroque period to shame. I mean, come on, just look at that cover art! So what we're hearing is actual Mesopotamian music in a proper setting with black metal instrumentation. It is, in a word, glorious.

But of course, all of that could be for nothing if the music just plain sucked. And this is a metal review, after all, not an ethnomusicological academic paper. So how 'bout them riffs? You like riffs, right? We got your riffs RIGHT FUCKING HERE. In track order, because I'm lazy like that, we lead off with Ghouls of Nineveh. You get a good sense of what to expect of this album right from the start, between a perfectly headbanging slow-grinding guitar riff and extra instrumentation ringing out. That said, it's a bit of a slower song, carrying a more contemplative atmosphere than the last album's still-mind-blowing Rebirth of the Nemesis.

But don't worry, this isn't an album that's content to stick to mid-paced grooves. Nine spirits wreak havoc and remain ever defiant with the next track, which actually has a pretty sweet music video. Towards the end, we get a bit of that chanting the band is so fond of. Just a word on the chanting, though: I'm a bit confused. The lyrics give it as “Sin, Baal Sin” but I'm hearing it more as either “Baal, Baal Sin” or maybe even “Grand Baal Sin.” But who knows, maybe I'm just crazy and my brain is playing tricks on me.

The third track, Sacred Geometry, brings those wonderfully twisty melodies. Think of the more “ethnic” tracks from the previous couple of albums. If you just listened to this track, you wouldn't get much of a sense of the band's progression I had mentioned above, but hey, sometimes it's good to not fix what ain't broke. Speaking of which, the album contains two more of those non-metal instrumental tracks. Both of them, though, feature better writing than Emissaries' Scribes of Kur, which I felt was the album's sole weak point. When Halos of Candles Collide is an odd one in that sometimes it fascinates me, but other times it does absolutely nothing for my listening. A Greater Chain of Being, however, is a perfect track to open up for the title track, a twelve-minute tour de force of everything the band stands for.

My favorite tracks have got to be Illumination: The Face of Shamash and The Magickan and the Drones. The latter kicks off with an understated intro, but before long launches into what is probably the most intense riff on the album. The droning horns towards the end are a great touch, too. As for Illumination, just listen to those guitar flourishes! And you will have to listen, because they're performing them for effect, not to show off. There's not a whole lot else to say about this song other than it's got solid as hell writing. If you like Melechesh's guitar work, you will love this song.

This album shows Melechesh maturing in their songwriting, but unlike most other bands for whom that means “mellowing out and sucking,” the kings of fire haven't guttered out at all. They remain as driven as ever, but they attack the writing process with increasing mastery, allowing them to take the art to new heights. And no, I will not stop fanboying over this band. They are simply amazing, and if you have any appreciation for metal with a sense of melody, you should listen to them. While I'd recommend Emissaries as an introduction to the band for its directness, The Epigenesis may be the band's best album yet.