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Album Review

Sphynx, Melechesh's third full-length, finds the band further illustrating its disinterest in the clichés often associated with the Norse, Swedish, and American metal scenes. The speed-obsessed trappings of debut As Jerusalem Burns...Al'intisar were relegated obsolete by second album Djinn, which found the Israeli group refocusing its intentions with a well-executed hybrid of death and thrash metal. On its heels came Sphynx, a startlingly powerful effort that improves upon that formula on all fronts. Main songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist Ashmedi masterfully and logically arranges every track on Sphynx with his ear tweaked for maximum metallic devastation, and he consistently hits the sweet spot between classic thrash and forward-thinking death-prog with every riff (no exaggeration). Every track boasts sophisticated arrangements and lyrical excursions, making it difficult to pick out highlights (again, no exaggeration), although "Annunaki's Golden Throne" and "Apkallu Counsel" are exemplary, offering dizzying, high-velocity tempos and lickety-split time changes; however, the band wields speed with a samurai-like sense of precision and grace, keeping the listener in the center of a disorienting whirlwind while maintaining a dynamic sense of melody within compellingly complex arrangements. Like its predecessor, Sphynx is jammed with authentic Middle Eastern themes, i.e., the "ritual breathing" and percussion during instrumental "The Arrival Ritual" and the layered, Egyptian-flavored melodies of epic thrasher "Incendium Between Mirage and Time" and album-closing march "Caravans to Ur." It helps that drummer Proscriptor (also of Absu) turns in a relatively restrained performance, keeping his trademark spastic bursts of percussive insanity in check, holding solid grooves within Ashmedi's memorably intriguing riff labyrinths. Sphynx also benefits from superb engineering and a warm mix via production/guitar wiz Andy LaRocque, resulting in a thick, fluid sonic assault that doesn't sacrifice subtlety for power or allow the band to veer too far off the rails. If Djinn was a refreshing oasis in the increasingly arid death/black metal climate, the triumphant Sphynx is a jungle, exploding with life, stunningly relevant upon its release in 2003 — and one of that year's best, if somewhat overlooked, underground metal releases. [Sphynx was re-released by The End Records in 2004 with a bonus track, a cover of Celtic Frost's "Babylon Fell."]


Genre: Metal

Years Active: '00s

Originally a solo project established in 1993 by vocalist/guitarist Melechesh Ashmedi, Melechesh -- the band -- were one of the first death metal/black metal groups to emerge from the city of Jerusalem. Guitarist Moloch and drummer Lord Curse were recruited the following year, and Melechesh quickly began developing their admittedly extreme but culturally relevant "Mesopotamian metal" by combining Middle Eastern music and history with heavy metal. By naming their first demo As Jerusalem Burns...Al'...
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