By Ashmedi (Melechesh)
The first column for 2011. And it’s number 16. For a person who used to hate writing I find this quite the accomplishment. 2010 was very productive year. It is the year The Epigenesis was recorded and not long ago released, so I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief.
We are now gearing up to go on a long tour across Europe with Nile. Dew-Scented, Zonaria, and Darkrise will be with us on the first part. Bibleblack, Pressure Points and Goat the Head will accompany us on the second leg of the tour. I am looking forward to this tour, but the next three months will be intensive physically and mentally, as a few days after this tour ends, we fly to USA to do our tour with Rotting Christ.
The last few months were hijacked by lots of promotion for the album and rehearsals. I also needed to master playing the new songs for the live circuit, both lyrics/singing and guitar playing, it took 6-8 weeks until they were nailed. No sooner had the promotions ended we were gearing up for our first post-release gigs, namely Awakening the Giants tour. This was a short trek comprised of six dates centered focused around Benelux, France and Germany. It was a good way to get warmed up.
Playing the title track of the new album, which is a 12-minute epic, was a new experience. It was a sonic journey and playing it was extremely gratifying yet challenging. I am pleased that the crowds were into it as well, for this song has this psychedelic improvisational atmosphere and not at all straight forward. Moloch used the 12-string electric while I kept the 6-strings in order to maintain the aggressive tones. What is significant to me is the fact that The Epigenesis started to sink in with the public. The album is very personal and complex yet simple and I was fully aware that a considerable amount of listeners would need a few days or weeks to fully digest all dimensions and layers of the album. I knew the more time passed by, the more anchored this album will be in the human psyche.
After the aforementioned tour in snow-covered Europe, we said our goodbyes to the other people, namely Svart Crown, which is a great black/death metal band from France, the Massive Music tour crew and Noctiferia, who might I add, drove some 15 hours from Slovenia to The Netherlands in the snow in an MPV (multi-purpose vehicle) jam packed with their rig. Hats off guys! Right after the tour, Melechesh flew to Istanbul in order to film a video clip for ‘Grand Gathas of Baal Sin’. We chose to return there so as to keep in line with the album recording and photo shoot. In addition to this we found an outstanding location: The Basilica Cisterns (or Yerebatan Sarnıcı). This place was built around 1,700 years ago. With time, it was flooded and became a water storage facility. There is an overturned Medusa head statue there. It looked quite cool. The place is open for tourists, as it is part ofIstanbul’s main historical attractions. We managed to rent it from the Ministry of Culture for a night after closing. Coincidentally, James Bond’s From Russia with Love had some scenes there. It was an interesting process. Nuclear Blast will issue some behind-the-scenes footage so you can get a feel of how the clip was done.
Let me tell you about our experiences while making this video clip. It sure was something. To begin with, the logistics were very difficult, weather was very cold, which meant the water in the Basilica Cisterns was very cold as well and I will elaborate more on this shortly.
First night, the band met with director Rouzbeh Heydari who flew from Toronto, Canada. I have known Rouzbeh for several years and I met him on a couple of occasions in Canada. Anyway, we made pre-production planning, the day after we all split in groups and to run around the city for items and things. Same for Saturday morning. The drum company, from whom we reserved a drum set, ditched us. It was very unprofessional of them, so I made many calls with contacts I have and a friend from a band called Undertakers, found a drum set I could rent.
Agean Cymbals, where Xul is endorsed, provided the cymbals so that was good. We had two cars and needed a large third one for the filming equipment, but we were short on drivers. I alway suffer from this, but most of my band guys don’t drive. You see, in The Netherlands to get a driver’s license [it] can be very costly; up to 2,000 Euros. And many love their bicycles or rely on the efficient public transport network. So, my bass player and drummer are always off the hook when it comes to driving. Rouzbeh drives but like many in North America they only drive automatic. So, we had to track down a big van or truck that is automatic. After long searches we found one. Yes, naturally they charged an arm and a leg for it. The team was great and efficient the total crew, including the band, were 12 persons. The weakest link were the assistants here and the director of photography, who was suppose to facilitate things.
Rouzbeh was very dedicated and did a fantastic job, while many ‘assistants’ were sitting idly with bewildered eyes, watching us and enjoying some pizza. He [Rouzbeh] was knee deep in the water building a stage for the drums. He neglected to eat and sleep worked like a beast. So, not much sleep and no food for almost two days. On the last day of filming—after we said cut and packed—he went on the side and literally puked. Rouzbeh is a interesting character, who I now gladly call a friend. A couple of years ago he was in a coma for a month. Upon hearing this I just wanted to know if he was aware of things during the coma. He actually told me that he had weird nightmares. He knew he could not move. At times, he heard people around him, however. It felt like days not a whole month. I am very interested in this as I have read articles of people being in a coma for 20 years and they say that they heard everyone and everything yet others contest this. The mind is fascinating. And don’t worry I am not disclosing things about him without his prior consent.
Back to the clip. Well, part of the logistical complications is attributed to the size of the city [Istanbul]. There are over 13 million people here. So, to pick something up can take up to 3 hours just because of traffic. As for the drums, I had to bring a double bass drum set five floors down from rental place, which actually is a rehearsal room. Everyone was on location and I was waiting for a car to come to save time. I took the drums downstairs. And in such scenarios there is always funny shit happening. The car was so full—this is funny; I had to get inside a bass drum and put part of my body thru it because this bass drum was in the back seat. The car drove 30 kilometers per hour (18.5 miles per hour). Any sudden breaking and my leg would break and hip dislocate due to the way I sat. But we had our share of joking about it. Some said I looked like a character from Sesame Street.
I am telling you the Cisterns look amazing and somehow the pillars there have a lot to do with our album cover and some lyrical themes. We had to get in the water (knee deep). It was bloody freezing. Then we started filming. Prior to this some actors did some self-flagellation shots and it turned out very good. Things started to drag. The employees (security guard, caretaker, etc.) of location got anxious. [They] wanted us to pack and leave. It was midnight, but they agreed to stay longer. Until 6 a.m. A big tip certainly helped things. One shot required me to be standing on a ladder which was placed in the water to get the right angle. This meant having my heels balancing on the ladder, which is straight behind me. This took almost two hours. My legs were numb because there was no blood flow. When I climbed down the ladder and into the cold water all blood rushed to legs. But since the water was so cold, my body temperature dropped suddenly. I started shaking uncontrollably, so I was taken to staff room, where I took all clothes off, put a blanket on, and sat in front of the heater. My leather pants were soaked, but I had forgotten them in the car trunk. The day was a wrap.
We slept at 7 a.m., but alarm went off at 9:30 a.m. (or 10) to go to the outdoor location. No sleep = dangerous for driving three cars in the suicidal Turkish traffic. The drive took most of the day to reach the location. We missed the sunlight but managed a few shots. Meanwhile, the truck got stuck in slippery mud near a cliff. When I saw that I said, “No sweat”. It is a super-fancy brutal looking truck with giant wheels and impressive chrome. The whole nine yards. When I went to the truck—it was the first time I stepped in it—I found out it was not a 4-wheel drive. Unbelievable. This expensive truck got stuck in the mud and was not 4-wheel drive. What are the chances? So, while crew were filming things that did not require us, we (i.e., Melechesh) were pushing a truck out of the mud that my girlfriend was driving. It did not work, actually. It slid sideways. Up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) near the cliff. I said, “Stop! ” She went to the village and found a farmer with a rusty tractor. He came and pulled it out.
I had to wear my leather pants. They were wet and as cold as ice because they were left in the car trunk and did not have a chance to dry. I was filmed on a cliff. Behind me was the open sea. This meant icy freezing wind. We shot some crap, packed up and left on the highway. I drove the smallest car. On three occasions some psychos nearly rammed into my car. At one point, Rouzbeh—who was driving the truck behind me—saw a mid-sized cargo truck coming at me from two lanes away. [It] missed me by mere centimeters. He thought I was done for so he nearly crashed too. They [the Turks] drive like maniacs, really! I chased a car that nearly crashed into me. I wanted to go beat the guy up, but he escaped. I don’t want to bore you with more details about this. Even the day after filming, the band and director were staying at a modern design, good looking hotel in a good area, but still—and this does not happen often I can assure you—they woke up to gun shots and someone was screaming. Apparently, a lady was shot in the leg, the ambulance came; very strange.
I took a break from writing for a couple of days, but I am back now. Again on a plane without distractions so I figured this is a perfect time to finish this. I promised I will return to the chronology. In part 15, I left off with the Emissaries recording process and all its challenges. Needless to say, that gem was out and as customary with Melechesh, the fans needed a month or so to fully digest it. We were grateful that the album was very well-received with the press and it topped several playlists and Year-End lists. For me, this was a major relief as my objectivity was non-existent. I just avoided everything—even hearing the album for several months. I did some promotion in Europe from Paris and then flew to New York to do some North American press promotions. It was good to be there. I was in USA a few months before this but that was in California. I went there to be the Best Man at my childhood friend’s wedding. Lord Curse (Saro) our first drummer was also there. The wedding was great. It was at a cool vineyard, so we got to do some wine tasting. I hung then out in Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose, Las Vegas, and Hollywood. It was great to be back in Hollywood. My first time since the late ’80s. I got to see some family and friends, hung out at my all-time favorite bar The Rainbow, and visited my junior high school (Le Conte Jr. High), which I briefly attended.
One of the days, I visited the Century Media/Nuclear Blast office since I was in the neighborhood. Just to say hello to some people I knew. It was quite cool. That same night a bunch of friends picked me up and we went to a garage studio in Glendale. It was awesome; owned by one of Armenia’s most prominent drummers in the past. The gentleman was very welcoming; his son was a fan of Melechesh and he is the one that invited me there. We all started jamming ‚till the early hours of the morning. However this drummer had a malignant tumor in his neck, so he could not speak and had a tumor the size of a tennis ball popping out. Yet like a trooper he sat on the drum set and man can he play! So much feeling. You can see in his eyes the joy of playing. It was as if he forgot the whole world. That for meant a lot to me! There was a funny person with us that night. I was sweating from playing music, so I told this person—who shall remain nameless—”Man, I am very hot and I am sweating like a pig”. He replied, “Ah, it is because you are wearing black shirt. That’s why I am wearing a white shirt, you see. I am not hot.” Uh, this was at 3 a.m. Yeah, no sunlight! And think about this for a sec. Sometimes I live to experience natural human comedy.
I drifted with my thoughts again, so as I was saying I went to New York to do some press promo. It was really great! I met with many journalists and magazine editors. I mention this because sadly now a number of magazines have folded in North America—like Metal Maniacs, Metal Edge and Unrestrained. The latter was due to the untimely passing of its editor and our press promoter Adrian Bromley, who I had mentioned earlier. He was my host in New York and we had a great week together.
Emissaries picked up and the offers for gigs were pouring in. Melechesh was consuming my time 24/7. So, I decided to focus solely on Melechesh and this is when it became my main and only occupation. From then on, it was festival after festival, gig after gig. The ball was rolling faster than ever! I was extremely gratified, but my anxiety and stress was also higher than ever. This is not hiding at home and saying I got a band. This was living the dream. As always the family back in Jerusalem just kept on psychologically tormenting me to quit and in turn I shrugged them off as I always have and in the most polite and philosophical manner. The battle of wills that had begun in the early ’90s was nowhere near an end. I never imposed myself upon any creature. It was about my life and my dreams.
** The Epigenesis is out now on Nuclear Blast Records. Order The Epigenesis here.