“Ethnic Metal” has to be one of the more problematic of sub-genres. As ill-defined as it is patronising, it generally translates to “our riffs aren’t very interesting so we break them up with two minutes of Lithuanian Polka”- the Metal With Bits approach to progression which also includes most Folk Metal, “Industrial” Metal and whatever the latest Wacky New Trend is supposed to be.
Since their second album, 2001’s Djinn (Osmose), Melechesh have been offering a genuine alternative to the usual clunky attempts at Metal Multiculturalism. Rather than adorning their Metal like garnish, their Mediterranean/Middle Eastern influences pervade their music at every level, creating a sound which is both unique and utterly sincere – as if Heavy Metal had evolved separately in the middle-east, taking influences from traditional music to create something which is both familiar to and distinct from Western Metal.
If “Ethnic Metal” is a poor fit for Melechesh’s music, Black Metal is almost as inappropriate. The snarled vocals and trebly guitars put it superficially in that style, but the song-writing owes more to classic Thrash and Heavy Metal, filtered through the ever-present Mediterranean voice. In terms of progression, Enki (Nuclear Blast) has nothing to offer that can’t be found on their previous albums – Melechesh are clearly the kind of band who find their sound early on and then concentrate on simply doing it better, so don’t expect major changes in style here. What we should expect is delivered in spades – flawless, tight musicianship, artful song-writing and a consistently defined character.
Though not breaking any boundaries that haven’t previously been broken (if any exist in world where blending Black Metal with 90’s Shoegaze is so common as to have become a cliché), Enki is a confident, powerful and engaging collection of songs from a band with their own clearly established character, and likely to be one of the strongest Heavy Metal (with or without bits) albums of the year.