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Self-professed Mesopotamian black metal combo Melechesh - originally based in the metal unfriendly environs of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Israel who later relocated to the more secular Amsterdam, the Netherlands and recently France and Germany - has always been one of the more interesting of the original second wave bands. Together with Orphaned Land they were among the earliest to combine underground death/black metal with Middle Eastern instrumentation and Arabic folk music. Their legend and repute grew considerably in the second half of the nineties as they fled Israel under mouting pressure from strict religious authorities resulting from the release of their controversial domestically bred debut “As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar”. Since their 1996 debut Melechesh has released three albums on French imprint Osmose Productions and two on the considerably bigger Nuclear Blast Records. Suffice to say Melechesh has an interesting history and oeuvre to say the least. This is where “Ghouls of Nineveh” double-disc comes in…

Thanks to the wonders of international licensing and distribution rights as well as the fine people at Napalm Records and their partners Nippon Phonogram there’s now a compilation for the casual fan who wants to whet his/her appetite as to what Ashmedi and his rotating cast of musicians have been up in the past almost quarter of a century. “Ghouls of Nineveh” is a Japanese-exclusive double-disc career retrospective spanning all of the Melechesh discography, bar “As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar” and the prior demo. Interestingly there’s but a single track from 2001’s “Dijnn”, four tracks from “Sphynx” (2003) and almost the entirety of “Emissaries” (2006). The remainder of content for both discs is culled from “The Epigenesis” (2010) and “Enki” (2015) or the more widely known, far better produced recent releases on German conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records. The lack of inclusion of tracks from the band’s 1996 debut “As Jerusalem Burns... Al'Intisar” and the accompanying demo “As Jerusalem Burns...” from a year earlier is insulting to say the least. That there’s but a single track from “Djinn” but almost the entirety of “Emissaries” is another puzzling decision. Space that could’ve been put to better use by evening out selections from each album instead of what was done here. It is understandable, at least from a sonoric point of view, but as a historic document (what compilations should strive to be) it is a major point of contention. To dispense with the obvious, “Ghouls of Nineveh” covers most of the ground you’d want of a compilation and as such it is more than representative for Melechesh as a whole.

To their everlasting credit Melechesh always was more of an Ancient Rites than a Nile. Melechesh is more concerned with conveying a Middle Eastern atmosphere than with playing at an inhumanly fast pace and/or being technical just for its own sake. The band evolved from Ashmedi's earlier, short-lived death metal solo project Crushed Cenotaph. Upon release of the  “As Jerusalem Burns...” demo and their debut a year later Melechesh were charged with “dark cultish” activity by religious law enforcement officials of the Holy Cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, all of which were later dropped. While considered Israeli the members are in fact of mixed descent, most prominently Armenian-Assyrian, Assyrian, and Arabian-Syrian. Central to the band’s lyrics are Mesopotamian and Sumerian history, antiquity and mythology and “The Epigenesis” is an exception in that regard as it concerns the titular concept derived from Greek philosophers Aristotle (in his Historia Animalium) and Plato. Melechesh has overcome many hurdles and countered every prejudice/bias that any band in their part of the world might face.

Where Nile has downsized its Egyptian component considerably over the last decade, Melechesh has done the opposite and worked diligently to integrate as much ethnic instrumentation and Arabian folk music as its genre of choice would allow. Along with Orphaned Land, Melechesh has been one of the pillars of Middle Eastern metal and their output has consistently been one of quality over volume. Where Melechesh has made the most obvious strides forward is in fusing ethnic instrumentation and Middle Eastern folk melodies with their patented stomping melodic black/thrash metal. What Melechesh unlike, say, Nile benefits tremendously from is their more deliberate choice of tempo. Not that Melechesh ever had any shortage of able skinsmen. Whether it’s Saro Orfali, Proscriptor McGovern, Yuri Rinkel, or Samuel Santiago behind the kit.

Melechesh always allowed its songs to breathe and neither of their drummers had the proclivity to fill every second of every song with needlessly elaborate fills or double-bass blasts. Something of which George Kollias, Derek Roddy and several others are prone to, often to the detriment of the songs. It’s puzzling why “Ghouls Of Nineveh” capitalizes so heavily on the band’s Nuclear Blast Records repertoire when their releases on Osmose Productions and Breath Of Night Records are considerably harder to come by, and even moreso in Asia. Why then that this double-disc compromises for the most part of cuts from “Emissaries”, “The Epigenesis” and “Enki” is anybody’s guess. As a historical document “Ghouls Of Nineveh” blunders by not evenly distributing its track selection among the albums.

Of course the question of legitimacy looms toweringly over this double-disc. “Ghouls Of Nineveh” was released by Austria's Napalm Records in cooperation with Nippon Phonogram. Perhaps it has something to do with international licensing laws since all of the band’s major releases were issued through France’s black metal specialist imprint Osmose Productions and Germany’s Nuclear Blast Records. Had this compilation been curated in cooperation with Ashmedi and his bandmates surely the song selection would have been more even-handed. For the most part “Ghouls Of Nineveh” is a missed opportunity. It’s representative enough for most of the Melechesh discography, but the focus on the band’s recent output isn’t necessarily to its advantage. Obviously there are far worse compilations out there – and Melechesh is the last band to be accused of milking its fanbase for money.

How exactly this compilation came into existence, or what motivation was behind it besides good old-fashioned greed, is anyone’s guess. There are no indications that Melechesh has terminated its long-standing contract with Nuclear Blast Records, nor does the artwork chosen for this compilation reflect any of the band’s usual aesthetics and imagery, other than pillaging promo material publicly available from the albums it selects material from. Melechesh is in no hurry to acknowledge the existence of “Ghouls Of Nineveh” – and neither do the usual music databases. There’s definitely an audience for a band-approved Melechesh compilation. The purveyors of true Assyrian black metal deserve better than this. This might be interesting for the casual fan, but that's all positive that can be said about it.

Plot: novelist Sarah Asproon moonlights as a high-class escort researching a new book

Ten years after after Eva Nera (1977) Italian exploitation guru Aristide Massaccesi (under his English nom de plume Joe D'Amato) started a new soft erotica franchise with a bright young star in the form of Eleven Days, Eleven Nights. Bankrolled to capitalize on the success of Nine 1/2 Weeks (1986) and on the willingness of actress Luciana Ottaviani (under her Anglicized alias Jessica Moore) to shed fabric it sees the symbolic passing of the torch from D’Amato’s beloved softcore star of the previous decade Laura Gemser to Moore. While not her screen debut with D’Amato Eleven Days, Eleven Nights was the franchise she is most identified with. In 1988 a pseudo-sequel followed in the wake of the original’s box office success with Top Model (1988) (alternatively released in some territories as Eleven Days, Eleven Nights: the Sequel for maximum confusion). In 1990 followed an official sequel with Eleven Days, Eleven Nights 2 with Kristine Rose taking over as lead.

Front and center is Luciana Ottaviani, who was a dancer, glamour model, and showgirl before turning to acting. At age 19 Ottaviani was offered a role in Convent Of Sinners (1986), a production where she initially was contracted to work as an assistant. The production proved lucrative and Ottaviani was given her own vehicle with Eleven Days, Eleven Nights. Working the trenches almost exclusively with Joe D’Amato, and Mario Bianchi, Ottaviani starred in a dozen of movies in the three-year period from 1986 to 1989. During the death throes and eventual collapse of the Italian horror industry she worked with Lucio Fulci on Sodoma’s Ghost (1988) and the Fulci produced giallo Blood Moon (1989). Taking a cue from the greatest exploitation muses, Luciana Ottaviani never appeared under her own name. Early on Ottaviani used the Gilda Germano alias before rechristening herself to the more American sounding Jessica Moore once given her own production. Luciana Ottaviani’s English alias in turn has led to some understandable confusion as she shares it with an Hungarian adult actress, and an Australian tennisplayer. In 1989 Ottaviani moved out of the cinema industry as family life took precedence.

Aristide Massaccesi was a cinematographer by trade, and the typical workhorse exploitation director that dabbled in every genre in need of exploiting. It wasn’t until 1979 that he adopted the Joe D’Amato alias under which he directed a swath of soft erotic features with Laura Gemser. Gemser was the star of Bitto Albertini’s Black Emanuelle (1975), but it was D’Amato who made the franchise profitable. All through the 1980s and 90s D’Amato directed over 100 erotic features, both of t he soft- and hardcore variety, for the Italian video market. During the decade he directed everything from the Greek horror feature Anthropophagus (1980), the Conan the Barbarian (1982) knockoff Ator the Invincible (1982) and its sequel Ator, the Blade Master (1984) with Miles O’Keeffe to the post-apocalyptic actioner Endgame (1983). From the looks of it D’Amato’s 1980s softcore features apparently came as a response to the success of Italian master of erotica Tinto Brass. Where Brass is a craftsman and technician with an obsession with richly formed posteriors, smut peddlers Massaccesi, and Jesús Franco, were far less dignified and ogled any and every starlet willing to get naked for them. Moore is easy on the eyes and it's easy to see why D'Amato insisted on getting her her own franchise. Moore might not be much of an actress, but she certainly looks absolutely amazing au naturel.

In New Orleans Sarah Asproon (Luciana Ottaviani, as Jessica Moore) is an enterprising young writer moonlights as a high-class escort to collect material for her new book. Asproon is a bisexual, nymphomaniacal, nude top model/exotic dancer moonlighting as a journalist, or the other way around. It’s the sort of character that could’ve only sprung from the diseased mind of old Joe. On board of a ferry Asproon flashes dopey young construction designer Michael Terenzi (Joshua McDonald) who can’t resist the comely charms of the alluring vamp, and their initial meeting is the start of a brief albeit passionate affair. Terenzi is scheduled to be married to the demure Helen (Mary Sellers). In the following Eleven Days, Eleven Nights Terenzi engages in a steaming affair with sizzling Sarah, who initiates him to exciting sexual pleasures. Mentoring Asproon is publicist Dorothy Tipton (Laura Gemser). It’s a symbolic passing of the torch from one D’Amato softcore starlet to the next. Helen, naturally, starts to feel neglected, and some friction develops when Asproon is forced to reveal that she is merely using Terenzi as a way of completing her new novel “My 100 Men”, a scathing exposé chronicling her sexual conquests. Hearts break, tears roll, and Sarah Asproon returns to her life of prostitution.

Eleven Days, Eleven Nights was written by the husband-and-wife team of Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi which, if this was a horror production, should have anyone sane running for cover. The movie claims to be based upon a novel by one Sarah Asproon, but the name is merely one of many aliases used by Rossella Drudi to give the production a veneer of respectability. It wasn’t the first time D’Amato used such tactic as The Alcove (1985) made similar bogus claims as to its source material. Surprising of both D’Amato and the rightly reviled Drudi-Fragasso axis Eleven Days, Eleven Nights is at times very romantic and there’s a genuine sweet undercurrent to its playful softcore shenanigans. Top Model, its pseudo-sequel, would play up the romantic angle to an even greater degree. In both movies there’s more than enough Luciana Ottaviani in the buff to satisfy anybody’s cravings.

As the Italian exploitation industry started to decline in the 1980s and eventually withered towards the end of the decade D’Amato worked as a director of soft- and hardcore erotica. It’s telling that D’Amato’s repertoire of softcore erotica is frequently and consistently better produced with more attention to shot composition than his horror movies of the period tend to be. Replacing much of the bleakness and nihilism that pervaded his movies with Laura Gemser, Black Emanuelle and otherwise, Eleven Days, Eleven Nights is the Eva Nera (1977) of the eighties. Providing two electro pop songs to the soundtrack is domestic Eurobeat mainstay Leonie Gane. Her two contributions border on the annoying with its cauterwauling vocalizations and sub-Marcello Giombini beat. The majority of the score was composed by Piero Montanari, a well-regarded Italian bassist and musician that contributed to recordings from many artists including Don Backy.

It never sinks to the backwardness of D’Amato’s own period potboiler The Alcove (1985) although that one did have the late Lilli Carati and it never bothers itself with the human drama that comprised much of Mario Bianchi’s Reflections Of Light (1988). Joe D’Amato might not have been a good director, but he at least knew how to put a scene together. Likewise is Luciana Ottaviani's inability to act countered by her looking rather splendid in lingerie (or less). There isn’t much in the way of a plot worth remembering, and whenever Moore takes her clothes off she’s shot with the kind of attention to detail you wish old Joe used in his other more remembered and memorable movies, but somehow never did. It’s a late-night erotic TV movie helmed by a director famous for his horror and gore oeuvre. It’s nothing more than 90 minutes of the camera ogling over the finer points of Luciana Ottaviani’s anatomy. It’s perfunctory in exactly the ways movies like this ought to be. It’s soft erotic trash with a veneer of minimal story. Eleven Days, Eleven Nights makes no qualms about what it is, and that honesty is refreshing to say the least.