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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.

Some great things have come from New Jersey. Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Whitney Houston, Ripping Corpse… and Kelly Barber. Wave Break is an alternative rock band based out of Boston, Massachusetts fronted by Bridgewater, NJ indie darling Kelly Barber. As a solo artist Barber garnered a respectable following in the wider New Jersey region and she was bound to connect with a bunch of like-minded musicians. Wave Break is the result of just such an aligning of stars. If this single is anything to go by, Wave Break is obviously finds itself in the indie and alternative realm while maintaining the smooth pop edge of Barber's solo ventures. As a solo artist Kelly was pretty much headed into this direction as early as “My Own Contradiction” but especially with the promising “Breaking Barriers” EP and its follow-up single “If You Were Awake”. Wave Break puts rock back in alternative rock and infuses it with a helping of pop sensibilities.

Wave Break pretty much is Kelly’s band as it is. ‘Plaster City’, the lead single of a proposed full length album, builds upon what Barber had been doing as a solo artist but puts far greater emphasis on the alternative rock aspect. And for the better too. Kelly’s voice sounds the most optimal when put to some hard rocking tune. ‘Plaster City’ merges the pop sensibilities of early Avril Lavigne with the almost clinically produced, hook-laden alternative rock of Paramore (circa “Brand New Eyes”) and Blink-182. Wave Break doesn’t put its eggs in just a single basket and they tread the fine line between lighter alternative rock and finely tuned, smoothly produced and slightly more muscular pop-rock. It surely is a delicate balancing act between the crunch of the guitars and Barber’s ever so fragile vocals. It’s good to see Kelly branching out a bit here and going for a slightly more aggressive and jugular vocal style, although these things are, of course, relative. The pop punk descriptor is something of a misnomer as far we’re concerned. Wave Break is as as punk as Avril Lavigne and Blink-182, which wasn’t a whole lot to begin with. Pop-rock seems to cover most of their sound. Wave Break is definitely more alternative than, say, California's Polaris Rose or acts of similar ilk. All of which doesn't stop Wave Break from having written a stellar example of a hook-based pop-rock song. Hopefully the album will be able to live up to the initial promise of this single.

As for Kelly herself. You can’t keep a good woman down. Kelly has come a long way since “My Own Contradiction”. As a solo artist Kelly was pretty much headed into this direction with the promising “Breaking Barriers” EP and its follow-up single “If You Were Awake”. In comparison to Barber’s solo ventures Wave Break is a more hook-based affair with some powerful riffs and Kelly’s vocals, fragile as they tend to be, come across a bit more mean-spirited and spitting venom due to more muscular framework she’s surrounded with. Wave Break isn’t some profound sea change for Barber, even though the sound is slightly more muscular than her solo material, and it’s exactly the sort of project she was destined to front. Which doesn’t mean that Wave Break is but a mere sum of its parts. Every part is stellar in its own way, but there’s not a shred of doubt about the fact that this is first and foremost Kelly’s show. ‘Plaster City’ has the makings of a radio single, and it should work as such especially in her native America. Given the necessary streamlining Wave Break should be able to cross the Atlantic and find an audience for their wares in the Old World. Europe loves just the type of music that Kelly plays, definitely.

So where does that leave ‘Plaster City’ and the band that wrote it? It pretty much sits at that fork in the road between smooth guitar-oriented pop and a softer incarnation of alternative rock. Judging from this single Wave Break could go either direction in what is either its greatest asset or biggest pitfall. Personally we hope Kelly and her men decide on increasing the rock aspect of their sound as Barber’s sweet musings tend to blend in with a more poppier approach. The contrast between the rock instrumentation and Barber’s pop vocals is what ultimately sells Wave Break as a band. ‘Plaster City’ isn’t some great invention of the genre, but rather a reconfiguration that appeals to fans on both ends of the spectrum. It wouldn’t hurt Wave Break to crank up the guitars and bass and have Kelly write/sing about a subject really dear to her heart. As The Boss once wrote, “You can't start a fire without a spark” and the spark is definitely present on ‘Plaster City’. We’ll anxiously await when Wave Break decides to put the flame to the fuse – and when they do, there’ll certainly be plenty of fireworks.