Ashmedi is a happy man. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s sitting in the sunshine in an Amsterdam park, he’s a smart MBA graduate, he’s the founder of Jerusalem’s first metal band, Melechesh and he’s about to bring his brand of metal to Sandstorm, Dubai’s new metal event.
‘This will be my first visit. I’m really excited because Dubai’s a melting pot of cultures,’ he says. Melechesh, too, could be considered a melting pot – of metal. Started by Ashamdi in 1993, the band fuse Middle Eastern drum patterns and oriental-sounding scales with a fast and furious brand of extreme metal. The end result is a sound that is uniquely Melechesh’s.
‘I wanted to make a band that had these Middle Eastern sounds, but was loud and fast at the same time,’ he explains. ‘I started to think about why the sound works and I figured that the drum patterns from the Middle East are old and tribal – ancient music that comes from primal needs for certain patterns. Metal, too, has that primal energy about it.
‘Metal really fits [the Middle East],’ he adds. ‘This area is very vibrant, dynamic and full of emotion, just like metal. It just fits the character.’
It’s no wonder, then, that the region has taken metal music so much to heart – as anyone who’s seen Middle-Eastern fans converging on the Desert Rock Festival will attest. But for Ashamdi the growth of this fanbase happened while he was elsewhere. While he was born and grew up in Jerusalem, he spent much of his formative years travelling, and eventually settled down in Amsterdam. So the popularity of metal in the Middle East was a pleasant surprise. ‘When I was growing up there was no scene and no clubs. No one had heard of Slayer! But now we play shows all over and have lots of fans in the Middle East. It’s cool that festivals are happening in places like Egypt and Dubai.’
Despite the band’s extreme metal stylings, Ashmadi says that growing up on a diet of both rock and Mediterranean music has left him with an open mind towards musical genres and a very broad spectrum of interests. ‘One of my favourite groups aren’t even a metal band – they’re The Tea Party, a rock band from Canada. I listen to everything from jazz to classical to Indian music, and it all rubs off on our sound.’
Just as the band’s music is imbued with the influences of many cultures and sounds, so too is Ashmadi. ‘There aren’t many Syrian-Armenian guys who started an extreme metal band in Jerusalem that then became well known on the underground scene in Europe and the States,’ he boasts. ‘We were also the first Middle Eastern band to be signed internationally.’
There’s even a documentary being made about him that takes him back to his roots and lets him expand upon his thoughts on Mesopotamian history. ‘It’s about me, my philosophies and the way in which I started my own style of music,’ he explains. Not your stereotypical metal star, then. Indeed, how many other musicians get bored between touring and writing music and do an MBA? ‘I did loads of classes, super quick, and finished in under a year,’ he says. ‘I’ve played in front of 10,000 people and I was more nervous giving a presentation to an audience of five!’