From Iron Maiden's Powerslave to Morbid Angel and Nile's respective album cycles around Sumeria and Egypt, metal's longtime adoption of Satan as a power symbol has widened to include an obsession with the cradle of civilization, and while some of these albums dabble in Hollywood-scale visions of pyramids, tombs, and the like, the majority sound like cultural anthropology through blast beats. In other words, if Maiden was Cecil B. DeMille, Nile and their ilk are Howard Carter.
Israel's Melechesh hasn't yet achieved the profile of its fellow Sumeria obsessives, but not for lack of trying. With 2003's Sphynx, which fused technically flawless black-metal ferocity with traditional Arabic and Turkish instrumentation, the band crafted a lyrical vision so dense that it required an accompanying glossary and song-by-song footnotes. And while the time between then and the new Emissaries has found Melechesh adopting a more traditional melodic-thrash sound, the themes (hinted at in song titles like "Touching The Spheres Of Sephiroth") remain as brain-bogglingly detailed as ever.
Thing is, the new direction could provide just the profile boost Melechesh needs. Sounding like Lamb Of God covering Powerslave through Slayer's rigs, the quartet begins Emissaries in overdrive with "Rebirth Of The Nemesis," a snarling, rhythmically unhinged track whose drone-like Middle Eastern melody belies its true complexity. The theme continues unabated for nine more songs (including a cover of "Gyroscope" by Canada's The Tea Party), with new drummer Xul—who's replaced the formidable Proscriptor—anchoring the band's gargantuan melodies via acrobatic fills and bass-pedal assaults. Incredible as Sphynx was, it didn't have near the crossover potential of this material, and though some fans aren't digging the possibility, Melechesh sounds like it's finally ready to leave the underground. If nothing else, it's given every other metal band an album to top in 2007.