As March was drawing to an end, the messengers of ethnic extreme music, Nile and Melechesh, returned to Nosturi along with the warm-up act Embryo from Italy. A Nile gig in Finland once every few years is beginning to be quite standard, but for Melechesh – as far as I know – this is only their second visit since the band had to, much to the dismay of many, cancel their Steelfest show last year. I attended the last show 5 years ago and witnessed two extraordinarily strong performances, so my expectations were high beforehand.
I was a bit concerned in advance about the early start time of the event: Embryo’s showtime was announced to be at a shocking early 19:30, and while there have been a lot of requests for earlier shows in the media, I’ve always had the feeling that people usually don’t show up for earlier shows in equal numbers compared to weekends or gigs starting later in the evening. As I arrived to Nosturi at about 19:15, the front yard was as quiet as I expected, with ten or so people hastily chugging down their beers, and I got a message from our photographer stating that the situation didn’t look any better inside. Perhaps things were affected by the 28€ ticket price, which, while pretty standard for two bigger foreign acts, doesn’t necessarily tempt an average nine-to-five worker to attend a death metal show in the middle of the week.
Although Embryo was founded in the year 2000 and has released three full-lengths, the name didn’t ring any bells for me. The band kicked off their set a bit late to the really scarce but pleasantly receiving Nosturi crowd. Embryo’s output was a nicely unpredictable mixture of melodic death metal and metalcore. At one moment the band was playing more mid-tempo stuff in the vein of Dark Tranquillity, changing to Sepultura-like riffs in the next while using futuristic-sounding symphonic backing tracks, polyrhythmics, and whatever else. Every time you got a hold of a song, it changed into something different.
While the band’s material was, at times, very prolific, something vital that I cannot quite pin down was missing to give it the finishing touch. The mixing wasn’t on Embryo’s side: the stage sound was raw and for some reason the drum kit lacked overhead microphones. Embryo was also one of those bands that would have benefited from having two guitarists instead of one; while the guitarist was playing one of the few solos he had – that unfortunately didn’t have much content – the bass and drums alone couldn’t hold the sound together. I don’t know who controlled the backing tracks, but at times the track was barely audible, when during breakdowns it felt like someone turned the volume up even if it was totally unnecessary. Apparently Embryo also has a keyboard player, but in Nosturi the band performed as a four-piece.
Despite the small flaws, Embryo managed to get the audience on their side, based on the random conversations I managed to hear over the bar area. The band’s vocalist thanked the audience with his thick Italian accent, and with his curly long hair, closely resembled Rhapsody of Fire’s singer, Fabio Lione. The new drummer, Enea Passarella, was a sympathetic sight with his long Jamaica-styled dreadlocks. All-in-all I probably wouldn’t go to see Embryo play their own show, but in this context their set was a pretty nice warm-up.
Next up: the main business! Originally hailing from Jerusalem, Israel, Melechesh has played their Mesopotamia-themed blackened metal since 1993. Israel wasn’t a pleasant country to have a metal band in the nineties, causing the members to relocate to the Netherlands at the end of the decade. Melechesh has played Finland only once over the years and it was pretty obvious that the large crowd, appearing almost out of nowhere at the end of Embryo’s set, had come to see Melechesh at least as much as Nile. When the first song, “The Pendulum Speaks” off their latest effort, Enki, started, the atmosphere was instantly electrified. The band had put a lot of effort into their visual appearance by pairing their backdrop with similarly-themed side banners, and the second guitarist and bass player had black scarfs that revealed only their eyes. They even had incense sticks burning on the stage. I hope that the no one in the first row was sensitive to smells; the incense had our photographer coughing for several songs after she had returned from the photo pit.
Melechesh has a truly unique sound – I’m hard-pressed to think of a metal band that sounds anything like them. Their riffs use scales that sound weird to the ears of a westerner. The band’s founder, guitarist, and vocalist Ashmedi’s dry and high-pitched harsh voice worked wonderfully with sharp-mixed guitar tones and very well-mixed drums. The band’s original drummer, Lord Curse, who returned to the band 2 years ago, played his parts with a smile on his face for the entire time, changing from fast blast-beats to slower gallop-like beats without a hitch. The setlist was quite similar to the one from 5 years ago, but one shouldn’t complain, when from “The Pendulum Speaks” to the set-concluding Emissaries opener “Rebirth of the Nemesis” the audience was enjoying the gig to its fullest. Still, I wish that the band would include Sphynx’s killer track, “Purifier of the Stars,” in the set at some point in time…
Unlike Melechesh, one of the most prominent death metal bands in the world, Nile, has visited Finland numerous times before, and not without a good cause! The band’s heavily Egyptian mythology –influenced death metal is simply brilliant, and considering the band’s back catalogue, Black Seeds of Vengeance, In Their Darkened Shrines, and especially Annihilation of the Wicked are valid candidates for anyone’s list of classic death metal albums. All the previous Nile gigs I’ve seen have been awesome: during their first Tuska show in 2008 their circle pit, more resembling a hurricane, spanned from Sue Stage’s first row all the way to the mixer booth, and it wasn’t much smaller 2 years later.
At 21:50 the stage curtains were pulled aside and when the first tunes of Nile’s de facto opening song “Sacrifice Unto Sebek” played, it immediately felt like returning home. The band blasted away their first four songs identically to their previous Nosturi gig, when second up was “Defiling the Gates of Ishtar” off their second album, Black Seeds of Vengeance, with “Kafir!” and “Hittite Dung Incantation” from Those Whom the Gods Detest, before which the guitarist (nowadays also the vocalist) Dallas Toler-Wade praised Finland as a country that’s always nice to return to play a metal show in.
Nile played a total of four songs, integrating nicely with the order ones from the latest album, What Should Not Be Unearthed: “Call to Destruction,” “In the Name of Amun,” the title track, and “Evil to Cast Out Evil,” while the shorter instrumental track, “Ushabti Reanimator,” was used as an intro tape. Longer-time fans were spoiled with “The Howling of the Jinn” off their debut album, Amongst the Catacombs of Nephren-Ka. NICE! The encores were also older favorites with the video song “Sarcophagus” off In Their Darkened Shrines, after which the band pulled off My Personal Favorite™, “Lashed to the Slave Stick” off Annihilation of the Wicked! The show was concluded with possibly the most well-known Nile track, “Black Seeds of Vengeance.”
Show after show, Nile is always an astonishing act. The band’s mastermind, guitarist Karl Sanders, could easily be the father of most of the audience (is he really 52 already?!), but still outplays most of his colleagues, and sings with an unbelievably low growling voice. The Greece-based drummer, George Kollias, whose drum kit uses an average Helsinki single apartment’s worth of floor space, continues to blow people’s minds with his playing in tempos above 250bpm most of the time. Sanders, Toler-Wade, and Kollias have been playing together for over 10 years, only their bassist has changed several times during the period; the recent-ish bass player Brad Parris took care of his parts nicely.
Nosturi and Nile (as well as Nosturi and Melechesh) are a fool-proof combination, and it’s great that extreme music can still find its audience – I originally thought that the ticket price of almost 30€ would be too much for an average show-goer, but in the end Nosturi was almost packed. The venue deserves a special thank you for their recent procedure of expanding the bar area towards the stage depending on the number of pre-sale tickets sold. Tonight there weren’t a lot of minors attending to begin with, so one could watch the shows and sip some beer almost in the front row. A pleased crowd started to exit the venue into the chilly spring night – a successful Nosturi event once again! One would have gladly heard Nile play “Cast Down the Heretic” as well, but I guess you cannot always have it all.
1. Sacrifice Unto Sebek
2. Defiling the Gates of Ishtar
4. Hittite Dung Incantation
5. Call to Destruction
6. In the Name of Amun
7. The Howling of the Jinn
8. What Should Not Be Unearthed
9. The Inevitable Degragation of Flesh
10. Evil to Cast Out Evil
12. Lashed to the Slave Stick
13. Black Seeds of Vengeance
Photos: Eliza Rask