Metal’s had a subterranean current of Egyptology for decades: Iron Maiden’s Powerslave, Dio’s “Egypt (The Chains Are On),” Vinnie Vincent’s makeup in Kiss. The band most identified with things pharaonic has long been South Carolina’s Nile, who’ve devoted their whole career to Egyptian themes. But Sphynx, the third album from Scandinavian-based Melechesh (formerly of Jerusalem), is better than anything Nile have done.
Sphynx has rhythmic intricacy in its favor, to start with. Melechesh never settle for death metal’s now-routine blast beats; indeed, they often approach the rock ‘n’ roll swagger of early-’80s Judas Priest. More generally, they’re descendants of melodic Euro-thrash outfits like Destruction and Kreator, but with Middle Eastern melodies added, including that snake-charming one that anybody who’s ever watched cartoons will instantly recognize. Almost every song is a fist-pumping sing-along, except for a couple of instrumentals. One of those, “The Arrival Ritual,” is a placid interlude featuring saz, oud, and other traditional instruments.
Melechesh’s weakness is their vocalist, Ashmedi. His screech, though easier to understand than Nile frontman Karl Sanders’s barking, serves neither the arena-sized riffs nor the lyrics. What they really need is a Rob Halford-style screamer. Still, Sphynx is awfully catchy, for death metal.