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Sunday Old School: Salem

Last year, Sunday Old School columns looked at a variety of bands from countries the column hadn’t featured before. From Rotting Christ in Greece to Aria in Russia, from Pentagram in Chile to Mezarkabul in Turkey, a lot of ground was covered. Now, we’ll be once again heading to uncharted territory, as for the first time, Sunday Old School covers a band from Israel, who are represented well in the history books of extreme metal by a group from Giv’ atayim by the name of Salem.

The band was formed in 1985, just over four kilometres from Tel Aviv, originally under the name, Axe Metal and became one of the first groups outside of Europe to perform the extreme brand of music which would become known as black metal. They built up a fan base at the Penguin Club, where numerous other alternative Israeli artists made their name and where they recorded a live demo, "Destruction Till Death," which was preceded in 1986 by a self-titled rehearsal demo. Another live demo, "Millions Slaughtered" was released in 1990 and was able to spread throughout the underground metal scene.

Along the tape's travels, it was picked up in Norway, the home of black metal and more specifically, Mayhem guitarist, Euronymous who also ran Deathlike Silence Productions. He became quite friendly with the band and reportedly made them an offer to relocate to Norway. However, there was another Scandinavian who did not share this view, and especially not the anti-Holocaust views of Salem, Euronymous’s bandmate, Varg Vikernes. The infamous Burzum mastermind, according to Salem drummer, Nir Nakav, sent the Israelis a letter, praising their music, but reacting viciously to their lyrics and wishing them death in the Gulf War. The band replied with strong words of their own and shortly after, were contacted by police, who had intercepted an explosive parcel from Norway, reportedly addressed to vocalist, Ze'ev Tananboim.

Despite this rather frightening experience, the band were able to experience success, signing to the German label, Morbid Records who released their EP, "Creating Our Sins" in 1992 on twelve inch vinyl, before releasing their first full length album, "Kaddish" in 1994. The album was garnered a good response from critics and metal fans alike and spawned a picture disc single for the song, "Dying Embers," a video for which received airplay on MTV, making them one of the first bands from Israel to earn this distinction. Also on the album was the song, "Ha'ayara Bo'eret," a Hebrew translation of the Yiddish poem, "S’brent," by Polish author, Mordechai Gebirtig in 1938. The interpretation was even brought to the attention of the Israeli parliament, who discussed whether it was right for a metal band to perform a work about the 1936 Przytyk pogroms in Poland.

It would be another four years before Salem released another album, enlisting the help of producer Colin Richardson, who had become known for his work with Machine Head, Anathema and Fear Factory amongst others. He flew to Israel to work on the record, which eventually surfaced under the title, "A Moment of Silence." Once again, it received some excellent feedback from critics and some fans consider it to be just as good as, "Kaddish," citing its varied sound and Gothic influences, earning them comparisons to bands such as Paradise Lost and Type O Negative.

Another four years passed before they released their fourth official record, "Collective Demise," a concept album inspired by the Second Intifada, an uprising by the Palestinians which occurred when which began in 2000 when future prime minister, Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, which was seen as highly provocative by Palestinian protestors. It's considered the band’s most extreme and aggressive album to date and was their first release through another German record company, KMG/System Shock, having been released from Israeli label, B.N.E. the year before.

Next on the agenda was another change of record companies, this time moving to the French label, Season of Mist, who, following an album of re-recorded songs with added string sections, entitled "Strings Attached," released the group’s next full length album, "Necessary Evil" in 2007. The album earned comparisons to such brutal thrash records as Sepultura's, "Beneath the Remains" and the Vio-Lence album, "Eternal Nightmare," though it still retained some of the doom metal aspects of previous releases and some death and grind influences. It was notable for featuring a twenty seven minute long song, "Once Upon A Lifetime Parts 1-V," as well as a short song, "Amona," which focused on events that happened at the Israeli outpost of the same name, though built on privately owned Palestinian land. The same month that the album was released, Salem performed outside of Israel for the first time, making an appearance at the Hellfest festival in France.

Following a home video release, "Salem Underground" in 2008, the band once again, switched labels, this time pairing up with Pulverized Records, through which they released the full length album, "Playing God and Other Short Stories" in 2010. It boasted a guest appearance from At The Gates and Lock Up singer, Tomas Lindberg on the first two parts of the "Mark of the Beast" trilogy which featured on the record, as well as a cover of the Bob Marley classic, "Exodus" and as an Israeli bonus track, a cover of the twelth century Jewish hymn, "Et Sha'arei Ratzon."

Where Salem goes from here remains to be seen. With five years having passed since their last album, fans will no doubt be clamouring for any sign of new material surfacing. For now though, the extreme band from the holy land are keeping quiet, their place in the list of important metal bands outside of Europe and North America firmly assured.

Salem - "Voices From Hell"

Salem - "The Fading"

Salem - "Ha'ayara Bo'eret"

Salem - "A Moment Of Silence"

Salem - "Slave"

Salem - "Blood"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.

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1 Comment on "Sunday Old School: Salem"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Carlos Santos writes:

Greetings.
I liked them as well. As I was listening to them, I was thinking of how open their sound was. Today, music seems way to tagged. Salem may have been born black metal, but they´re more about heavy metal.
Thanks!

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