Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mekong Delta - In A Mirror Darkly

Mekong Delta
In A Mirror Darkly

Mekong Delta is without a doubt one of the most criminally overlooked progressive thrash metal outfits on the scene today. Despite a history that has spanned more than twenty-five years (Admittedly, the band went on hiatus between 1996 and 2007), and universal critical acclaim for each and every one of their album’s released, the German based band still remains relatively unknown to most outside their cult underground following. But that hasn’t stopped them from doing what they do best, and four years after the release of ‘Wanderer On The Edge Of Time’ (Excluding 2012’s ‘Intersections’, which was an album of re-recorded/reworked tracks), Mekong Delta has returned with eleventh full-length effort ‘In A Mirror Darkly’.
Although described as a continuation of the themes that were previously explored on ‘Wanderer On The Edge Of Time’, it has to be said that ‘In A Mirror Darkly’ is in no way a mere carbon copy of its predecessor. If anything, the band (Who comprised of Lalu/Tomorrow’s Eve vocalist Martin ‘LeMar’ Rammel, guitarist Erik ‘Adam H.’ Grösch, bassist/classical guitarist/group founder Ralph ‘Ralf’ Hubert and ex-Annihilator/Axxis/At Vance drummer Alex Landenburg) has really gelled in their six years together, and the album stands alone as unique, while delivering all the core elements you would otherwise expect from a Mekong Delta release.
The album is introduced via the classical guitar piece ‘Introduction’, which is essentially a showcase of Hubert’s lifelong passion for classical music (Which has had an influence on Mekong Delta’s vast body of work in the past). As ‘Introduction’ closes, the band quickly follows up with ‘Ouverture’, which is an instrumental piece of thrash metal that allows the band to demonstrate their skills on their respective instruments, and their ability to write a tune that boasts complexity and is melodic in equal measure.
It isn’t until ‘The Armageddon Machine’ that Rammel enters the fray, and his appearance certainly has an immediate impact. Despite the rather frantic and chaotic nature of the music itself, Rammel manages to inject just the right amount of power and melody into the song to really give it an immediacy that makes it stand out as a favourite. Although being in the band for some time now, Rammel adds a real element of power and melody to the band’s harsh/aggressive thrashing sounds, and now more than ever, sounds completely in synch with the band.
The band slows things down with the dramatic ‘The Sliver In Gods Eye’, but still manages to keep the intensity within the song with a gradual build that gathers momentum as it proceeds on. Rammel’s again stands out on the vocal front, with his performance at times bringing to mind early era Geoff Tate (Ex-Queensrÿche) in places with the heavily layered and effective backing vocals.
On ‘Janus’, Mekong Delta once again return to familiar terrain with the song a progressive thrash epic that allows everyone within the band to showcase their talents. But while the song is a little chaotic and scattered (Almost everything is thrown in over its six and a half minutes in length), there’s a groove and melody that links everything together for the listener, which again proves that while Mekong Delta are nothing short of incredible musicians, they’re also capable song writer’s too.
If there’s one definitive stand out on the album, it has to be ‘Inside The Outside Of The Inside’. Not unlike the former track, ‘Inside The Outside Of The Inside’ is a progressive/thrash metal piece that is constantly twisting and turning. But there’s something about the arrangement of the riffs, the intertwining tandem guitar work, Landenburg’s ever-present fills and the overall energetic tempos and catchiness of the song that really makes it stand out.
Although Rammel manages to impress throughout ‘In A Mirror Darkly’, his best performance can be found on ‘Hindsight Bias’. Again, his ability to get a melodic foothold within Mekong Delta’s thrashing sonic soundscape is nothing short of astounding. And what he’s managed to produce on this track is amazing.
Finishing up the album is ‘Mutant Messiah’, which sounds like a natural continuation of the former track, only with more venom and aggression thrown into the mix to close things out with a blistering finale.
Although not straying too far from what the band delivered on their last couple of releases, it has to be said that ‘In A Mirror Darkly’ does stand out on its own. The production (Handled by Hubert) is notably better than ever before, and the album seems to flow better than previous efforts as well (‘Wanderer On The Edge Of Time’ is one of the more obvious examples that comes to mind).
In fact, the only real obvious flaw I can find with Mekong Delta’s latest effort is the cover artwork.
Overall, ‘In A Mirror Darkly’ is exactly what you would expect from a Mekong Delta album. It’s progressive, thrashing, forward thinking, complex, melodic and an impeccably performed piece of art, and one that deserves more attention than it will most likely attract.

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© Justin Donnelly

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