Released: 2014, SPV
I think I’m one of the only big Mekong Delta fans on the on staff so I have no problem taking a look at the new Mekong Delta album, IN A MIRROR DARKLY. In my May 2012 review of their last stop-gap album, INTERSECTIONS (comprised of older tunes re-recorded with the new vocalist) I ended that review by saying, “Hopefully this album is a good omen for the next, hopefully heavier, full-length, studio album of all-new material from this fascinating under-rated band.” Well, maybe they read my review, (but I doubt it) because IN A MIRROR DARKLY is the heaviest album they have done since their comeback in 2007 after a ten-year hiatus. The band has been on a roll with three studio albums (and the remake) but this stands as the best of the recent bunch.
The band has pared down to a quartet and it seems (even temporarily) that the constantly changing line-up has stabilized with the same core group of musicians on the last three releases. The band is notorious for many line-up changes, with over 17 members over the years, only founder Ralf Hubert still remaining. This new-found stability has perhaps contributed to the re-invigorated sound of INTO A MIRROR DARKLY.
The album is short, a mere 45 minutes, seven songs, two of which are instrumentals and really not that many vocals overall. The band has always had music, not singing, as the primary focal point and Martin LeMar is a very gifted vocalist. I would normally suggest his services are perhaps under-utilized but singing has never really been the main force in Mekong Delta. In fact, sometimes his vocals are mixed quite far back and he has a tough time competing with the utter avalanche of music happening, especially in cuts like, ‘Hindsight Bias’. Of all the vocalists of Mekong Delta, I think LeMar may be the technically most gifted with the most range and after three albums I’m really embracing his style, even though it is tough to compete with former singers Borgmann and the unique sounding Lee.
Musically the band still play their own awesome brand of cyber/prog/neoclassical thrash is hard to wrap your brain around. The album opens with an instrumental ‘ ‘Introduction + Overture’ with the classic acoustic guitar work that has been a signature component of Mekong Delta from very early on. The second half of the song, the ‘overture' half, immediately lets the listeners know this could be the heaviest album they have done in a while. Fortunately, the band keep up the pace and breath-taking intensity for the whole album. Most of the songs don’t really have a conventional verse-chorus structure and most of them are about six minutes long with many extended instrumental passages of varying degree of tone and tempo. The albums ends with the speedy ‘Mutant Messiah’ finishing with the classic ‘heart monitor flat-line noise’ indicating death has occurred. It is a pretty heart-attack inducing piece of technical thrash that will take several tries to fully hear all the things going on in the songs, that never quite drop into that freaky, totally atonal zone, there is still enough underlying structure to keep it all from flying off the rails and rendering it unlistenable. For us first wave metalheads, I still think that Mekong Delta is the mutant spawn of Rage, Coroner and Secrecy and Rosicrucian (remember them?) all fused in some sort hyper ADHD kid overdosing on whatever is the cool energy drink these days. IN A MIRROR DARKLY is their latest (11th!) Frankenstein’s monster and it is beautiful.
This band is unique, challenging and fascinating and I intellectually understand why so few people have latched onto them, but I’m always disappointed that not more people check them out. I would think the fans that rave about all that tech-prig stuff from Quebec like Voi-vod, Gorguts, Martyr, Quo Vadis etc… would love a band like this. It could be the cleaner vocals, that aren’t ‘heavy’ enough for some people, or the more traditional guitar tones and drum sound but in terms of instrumentation, composition, arrangements and perfromances, Mekong Delta are as good or better than all those guys. IN A MIRROR DARKLY is another in a long line of stellar, uncompromising progressive Metal albums.