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Mekong Delta, Germany


Mekong Delta - s/t. 1987 Aaarrg CD + LP
Mekong Delta - The Music of Erich Zann. 1988 Aaarrg CD + LP
Mekong Delta - The Principle of Doubt. 1989 Aaarrg CD + LP
Mekong Delta - Dances of Death (and Other Walking Shadows). 1990 Aaarrg CD + LP
Mekong Delta - Kaleidoscope. 1992 Intercord (reissued in 2013 on LP by Night of the Vinyl Dead (Italy))
Mekong Delta - Visions Fugitives. 1994 Intercord; 2002 Zardoz
Mekong Delta - Lurking Fear. 2007 AFM CD + 2LP
Mekong Delta - Wanderer on the Edge of Time. 2010 Aaarrg CD + LP
Mekong Delta - In a Mirror Darkly. 2014 Steamhammer CD + 2LP

In addition to the above studio recordings, Mekong Delta has a handful of live and re-recorded material.


As discussed with Deterrent, I've decided to include some of the more interesting progressive metal bands into the UTR. And Mekong Delta are a long time favorite of mine, having bought the LP of "The Music of Erich Zann" not long after it was released in 1988. They've always been outside of the mainstream - more technical thrash than traditional prog metal. And to be honest, when talking metal, I tend to prefer the thrashier elements anyway.


Even though I still own the original LP of the debut (US press), it could not have been a more inauspicious debut. Fortunately I first heard Mekong Delta on their sophomore album, or I may never have pursued them further. I think the quality of music is fine here, but the production is so sloppy and muddy that it sounds like a huge mess. Mekong Delta, it appears to me, were trying to accomplish more than they were ready for. However, they should be (or should have been) commended for trying to break barriers, in a genre (metal) that had already grown all-too predictable. Tracks like 'The Cure' are definitely the prototype for their future sound. And their cover of Mussorgsky/ELP's 'The Hut of Baba Yaga' certainly put a smile on any progressive rock fan in 1987 - the less than 20 that were left back then (including me). Yea, it's a mess. But a fun mess.


"The Music of Erich Zann" is a huge improvement on the debut. The music is still raw, but the production gives the instruments clarity. And when you play as complex and fast as Mekong Delta does, then this aspect of their overall sound is highly important. Perhaps 'True Lies' is the ultimate example of this era of Mekong Delta. Complicated, thrashy, yet melodic. In control. 'Interludium' was my initial introduction to the band, as it was played - perhaps unbelievably - on a local radio station here in Dallas(?!). It was one of their first collaborations with orchestra and highly successful at that. And the Dead Can Dance styled closer 'Epilogue' is disarming. Overall, a definitive statement in the technical thrash genre. Definitely a good place to start with this excellent band.


"The Principle of Doubt" is a bit of a step back from "The Music of Erich Zann", as the songs are complex, but a bit messy - recalling their debut somewhat (though not near that messy). So not the atrocity, from a production perspective, of the debut but this is tough going - like driving a jeep through muddy terrain (I reiterate: The production is not good). But the next album ended all doubts about the brilliance of Mekong Delta - at least for me.


"Dances of Death" is where Mekong Delta laid down the technical thrash album for the ages. The title track is like the instrumental segments of Emerson Lake and Palmer's "Tarkus" stretched to 20 minutes. It just keeps going and going... and going. At neck breaking speed. Meter change after complex meter change. If you're not seeing a chiropractor after listening to this then... you're just not listening to this! Doug Lee hits all the high notes while Ralf Hubert propels the whole thing along via his gymnastic bass. Uwe Baltrusch's guitars are just insane. And the playing is tight, tight, tight! And what amazes me most? It's a 20 minute composition that clearly is one composition. Not eight different songs under the banner of a suite (cough, cough.... Fates Warning, Dream Theater). What a ride. The two shorter pieces are great, similar to what you would hear on "The Music of Erich Zann". This leads into the de facto version 'Night on a Bare Mountain'. Yep, that's right - that old classical piece and progressive rock cover chestnut. This is the definitive version. You'll never hear the composition the same again. In fact, you won't hear a thrash metal album again the same. What a monster of an album.


"Kaleidoscope" is a great followup to "Dances of Death". Mekong Delta were at their creative peak by this point, with a jaw dropping cover of Genesis' 'Dance on a Volcano' (Progressor of Uzbekistan says "maybe the best metal cover ever"). Also a fascinating version of Khachaturian's 'Sabre Dance'. I don't typically go for classical covers, but Mekong Delta tend to do them better than the rest. As for the other 40 minutes of original material, it's an extension of "Dances of Death", but more refined and slightly less chaotic. "Dances of Death" is the 'Manticore' of progressive metal stretched over an entire album and still remains my favorite technical thrash album ever. This may well be their next best...


"Visions Fugitives" followed the excellent "Kaleidoscope", and it seemed the band just went off into the ether afterward. Even back then, the album received little promotion or accord, and few paid much attention to it. I managed to secure a reissue CD copy many years after the original release on the German label Zardoz (mind you I was a fan of the band at the time - so perhaps that underscores what I'm saying about how obscure the original release was). The first opening two tracks could have easily been on "Kaleidoscope", and 'Imagination' adds a very interesting psychedelic element here, not a sound commonly associated with aggressive metal. This is followed by the 6 part, 21 minute orchestrated suite. If you look back on Mekong Delta's career to this point, it would almost seem obvious this would be the conclusion of where they were headed. And while many fans shake their head in disgust, I think it's a fine addition to their catalog. I appreciate that the classical music isn't based on standards, but rather all the compositions are originally charted for this album. The Swedish band Therion would later take this concept to greater heights, but Mekong Delta were pioneering this concept all the way back to the late 80s (sure, many a rock band did the same in the late 60s - but not in the thrash metal field had this been a common practice). Now one criticism that I also will get behind - is that there isn't really an orchestra! Oh for crying out loud - you write something for an orchestra than at least have one to perform it! Synthesizers aren't going to get it done. Oh well - I still appreciate the effort applied here, at least from a compositional perspective. Even if the long suite doesn't satisfy, "Visions Fugitives" closes nicely in the same fashion as the opening, complete with a psychedelic overtone added to the vocals, and acoustic guitar interludes. After this, Mekong Delta appeared to call it a day, seemingly accomplishing everything they had set out to do.


... And then 13 years later they return with "Lurking Fear". Or I should say founder Ralf Hubert returned with a whole new crew in tow - all experienced and talented metal warriors (you know a band's been around the block when the "youngster" is 37 years old). Unlike progressive rock bands from the 70s, most metal groups' reunion efforts tend to be very good. I've long held the belief this is because the metal groups (many who came about in the sordid underground of the 1980s) understood their core client base far more than the bands from the 70s who were still aimlessly looking for radio hits. Not only did Mekong Delta take a long vacation, but so did the entire technical thrash movement they helped invent. So it turns out Mekong Delta's reunion also ushered back in a most welcome style of music, that has since gone on to be popularized more so than ever by a once obscure Phoenix area band known as Vektor (whose 2009 debut is considered the 3rd highest ranked album according to RYM for all albums (yes, that's right, from a technical thrash band!!)). So exactly where did Mekong Delta look for inspiration for their comeback? Of course I would have hoped for "Dances of Death", but instead they chose "The Music of Erich Zann", which is certainly not a bad choice at all. This is gritty stuff. Highly complex music, with some orchestrations, that is also deadly in the thrash department. The riffs are solid, and are given just enough space to stand out amongst the insane amount of ideas thrown around. There are even some real melodies here, which is something of an accomplishment in this field of music. I'm telling you folks, this is headphone music only. I tried listening to it in the car recently, and I just couldn't give it the focus it requires - and it sounded like a big pile of goo. Sitting down with a real stereo and listening intently with headphones (and a craft Imperial IPA of course), really opens this one up. This one is not to be missed.


One of the challenges in appreciating Mekong Delta is that their relentless complexity can be difficult to penetrate, especially on albums where the production isn't crisp (their early days in particular). What if Mekong Delta dialed back the intensity and mathematics, while still maintaining their heavy symphonic approach, but with a crystal clear production? "Wanderer on the Edge of Time" is the answer to that question. Mekong Delta always had a penchant for blasting out thrashy, but complex progressive rock oriented, instrumental interludes ('Intermezzo' being the highlight of the nine(!) instrumentals here). This is no doubt an homage to Ralf Hubert's fascination with ELP's "Tarkus" suite amongst other Emersonian classical interpretations/original compositions. Here they intersperse these interludes with more song oriented material. The latter represents somewhat of a departure for the band - something they explored briefly on "Kaleidoscope". But fear not, as the band performs perhaps their best technical thrash metal track to date with 'The Apocalypt - World in Shards'. If "Lurking Fear" is the successor to 'The Music of Erich Zann", then "Wanderer on the Edge of Time" would be the inheritors of the "Dances of Death" / "Kaleidoscope" era with a bit more melodic consideration. Another excellent addition to the Mekong Delta legacy.


And so after 27 years, Mekong Delta keeps going at a high standard with "In a Mirror Darkly", an album that sounds like a cross between its two studio predecessors "Lurking Fear" and "Wanderer on the Edge of Time". The hyper complex technical thrash returns, but with a strong dash of accessible material as well. The opening two instrumentals recall their 2010 opus, as does the complex instrumental 'Inside the Outside of the Inside'. And there are a couple of more accessible vocal oriented progressive metal tunes here like 'The Sliver in Gods Eye' and 'Janus'. But for those looking for the heavier, more murky and mysterious trademarked Mekong Delta material, then 'The Armageddon Machine', 'Hindsight Bias', and 'Mutant Messiah' will certainly delight. As with "Lurking Fear", these tracks should be heard on headphones only, as there are lot of ideas thrown out that will be only picked up with careful listen. There isn't any of the jaw dropping greatness of a track like 'The Apocalypt - World in Shards', but overall the album is an impressive listen. Mekong Delta, since their reformation, may have not regained the heights of their early 90s formation - but they have proven to be more consistent in their wizened old age. Let's hope they continue and ultimately surpass what they accomplished over 20 years ago.


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