Sunday, 21 April 2013

The Meads Of Asphodel - Sonderkommando Review

The Meads Of Asphodel - Sonderkommando [Experimental Black Metal]

The Meads' previous album, 'The Murder Of Jesus The Jew' is a five star masterpiece in my books. Their willingness to experiment is the core foundation of their eclectic sound; quirky, frenzied, but for some weird reason, hypermelodic. That is why I would award it five stars; their various styles not only work seamlessly well, the execution is mature, their groundwork is solid but mostly, their music is memorable, not pretentious. Despite the blastbeats, the scorching riffs and the polarizing vocals, which actually showcase the lyrics, the band has always sounded FUN, not heavy, not groovy, not technical. And that alone is mastery of song writing.

How do they pull it off here? Sonderkommando is the name given to the Jew unit who had to cremate their own dead after the Nazis butchered them. They made a living selling off the deceased's jewellery but lived a tortured life as double agents and usually fled to safer countries lest they were likewise killed. The album is performed from their point of view and tackles the subject of Auschwitz pretty well. Band leader Metatron apparently went there himself and recorded the narrations there.

The album begins with the title track, opening first with a speech from Hitler, which gives way to a Pink Floyd moment of tranquil vocals and some pretty nice keyboards that instantly create a theatrical mood, which preps the listener for a rather long listen (the album is tediously detailed), and then the metal starts with the line "This is fucking death", and things get pretty impressive from here. The main melody of the song is used sparingly between angular riffs, that make it sound more melodic and also makes its appearance more welcomed and more precise. That is not to to say the song is replete with melody, but there is not a single dull moment and the constant switch between melodic and heavy makes the execution sound more natural rather than separate the song into two distinct segues, and that makes for a consistent song throughout, and I found this rather refreshing because too many bands today divide their songs into two distinct parts instead of weaving the cleans and screams so well into one another, as does the intended 'pulse' here demonstrate. This is some magic that made the band a cult following years ago, and rather than read, it should be experienced by the listener himself.

'Wishing Well Of Bones' is so melodic and groovy it put a smile on my face, a first from months of listening. It's repetitive, but the melody demands constant presence as opposed to the previous song, and the guitarists do a fantastic job of derivative riffs of the main melody (a very jazz technique). The chorus is hard to pull out from your memory and the song is thankfully short so that the melody doesn't overstay its welcome. 'Aktion T4' is a more black metal song, with a rather similar chord progression to 'Wishing Well...' but it works as a counter melody to the former and possibly explores the darker side to the cremation process. The screams here are quite unexpected and actually work well to give this moderately melodic song some morbid twist. 'Silent Ghosts Of Babi Yar' is a more serious song with minor ghost melodies and a more anthemic chorus (the guitars take on a psychedelic atmosphere). The real draw comes in the two part 'Children Of The Sunwheel Banner', the first of which contains another Hitler speech sample... over an electronic beat?! Weird, funky and perhaps sarcastic way to portray the dictator's speech, which makes the second part all the more dark and disturbing. Delayed guitar notes paint a rather bleak picture before the song bursts forth with much anger that was, up to this point, absent from the album. Expletives are clearly audible and the song rages at a steady midtempo, with a few fast solos thrown here and there. A lot of narrative here, and a rather beautiful Gregorian chant moment and some melodic riffing and a drum solo while the title is repeated sorrowfully, but more importantly, this gives way to the a fantastic keyboard solo that echoes the same funk beat on Part One. The transition is shockingly well integrated and maintains the mood of the song without diluting its sadness.

 The problem is that the album starts to get weak from this point. 'Lamenting Weaver Of Horror' is a theatrical segue that is almost cringeworthy and the acoustic tones toward the end hardly make up for the cheesiness of the dialogue between captor and child. 'Sins Of The Pharaohs' is the last burst of fire on this album, with the memorable chorus "Set... My people.. Free!". 'Hourglass Of Ash' hardly manages to make a convincing point with a saxophone badly integrated into a considerably angry song, not to mention the overuse of the chorus melody. I am not sure what to make of the lounge section in the bridge. It is musically strange, and yet it's hard to decide if it was a horrible choice or a brilliant one, rather, by this point the shock factor of the album is lost and the music alienates rather than captivate you. 'The Mussulmans Wander Through The Infernal Whirling Fires Amongst Silent Shadows to be Fed Into the Thirsting Jaws of a Godless Death Machine to Cough Up Their Souls to the Nazi Moloch Who Sits Within a Ring of Smoking Infant Skulls' (WHAT KINDA TITLE IS THAT) features the same command-response that has been in effect since 'Wishing Well Of Bones' and has a harmonica. Yeap you read that right, a harmonica and choir vocals. It is decent but the song keeps ricocheting  to so many different elements that they seem particularly badly drawn together, even if there are some memorable punk riffs in the middle of the song. The album ends off slightly stronger, with an acoustic closer 'Send My Love To Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz', although as with most of the songs at the second half, it reaches nowhere in particular.

In the end, I am at a dilemma for this album. It had the potential to be disgustingly bad but the first half of the album was, I daresay even enjoyable. However, the second half of the album is nowhere close to the former in terms of memorable songs, bar the lyrical content. The band has definitely worked hard into the background for the album, but how legit is a British trolling band in empathizing for Jews who were killed in Germany? This may be a cause for concern for some listeners, and upon this view the album is horribly complacent with the theatrics and segues, with the earlier mentioned cheesy dialogues. Also, the impact of the album's length is also another demerit when listening to the album. As such, I award the album:


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