The Meads Of Asphodel - Damascus Steel
Supernal Music
Experimental Black Metal, Psychedelic Heavy Metal
9 songs (1:01:25)
Release year: 2005
Official Site, Supernal Music
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

It’s typical of The Meads Of Asphodel that their third album should not just be a complicated concept piece about eastern-western warfare, but is also the best thing they’ve done to date; in addition, it's one of the most individual and impressive albums to be released that year. As good as previous album, Exhuming The Grave Of Yeshua was, it was still rather rough around the edges, something that certainly can’t be suggested of Damascus Steel. This album simply reeks of intelligence, contains not a single weak track, and has set the bar so high that The Meads themselves are yet to surpass it, their 2006 EP In The Name Of God, Welcome To Planet Genocide noticeably falling short. The band, consisting of gruff vocalist Metatron, talented multi-instrumentalist James Tait and drummer Urakbaramel, play their hearts out as ever, and the guests more than prove their value, from ex-Hawkwinders Alan Davey and Huw Lloyd Langton to Sigh keyboardist Mirai.

There is really absolutely nothing to criticise. Even intro piece Psalm 666 is spine-chillingly effective, opening with a Dubya speech and moving to the sounds of war, before the horrified reactions of people watching the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11 are laid over a screaming baby and a man calmly reading from Psalm 23, ‘the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want’ – the words reverberating powerfully as the biggest terrorist attack of the 21st Century against a western power sets the tone for yet another crusade. It’s difficult to write about without offending someone reading; yet as ever it’s remarkable that The Meads are one of the few (only?) Black Metal bands to have lyrical relevance to current events rather than the usual Satanic hodgepodge. Whatever you think of the War On Terror, few would argue with the sheer asskicking technicality of the next track, Creed Of Abraham. Mixing Prog Rock and Black Metal into one unholy assault, the track twists and turns wonderfully, Urakbaramel’s near-tribal battery underpinning the guitar heroics of James Tait and Langton wonderfully. It’s almost perfectly written, from the brief acoustic interlude to the many solos, and Tait and Metatron’s vocal duel is expertly judged, the former’s Black Metal yowl going up against the latter’s gruff Lemmy-meets-Barney Greenway grunt in style.

Of course, this is the kind of album that’s best listened to as a whole, and the experience is breath-taking. Hollow Womb Of Suicide is driven by Middle-Eastern percussion and intermittent Heavy Metal riffing, subtly stating the mindlessness of suicide bombers in completely danceable format. And all in less than three minutes! Hawkwind cover Sword Of The East follows, as well-written as ever; a brief piano intro giving way to psychedelic synths and catchy riffing. The midway emotional peak of ‘God lives forever... but we do not’ has to be heard to be believed; on paper it sounds dreadful, but Metatron imbues it with such melancholy fury that it becomes incredibly powerful. It’s hard to think of a moment on the album without an emotional punch of some sort; the intensity of the music is spectacular without once becoming silly or over the top. That holds true even for the ridiculously-titled likes of Satanic Black Nubian Pharaohs, mixing gnarly Black Metal with wistful melodic lead guitars and saxophone, not to mention the reworking of Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World, changing the optimistic original lyrics to a more cynical view: ‘I see ethnic cleansing, pain beyond belief/Whole nations murdered, sorrow and grief’.

No other band could produce the likes of The Gods Who Mock Us, a list of deities with a harsh growled ‘fuck!’ after each, and no other band could so wonderfully work in tributes to Bon Jovi-esque stadium rock, orchestral Black Metal or a Prog-drenched keyboard solo from Mirai. The ultimate accolades, however, have to go to the ten-minute (deep breath) Behold the Kindred Battle Carcasses Strewn Across the Bloodied Dunes of Gilgamesh Mute in the Frenzied Clamour of Death's Rolling Tongue and Ravenous Bursting Steel. Driven by percussion and acoustic guitars, it includes all manner of instrumental forays, and with its lyrical attack on death and destruction in the Middle East provides one of the most balanced views of the conflict that’s ever been stated. From children burnt in Lebanon to Jews killed in Bethlehem, all are lamented, and the overall message is one of weariness, sick of showing the pointlessness of murder in the name of “god”. As Metatron states, they won’t know what they’ve lost until it’s all fucking gone...

Leaving the excellent seventeen-minute bonus track Beyond Death And Darkness to one side (apparently it’s not on all versions of the album, although my bog-standard copy has it) the fact remains that Damascus Steel is little short of a masterpiece; certainly a future classic and one of the most interesting things done with Black Metal this far in the decade. The Meads are promising a concept album about the life and death of Jesus Christ for their next project, delayed now until 2010, and if it’s half as good as this then it’ll have been worth the wait. For the moment, Damascus Steel holds up brilliantly even played on repeat; it’s the band’s masterpiece to date and a perfect entry into their twisted yet so logical world. If you have an interest in out-there Metal and don’t own this, then you have a major gap in your collection, it’s as simple as that.

Killing Songs :
Creed Of Abraham, Sword Of The East, Wonderful World, Behold The Kindred Battle Carcasses...
Goat quoted 94 / 100
Other albums by The Meads Of Asphodel that we have reviewed:
The Meads Of Asphodel - Tomb Songs from a Dying Bedlamite (EP) reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
The Meads Of Asphodel - Running Out of Time Doing Nothing reviewed by Goat and quoted 60 / 100
The Meads Of Asphodel - Sonderkommando reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
The Meads Of Asphodel - The Murder Of Jesus The Jew reviewed by Goat and quoted 92 / 100
The Meads Of Asphodel - The Mill Hill Sessions reviewed by Goat and quoted no quote
To see all 9 reviews click here
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