Mekong Delta - Mekong Delta
Aaarrg Records
9 songs (35:34)
Release year: 1987
Mekong Delta
Reviewed by Charles
Archive review
Mekong Delta are the most convenient two word rebuttal to be directed at those who claim thrash musicians have no concept of experimentation or originality. This is a curious band in every way, and all the more so because the sheer oddness of their music does, at times, completely dwarf the pleasure you get from listening to it. This is the very epitome of technical speed metal, with classical pretensions that are smeared across everything they’ve ever done. The band at the time of this record’s release was an amalgamation of Rage and Living Death; speed metal was in its infancy and seems to have been wondering why it couldn’t keep going faster, and crazier, and more ambitious. If only we had some of that attitude back today, that Mekong Delta then epitomised…

So scanning the playlist here, the track that always leaps out at me is The Hut of Baba Yaga, a Mussorgsky piece describing the chicken-legged hut that serves as transport for a folkloric Russian witch, that seems to have captured the imagination of innumerable rock musicians. As with Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s assault on the same composition, it revels in the raucous intensity that can be gained from violently brutalising a piece of classical music. It’s kind of tongue in cheek, but also makes the point that the glorious noise a five man metal act can muster can hold its head high in this kind of romantic, orchestral company.

It fits right in here, as this is a cerebral and surprisingly varied album of speed metal. Like a lot of the more inventive albums of this period, it treads a line between electrifying metal and gaudy bad taste. I must confess I’ve never liked any of the vocalists to have worked with Mekong Delta. The passages that rely heavily on Wolfgang Borgmann’s hammy, squealed delivery are the weaker ones, in comparison to the points when instrumentalists surge to the fore. Because the real point of Mekong Delta is the daring and complex procession of riffs and solos that often works magnificently but permanently runs the risk of sounding over the top and slightly silly (even if that's all part of the charm). Kill the Enemy, for example is structured around a psychotic, hyperactive thrash riff delivered in a typically irregular time signature, which then morphs into a chorus which is so melodically shrill that it adds a layer of genuine surreality to it. We then progress into a solo section, featuring more bass guitar flamboyance than you could ever wish to hear in a metal song. Or take Without Honour, an energetic and blindingly fast romp through cackling, dissonant guitar solos, and urgent, spiralling riffs given an extra demented quality by the syncopated rhythmic stabbings that puncture what the song has of a “chorus”. I can’t help but wonder how great this would sound with a less tinny production job.

There are also moments of down to earth slowness, as with Black Sabbath, an homage to the founders of heavy metal, soaked in delightfully bluesy doom riffing. Of course, there is no shortage of added beats lengthening the meter in unexpected places, as you would expect from this band. This knack for groove is less well exploited on Heroes Grief, which is a bit of a turgid trudge with some slightly unconvincing synth ambiance, and a reminder that when Mekong Delta try to rely on melody and atmosphere rather than virtuosity and quickfire invention they are as apt to fail as to succeed.

It’s possible I was a little harsh to the 21st century thrash and speed scene in the first paragraph. Only a very little, mind. 2009 saw the release of Hellwitch’s Omnipotent Convocation, an album which to me channels the spirit of records such as this and gives them a wonderfully brutal death metal twist. But it’s true that this album has that feeling of daring and experimentation that is all too rare in the metal scene. This is flawed, but also great.

Killing Songs :
Kill the Enemy, Without Honour
Charles quoted 85 / 100
Other albums by Mekong Delta that we have reviewed:
Mekong Delta - Wanderer on the Edge of Time reviewed by Charles and quoted 86 / 100
Mekong Delta - The Music of Erich Zann reviewed by Charles and quoted 90 / 100
Mekong Delta - Lurking Fear reviewed by Adam and quoted 79 / 100
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