Mekong Delta - Wanderer on the Edge of Time
Zardoz Records
Progressive Thrash
15 songs (49:34)
Release year: 2010
Mekong Delta
Reviewed by Charles
Good news! Three years after Lurking Fear, easily one of my favourite thrash albums of the last decade, Mekong Delta return with an almost entirely transformed line-up (bassist Ralph Hubert is not only the only founder member, but hell, he’s the only one on here who was on the last record). A changed line-up, yes, but a similar (though by no means identical) approach to music in every way that matters. Never a band to be accused of underambition, this is a fifteen track work that features seven “movements” seamlessly interconnected by instrumental interludes (plus an overture and a finale!) in the classical-aping style that we would be very disappointed if Mekong Delta appeared without.

You ought to know what to expect by now, of course. This band is, if not the last word, one of the closing words on tech-thrash. Less vicious than Coroner but widdlingly flashy to an exhilarating extent, this is undoubtedly not for everyone. Hyperactive, twisting speed metal riffs with lengthy expanses of instrumental showing-off combined with operatic but rarely catchy vocal lines, there is often something quite graceless about their music. If you get it, then that gracelessness is overwhelmed by the twin forces of their technical flair and the unbeatable power ignited when they do pull off a particularly fine instrumental pyrotechnic. And in many ways Wanderer on the Edge of Time is the band functioning at their best.

For one thing, it just sounds better than Lurking Fear- far less tinny, and much more powerful. Another immediate improvement; Martin Lemar sounds really good on vocals- perhaps a bit more powerful than Leo Szpigiel and more able to carry a number as its focal point. This is just as well, because compositionally Mekong Delta have really pushed the boat out here, placing a much greater impetus on voice-centred songs, often slower and soaked in synth strings. Until I heard it, that news would have filled me with dread. The first movement begins with some slightly murky, but irredeemably pompous balladeering that immediately has you wary, but get this out of the way and they actually pull it off. As we progress, in fact, the band actually do an unusually effective job of settling into the slower numbers. Such as on King with Broken Crown (movement 4); a chugging but off-kilter rhythm section parade is overlaid by lead guitar screeching and synth string fanfares, which is undoubtedly given a sense of imperious drama by Lemar’s full-throated, almost power metal delivery. Where this all goes a bit weird- though not in such a bad way- is on Affection (movement 6), which is a veritably poppy power ballad replete with “things aren’t so bad after all!” backing vocals and an echoing acoustic introduction that reminds me weirdly of The Flaming Lips’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Not a reference I expected to throw into a Mekong Delta review.

Lest you be thinking that this is a more substantial change than it is, however, here is the contradiction. The “movement/interlude” structure really enables the instrumentalists to strut their stuff as proudly as ever. It just means that the interludes themselves have to shoulder a larger quantity of rattling tech riffery. They are frequently just this; a thrash riff given a self-esteem boost by being made the subject of its own vignette. Zigzagging lines, as tightly harmonised as they are fast, segue into songs using the same elements but often harnessing them to more "song"-orientated structures. In this sense we should mention the instrumental Intermezzo as counterbalance, a completely unrestrained and joyful romp through Escher-sketch riffing, spacey computer game skronking, and unexpectedly heavy mid-tempo grooves, all of which is constantly menaced throughout by abrasive and discordant lead guitar scratching that channel early Voivod. For most of the time, this is Mekong Delta as we know and love, and firing on all cylinders.

What you are left with overall is a sophisticated album that genuinely does add a new shine to this band’s elderly formula. Decades after their formation, there is still nobody that sounds like Mekong Delta. No doubt the misguided will say this is because nobody wants to. But listening to Wandered on the Edge of Time, you are left wishing more music had the same sense of unrestrained flair.

Killing Songs :
Movements three and five
Charles quoted 86 / 100
Other albums by Mekong Delta that we have reviewed:
Mekong Delta - The Music of Erich Zann reviewed by Charles and quoted 90 / 100
Mekong Delta - Mekong Delta reviewed by Charles and quoted 85 / 100
Mekong Delta - Lurking Fear reviewed by Adam and quoted 79 / 100
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