Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Meads of Asphodel: Sonderkommando (2013)

Much Better Than Jaldaboath

Before now, I’ve been mostly uninterested in The Meads of Asphodel. Between their connection to the ridiculous Jaldaboath and the cowardice of vocalist Metatron, I just haven’t seen fit to spend any money to check them out. But presented with a promo copy of their latest album, I was definitely intrigued enough to check it out. And I have to say I’ve come around a bit.

Most simply put, The Meads of Asphodel are the UK’s answer to Sigh. Like In Somniphobia, Sonderkommando is a concept album that’s over an hour long. Like Sigh, the Meads have one foot in black metal, and the other foot chopped up and spread all over the musical landscape. Both bands’ most recent records are filled with songs of epic scope that seem to demand a listing of all their bizarre constituent parts: Sonderkommando features an extensive electric organ piece, flute, saxophone, psychedelic echo effects, accordion, strings, piano, and Motown style female backing vocals, to name a few. In other words, if you’re a fan of Sigh, your interest should be piqued.

They are not mere clones of their Japanese counterparts, however. The vocals here are more varied. Metatron has quite a good clean vocal style, in addition to squeals, rasps, and a theatrical growl. Their transitions aren't as stark, in keeping with their commitment to the concept album as an art form.

But what makes them really interesting is the strange disconnect between the incredibly serious subject matter and the way in which they treat it. The Meads clearly do not take themselves very seriously. That comes through in the music, particularly the ridiculous “MacBeth” witch and goofy conversation with Death in “Lamenting Weaver of Horror.” It’s not nearly so ridiculous as the aforementioned Jaldaboath, but more of a tongue-in-cheek style that’s much easier to stomach. That cheek is applied to, of all things, the Holocaust, and a particularly gruesome aspect of the Holocaust. The title refers to death camp prisoners who disposed of the bodies from the gas chambers. So, references to Zyklon B, a few sieg heils, and a sample of a Hitler speech are here, but I don’t think there’s anything overtly anti-Semitic about it.

They say death metal’s fascination with its gruesome subject matter is a way of coping with our own mortality. Comedy is a human method to cope with suffering. Confronted with the most horrifying event in modern history, how else can you deal with it?

In the end, the subject matter, while fascinating, is not what’s really important. The quality of the music is. Their wide variety of instrumentation and memorable writing make this an extremely interesting album any way you look at it. The glaring weakness is that they throw in too much garbage, a few minutes of non-music or boring music here and there don’t add enough to justify their length. That’s not to say it becomes unlistenable, but streamlining would have been welcomed. Even as it is, I think you’ll find it superbly entertaining, and you might come away from it with a different perspective.

The Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars

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