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Germany has been a hub for metal since shortly after its inception, but it may be perhaps best known in the context of heavy metal of a very prolific thrash metal scene that dominated the 1980's. Bands like Sodom and Kreator come first to mind, and somewhere amidst this sea of Teutonic fury was Mekong Delta. Taking after the more inventive thrash acts- most notably Voivod and Watchtower- Mekong Delta plays a dissonant and quirky style of thrash on their debut. Although the grand classical fusion they would accomplish in later albums is only hinted at here, 'Mekong Delta' is a remarkably fun album to listen to, with a few songs standing out in particular.
In general, I have rarely ever found myself attracted to the style of thrash metal. The excessive speed and lacking sense of dynamic or variety is usually enough to turn me off to many of the bands, although the more inventive bands have made some very powerful stuff. Voivod was one of those bands, and their influence is evident in Mekong Delta, another thrash band that has really impressed me. The music here upholds the tenants of thrash metal; speed, over-the-top attitude, and aggressive riffs that would get a mosh pit fueled up in any live venue. What tends to put Mekong Delta's debut a step above the legions of other debuts that emerged from this period is simply its willingness to do something a little less predictable and different. There is a quick tease at classical music to introduce the second song 'The Cure', but the majority of the quirkiness comes from the dissonant guitar riffs, and Wolfgang Borgmann's all-over-the-place vocal sensibility. The songs here rarely let up their speed or traverse much of an emotional range, but the album is smart enough to end before the music stops being fun and starts getting tiresome.
'Without Honour' opens this album very nicely, with an intensity that most resembles Metallica's 'Fight Fire With Fire'. 'The Cure' is a standout track defined by Borgmann's wailing falsetto. 'The Hut Of Baba Yaga' is a more irregular track, an eerie and atmospheric cover of a piece by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. There are quite a few more straightforward tracks on the album that don't do much for me, but 'Kill The Enemy' takes the unrelenting energy and channels it into something erratic, with the falsettos chiming in and guitars hinting at avant- classical chord structures. The high points on this album are some of the strongest German thrash metal numbers of the time, but 'Mekong Delta' is dragged down by songs like 'Nightmare Patrol' or 'Shiva's Return'; songs that while enjoyable and fun to listen to, don't offer much lasting impact or impression.
Mekong Delta may have been young and naive at this point, but they created a very good album on their first try. Things would get better still with their second album, where they would go on to address some of the problematic variety issues that this album suffers from. 'Mekong Delta' does not see this band meeting the level of the heavyweights, but the potential is here.
Move along, children. This is just another German thrash band.
Wait, that's a lie. This is not just another thrash band. While their friends Sodom and Kreator are out on the killing fields, biting off heads and such, Mekong Delta sacrificed pure blinding speed and aggression to play in odd time signatures and, well... employ lots of dissonant riffing. Later, they went properly progressive on Kaleidoscope (1992) and that ended up entailing further distance from the thrash sound. But for now, we have some catchy anthemic thrash metal with some experimentation and interesting riffs.
Suffice it to say that this makes sense when you consider who was in the band at this point - full of members of the German speed/power metal scene of the time - Rage, Living Death, Helloween (not all those bands at the same time, but still). At the time, all the members used pseudonyms, and with further albums, Mekong Delta would switch out members for other ones. The band probably would've went on to be known as some sort of German power metal supergroup had the band's leader and bassist Ralph Hubert not introduced a great degree of classical music into the band's sound, and were it not for the pseudonyms.
So again, we have speed/thrash metal in odd time signatures and with plenty of dissonant riffs that really have nothing to do with the genre's NWOBHM/hardcore roots. At times, they approach the style of the impending death metal explosion, but are arranged in a relatively orderly method, as opposed to death metal's more chaotic "riff salad" approach. The singer uses a primarily clean high pitched approach that isn't particularly good at matching tones, but does end up providing counterpoint to the riffs.
What we end up with is definitely an odd, seemingly transitional album, but if you ask me, it's a fine debut. The production is somewhat odd, especially in terms of guitar tone, but the mixing is suprisingly good - all the instruments are relatively audible - in most cases, this includes the bass. The real strength of this album is, again, in its riffwork and arrangements. Many of them are quite simple in comparison to what would show up on later works, but they're still good riffs. Outside of one song being breakneck speed (Nightmare Patrol), most of the songs are moderately fast. There's two slower, doomy tracks - Hero's Grief and Black Sabbath (the latter being a sendup of the aforementioned band that uses the names of the band's songs as lyrics), and the band's first cover, "The Hut of Baba Yaga" from Mussorgsky's "Pictures from an Exhibition" - essentially replicating the arrangement on "metal" instruments.
It's definitely a far cry from the band's future, but it's a damn fine piece of tech-thrash and should be listened to. It seems chaotic, but it's very orderly. Think about that, it's basically one of the defining qualities of the band.
Highlights - "The Cure", "Kill the Enemy", "Nightmare Patrol"
Mekong Delta have long been lauded as one of the first of the 'technical' thrash bands, using progressive rhythms and all manner of experimentation in their sound, though these are encased in a pure thrash/speed metal core. They are also known for a revolving door of various members from peer bands through the years, including Peavy Wagner (Rage), Uli Kusch (Masterplan, ex-Helloween, etc) and Jorg Michael (many bands), the last of whom actually plays on this record. Mekong Delta is probably the most straightforward of their albums, speed metal frosted with progressive thrash leanings;
though it sets up hints at their future.
It's as fast as furious as their albums would ever be. "Without Honour" begins with cerebral guitar wanking which explodes into a speed metal rush. Keil (Wolfgang Borgmann, the band members used alter egos at this point) has a pretty Germanic style to his vocals, in fact they sound suspiciously similar to Peavy's vocals in earlier Rage... "The Cure" begins with some synths and a choppy, tense riff pattern with some flowing taps and mad leads. "The Hut of Baba Yaga" is an instrumental with a jam-like feel. "Heroes Grief" begins with some ambient guitar sludge before it becomes a slower thrash tune with very bizarre vocals, occasionally sounding like old Soundgarden... "Kill the Enemy" is back to your flippy circus thrash that the band executes so well. "Nightmare Patrol" sounds a lot like an early Rage tune, the vocals have a lot of echo to them and the riffs are sporadic and fast. "Shivas Return" is a similar style. "Black Sabbath" is a doomier thrash tribute to the band of the same name, and it's actually the weakest track here, goofy in both concept and execution (they use a lot of Sabbath song titles in the lyrics...ugh). "Back Home" is a decent closer to the album.
The album still sounds pretty fresh today, though on the grittier side. All the instruments are clear, it's not as dirty as other early German thrash albums. I used to be quite fond of this album, but over time the later stuff like The Music of Erich Zahn and The Principle of Doubt have grown on me, while the appeal of the debut has diminished. It's still a solid album and ahead of its time, German speed/thrash fanatics will chew up its interesting riffing and raw, fast sound.