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Mekong Delta's first self-titled album had generated quite a stir in the metal community with its original and highly technical thrash metal. Their intricate, complex and compelling take on thrash metal was at the time something quite unlike just about anything (the only parallel to be drawn at the time (to my knowledge) was with Watchtower, who had released their first effort Energetic Disassembly in 1985). The mysterious quintet would follow this up in 1988 with The Gnome EP. Behind the facade (all members still at this point were working incognito), Jorg Michael (Gordon Perkins) would take a small break from recording duties due to touring commitments with his main priority Rage. For the recording of The Gnome, Uli Kusch (Patrick Duval) would take over behind the kit. Later that year Jorg Michael returned to the fold and Mekong Delta would reconvene to record their second full length effort, a concept album entitled The Music Of Erich Zann.
While the first album was complex and intricate, this second effort would set the bar even higher. Each song here features inventive song structures, complex time signatures, unpredictable time changes and incredible instrumental prowess. However, unlike the first effort, the composition is well executed. Whereas the first effort hada few songs that didn't sit well, this effort features songs that in spite of their unbelieavable complexity flow well and are quite infectious. It's difficult to headbang to 11/8 sections, but this album will make you try anyway. For the most part the album is quite pacy in it's insanity, with the bulk of the cuts, such as Age Of Agony, True Lies (which features perhaps their catchiest chorus since Kill The Enemy from their self titled), Hatred being in this manner. There is one slow plodding number in the vein of Black Sabbath from the self-titledin the form of I, King, Will Come. Perhaps the song that best illustrates the immense musical capabilities of the band is the classically-derived and heavily orchestrated instrumental Interludium (Begging For Mercy). The only clunker on the record would be the closing track Epilogue, which is basically vocals and keyboard only. This particular track is here for storyline purposes only, but it's bland nature (it's basically a keyboard drone) pales in comparison with the spectacular compositions that comprise the rest of the album.
Frank Fricke and Reiner Kelch (Rolf Stein and Vincent St John respectively) churn out some unbelievably complex riffing in a whole manner of complex signatures and near-impossible time signature alternations. Their approach is for the most part different to the one they took while in Living Death, as they rarely employ the lightning-fast single-note palm-muted riffing that was an integral aspect of Living Death's sound (one notable exception being Prophecy, which in certain places wouldn't look too out of place on Living Death's Protected From Reality). Here we see a riffing approach more akin to Destruction, Coroner and the aforementioned Watchtower, laden with twisted single-note riffing, fast moving power-chords and weird harmonising. Their leadwork ranges from the more understated melodic and simple lead refrains to more frenetic and aggressive shredding typical of their work in Living Death.
The drumming of Jorg Michael deserves recognition as well, playing some truly inventive drum parts and using just about his entire kit to craft his intricate drum lines. Where most thrash drummers were content to play straight bass-snare patterns (in particular a certain Danish chardonnay-quaffing troll), Michael's creative drumming put most other drummers to shame. Dropping in jaw-dropping fills more adventurous than anything Dave Lombardo or Charlie Benante had attempted at the time, using double bass in a manner that would accent the riffing not dissimilar of Gene Hoglan's work on Time Does Not Heal, and all the time keeping together this complex musical effort that was in constant danger of dissolving into chaos. This is certainly no easy task, but Michael accomplishes this admirably.
Mastermind Ralph Hubert (Bjorn Eklund) also puts in a great performance, laying down some unbelievably complex basslines, especially prominent in Memories Of Tomorrow (where the bass pretty much drives the entire song) and Interludium. The work this man put out here is peerless, and definitely should get the recognition of other thrash bassists such as Burton, Newstead, Bello, Ellefson, Lilker, etc. as he could easily take it to them.
The final piece in the puzzle is vocalist Wolfgang Borgmann (Keil), who puts in an admirable performance and shows off new aspects to his voice. For the most part he employs his cleaner delivery, not too far removed from an early John Arch in places, where in other places he uses a harsh Udo Dirkschneider-esque howl (see the last chorus in True Lies). Borgmann also introduces us to his falsetto, which he uses quite frequently. The falsetto is quite clean, but not piercing like King Diamond. He uses it at times as a vocal layer (one particularly interesting section is in Age Of Agony, which up until the time of writing I had previously assumed was a guitar line!) although he occassionally allows it to take the main melody.
With the incredibly dense and complex nature of Mekong Delta's music, it would be exceedingly difficult to produce a mix that would adequately highlight every nuance of their sound. Ralph Hubert has done an excellent job of making this album sound the way it does, particularly in accenting instruments when needed and using plenty of extra layers. The guitar sound is warm, heavy and aggressive, but retains a unique clarity essential for music of such demanding nature. The slightly distorted bass tone adds weight to the band's sound, and unlike many other thrash bands actually has a presence in the mix. The drums are mixed evenly and are prominent in the mix, but unfortunately the bass drum sound is a little flat (triggers maybe?). The vocals are mixed prominently with the overdubs being more in the background.
The sheer complexity of this album coupled with its interesting arrangements and infectiousness should arouse interest in just about anyone, even if it is just to satisfy their curiosity. Fans of incredible musicianship and instrumental prowess will definitely enjoy it, and others who want some interesting thrash far removed from aping the Big Four will more than likely be satisfied with this.