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An Invitation to a Danse (Macabre) - 98%

bayern, May 31st, 2017

The Mekong Delta career can be split into three periods: 1987-1989; 1990-1994, and 2007-until the present day. Ralph Hubert has kept the level high all these years always finding capable musicians to realise his ultimately complex, classical-haunted schizophrenic visions. He teamed up with the Living Death guitarists during the first period, and their clinical surreal, hallucinogenic shreds made the band a name quickly as suppliers of elaborate, not very accessible at times, but ultimately intelligent progressive thrash. By 1990 the two axemen had to go, and were replaced by just one, the unknown at the time guitar wizard Uwe Baltrusch who brought a warmer, more flexible technical thrash template which worked better alongside the growing classical infatuations of Hubert. After the reformation in the new millennium the man hasn’t been able to keep a steady line-up having worked so far with musicians from Scanner, Helloween, Theory in Practice, Annihilator, etc., and consequently this is the most versatile period from the band’s history with a wider range of influences and styles. Please note that “Pictures at an Exhibition”, the 1997 instalment, hasn’t been included in any of the periods due to its non-metal, too classical-immersed nature.

Although my personal favourite from the band’s discography is “Kaleidoscope”, and I consider the second period the finest one, I haven’t been able to find too many metalheads to share my predilections. In 80% of the cases the preferences go towards the first period with “The Music of Erich Zann” and “The Principle of Doubt” splitting the fans’ opinions as to which the guys’ finest hour is. There’s a lot of greatness emitting from those two, there’s absolutely no doubt about that, but I have always found the Living Death lads’ pyrotechnics way too dry and sterile, making the more elaborate sections even more difficult to decipher, devoid of soul and empathy (who needs these on a metal album, man?! get a grip!). With the arrival of Baltrusch the guitar sound acquired a more volatile, easier to mould, character which made the “thrash vs. classical music” hybridization way more coherent and smoother, and needless to add more melodic. Actually, the guy was already a part of the line-up on “The Principle of Doubt”, but his role on that one was only restricted to providing the leads. On the album reviewed here he handles all the guitarisms, and his talent is on full display all over.

Another important new addition to the line-up was the singer Doug Lee, a former “siren” of the American progressive power metallers Siren. Hubert produced their only foray, and decided that Lee would do no wrong to replace Wolfgang Borgmann, the latter another debatable departure provided that his wailing eccentric, hygienically clean vocals were an indelible part of the band’s early exploits. Hubert was obviously doing a major renovation of the interior… but was all that hassle for the better?

After a short quiet introduction, with which the conceptual part, comprising eight movements, of the album commences the band erupt on “Eruption” with frantic, bouncy thrashing which becomes wilder with time reaching headbanging proportions with ease, with outlandish gallops taking over making this very short instrumental a most eventful riff-fest. “Beyond the Gates” follows suit, and Lee comes to the fore with his exemplary dramatic antics sounding way more proficient than Borgmann’s shaky falcetto. The intricate thrashorama is absolutely compelling with steel sharp riffage cutting deep burrows into the listener’s brain as the latter won’t have much time to absorb everything here despite the several more orthodox passages provided; a stupendous technical thrash stroke splits the song into two this particular passage a pivotal moment on the whole conceptual etude. “Outburst” is exactly that, an outburst, 1.5-min of hectic schizoid riffing which flows into “Days of Betrayal”, the definitive progressive thrashterpiece with frenetic fast-paced crescendos and eclectic dramatic build-ups during the supposed chorus the latter handled by Lee in the most quirky semi-dispassionate manner.

“Restless” is exactly that, one min or restless semi-lead driven thrash which gives way to “Sanctuary”, a brilliant surreal piece with creepy mid-paced hypnotic riffs, more ambitious progressive vortexes and a more dynamic exit all this contained within mere 3-min. “Finale” is naturally the end of the “Dances of Death” opera, a magnificent speed/thrashy tractate with busy jumpy interruptions and some truly memorable riff applications. “Transgressor” is minimalistic technical thrash with superb more laid-back atmospherics Lee outstanding behind the mike producing mesmerizing highly dramatic vocal pirouettes. “True Believers” is another delight for all technical and progressive metal lovers with Hubert taking the upper hand with great vociferous bass support, with twisted leads surrounding the engaging rifforamas which alternate hard-hitting dashes with pacifying “idylls” the meanly spat chorus (“I don’t believe you… parasite”) another highlight on this exemplary multi-faceted composition. But that’s not all as the centrepiece of the whole opus is yet to be savoured, “Night on a Bare Mountain”, an 11-min interpretation of the Modest Mussorgski’s symphony, a supreme blend of classical structuring and aggressive thrashing shreds, one of the ten best instrumentals in the annals of metal, the main motif alone deserving the price of admission with its infectious melodic roller-coaster vibe; Hubert makes himself heard with several authoritative bassy “excursions” which usually appear after a hyper-active riff “salad” all the way to the meditative balladic finale.

Dancing with Death has never been a more tantalizing proposition the band sounding as convincing as ever after the considerable “cosmetic” alterations. On “The Principle of Doubt” they really found their stride, and apprehension was definitely up in the air the fanbase worried about future recordings with regards to the line-up changes made, also considering the transformational process that was starting worldwide with new sounds entering the audience’s consciousness. It didn’t take long for the latter to see that that it would be business as usual in the Mekong Delta camp, and that the classic progressive thrash panorama would proceed on full-throttle arguably even sounding more appealing with the new musicians involved. If music-wise the shift wasn’t that radical, Baltrusch’s shreds not drastically different from the ones of his colleagues, in the vocal department Lee definitely sounded more convincing than Borgmann, and not much less bizarre truth be told, especially on those high-strung dramatic, semi-quarrelsome tirades. A great new beginning for everyone involved this effort was which had a most worthy follow-up in the form of the mentioned “Kaleidoscope”, the climax in the band’s career. The seeds for that opus’ grandeur were planted by this album here Hubert dexterously conducting all the performers in one flawlessly arranged, thrashy/classical “danse macabre”.

Walking in the shadows (of their 80s output) - 70%

autothrall, February 3rd, 2011

The severing of Wolf Borgmann from Mekong Delta feels almost as if someone were clipping the umbilical cord from the band's muse. Even though the man had his flaws, he was surely one of the most distinct voices in German thrash, and his presence on the great trio of iconic albums that jump started this band's legacy would cast a massive shadow on whoever was to follow. But the band also lost Frank Fricke after The Principle of Doubt, who was also a piece of the puzzle through their steady rise to cult status, so it was rather a surprise that one year later, they had a new vocalist in tow and a new album flitting about.

Doug Lee (of the obscure US band Siren) was chosen to join the band after 'Keil's' departure, and he would become the new voice of Mekong Delta for seven years. But despite the fact that the band did a decent job of finding a nice match for their crazed, meandering fusion of tech thrashing wanderlust, he's got some notable differences. He has a more pinched, higher register that is often hurled at the listener in waves of shrieking, and at times he reminds me of another Lee (Geddy), especially where he's given more room to breathe. As for the music, it's not a lot different than The Principle of Doubt or The Music of Erich Zann, with the exception that the novelty of their asylum-like testimonials was starting to wear thin, and you were hearing a lot of material that honored and acknowledged the band's past albums, but did little to surpass them. For example, there are a number of tracks here which use a similar, wrenching tempo similar to "A Question of Trust", but are just not as catchy.

The first eight tracks are all components of the title track, "Dances of Death", and they range from a dark, clean classical guitar intro to the bristling force of "Beyond the Gates" and "Days of Betrayal", in between which are twined some shorter thrashers like "Eruption" and "Outburst". Ralph Hubert and Uwe Baltrusch are on fire, the bass skilled and swerving, the guitars delivered with the same clinical precision as a Realm, Deathrow or Psychotic Waltz. But despite the frenzied level of energy and the thinner, better keyed presence of Lee, none of these are really the highlights of the album. Those are manifest late in the album, through the disconnected tracks "Transgressor" and "True Believers", both coiled tightly with great bass work and punchy psychosis; and the impressive, 10:25 metallization of Modest Mussorgsky's epic "Night on Bald Mountain", Anglicized here to "Night on a Bare Mountain".

It's impressive to hear the band tackle such a unique and noteworthy piece of classical history, and not the first time they've visited this one composer ("The Gnome", which appears here once more as a bonus track, rendering it's native EP worthless once more), and though it's absolutely no substitute for its original form, it's important as another presage of the band's future focus on incorporating classical music directly into their thrash. But in the end, it's just not enough to save this album from the merely 'good' category. Dances of Death (and Other Walking Shadows) does possess some of the best production work of the band's career to date, but so few of its constituent tracks offer more than a few moments of writhing, propulsive confusion and head jerking curiosity. After the three intensifying works leading to its conception, it feels like a clear step down in effectiveness, and it cannot all be pinned on the new singer.


Trippy as hell. Twisted Genius. - 99%

FragKrag, March 18th, 2009

Mekong Delta are a damn fine band. Some of the best prog thrash around, and they have yet to produce something boring. The musicianship and writing in this album are absurd... in a good way. I really don't have anything to say that isn't positive about this album.

Alright, so Mekong Delta. A horribly underrated band, and for reasons I do not know. This album is trippy. Most of the riffs sound like random notes put together for maximum awesome abstract affect. Hell, it works! I can't stop listening and god knows how they wrote the riffs. Like most progressive bands, the musicianship is awesome. Guitars and drums are top notch.

Most of the time, when a band goes technical, it's to the point where the music sounds like random assortments of notes. Well, Mekong Delta has almost reached that point. It's as if the band decided to forget everything they know about music theory and just compose by feel. The product however, is truly an awesome experience for your ears.

The riffs are probably the highlight of this album. The riffs are unbelievably complex and unbelievably catchy... I couldn't pull myself from this album. It grows quickly. Many people may be put off by the unique sound, but give the album a few plays and it will soon be stuck in your head. Some of the most memorable riffs are in "Beyond the Gates". The riffing in that song is pure genius. The vocals and the drumming fit perfectly with the riffs. Along with the furious riffing, the album is complemented by sudden... very sudden tempo changes. "Outburst", and "Days of Betrayal" are also highlights from Dances of Death.

The solos in every single one of the tracks are twisted genius. "Fuck normal arpeggios and shit, we're making our own music theory", is what the every solo seems like. Twisted. Genius.

Then, after the title track, there are three other awesome tracks. Transgressor is a real thrasher. The song seems to follow a bit of a thrash formula, with gallup riffs, but also with random tempo changes, and weird melodic breakdowns. Hell, the song is completely fucked up, but in a good way. True Believers is strange, just like Transgressor, but it also has a great chorus. "I don't believe you I don't believe you, Parasite!" It got me.

Then comes Night on a Bare Mountain, a cover of a classical song by Mussorgsky. Again, twisted genius. A metal classic song at its best. The original song seems to lend itself to a metal cover, and by god, Mekong Delta did it. Awesome. +100 respect for that. It takes a few listen to fully appreciate, but once you do, it earns a place in your heart.

One thing I didn't mention in great detail was the drumming. Well, it's extremely good use of the double pedal. The drumming is every bit as technical as the guitar work, but when you have furious riffing like the kind you have in this album, you won't pay attention to the drums as much.

In conclusion, a great album. Get it. So why did I take a point off? Well, because while you don't need to be high to enjoy it, being high makes the album so much better. So for you people who don't have access to a high (be it sugar or meth), this gets a 99!