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A sidestep from its predecessor, and more complex - 85%

Pepsiman, February 25th, 2011

So arguably on this album, Mekong Delta became the first band to pull off a full fledged fusion of metal and symphonic music, with “Begging for Mercy”. It’s half “Psycho” prelude by weight, but the band does well with covers. On the other hand, they weren't really the first to attempt the mix. For example, Celtic Frost added female operatic vocals and a horn section as accents on “To Mega Therion”, which made it all the more crushing, but they're just ornamentation – they could be stripped out without removing the essence of the songs. In addition, Black Sabbath did this more comprehensively on "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", although I'd say they approached the orchestrations from an early heavy metal/'70s progressive rock perspective. Regardless, it was many years before symphonic metal bands started popping up en masse, and bands like Therion, Rhapsody of Fire, and such added classical instrumentation to their works. If not the first metal band period to imbue their music with classical orchestration, they were at least the first thrash metal band to do it.

In the long run, the interlude just goes to show that the ambitions of this group had multiplied over the course of a mere year. Erich Zann is a full fledged concept album – based on the Lovecraft story about a viol player who uses his music to keep eldritch horrors away. It's still a lineup composed of German speed/power/thrash metal musicians, and therefore, the compositions remain fast, riff happy, dissonant, thrash metal. However, the songwriting here is probably more complex than the songwriting on the debut. By the time we head into the second track (“True Lies”), the album has already defined itself – possibly less manic than its predecessor was at times (Nightmare Patrol), but with even more insane instrumentation and compositions. True Lies is probably the best song on this album - it goes through a lengthy riff set, and strikes a good balance between melody and dissonance. In addition, it's full of cool guitar leads that add lots of depth to the music. Some other things have improved – Keil continues to be all over the place, but when he’s properly singing, he matches pitch better. Mind you, he still sings against the riffs and melodies. This comes to its logical conclusion on Hatred - he puts out his most insane, aggressive performance yet. In addition, the guitar leads and solos are better – I’d say they’re more creative and varied, if about as technical as the ones on the self-titled.

If this was just an increase in complexity over the debut, it'd be near-perfect. Unfortunately, the songwriting isn't as consistently good as it was on the debut, even if the average song is better. Outside of the such peaks as the aforementioned tracks, there’s a lot of filler, and the songs sometimes stagnate in their own riff poop (The canonical example being “Time Does Not Heal” by Dark Angel, which probably does have 246 riffs, but manages to be monotonous and and uninteresting). The overall mixing is inferior to the last album, mainly as the bass is harder to hear. In this sort of music, that's never good. On the other hand, the production has improved – even if the instruments interfere with each others' sound space, the drums are still more intense, the guitar tone is more abrasive, and Keil’s vocals are emphasized a bit more. From what I've read, people are divided on whether the sound on this album is better than the debut's. Myself, I slightly prefer this one.

Over time, my opinions on both albums have equalized somewhat. The debut is consistently good, but it doesn't really have anything that rises to the level of True Lies, Hatred, Prophecy, Begging for Mercy, or otherwise. Of course, it doesn't have stagnant, boring songs like "I, King, Will Come" You could say that they “bit off more than they could chew”, but even in 1988, Mekong Delta had large metaphorical mandibles to masticate their musical ideas into albums.

Overall I'd say it's on par with the debut, but with time, my personal preferences have shifted towards this one.