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mmm - 70%

RapeTheDead, January 17th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, Razed Soul Productions (Limited edition, Reissue)

I've heard a few different Meads albums at this point, and one thing I can say they definitively lack is seriousness. It's not due to a lack of trying, mind you. Most of the time, their music is fairly complex and evolved, but the variety of influences present make it come off as a bit sporadic and ham-fisted. Even with this being the case, I'm not completely sure how this can come off as novel or interesting to a lot of people considering the disparate influences aren't merged together in the songs. Sure, there's lots of quasi-hip-hop beats and Medieval organ stuff, but it always seems to exist on a completely different plane than the metal riffs. They never make an attempt to mesh their unusual sounds with their more conventional ones. As a result, despite being loaded with individual sections with nothing to offer beyond novelty, Damascus Steel doesn't feel very "novel". Hell, aside from the trip-hop stuff (which is sparingly used to begin with), the other interlude-y moments aren't really that unusual to anybody who's heard a Skyclad album. I guess on the surface this is a "weird" album and a "weird" band, but at the end of the day I don't think The Meads of Asphodel is a challenging band to get into, even if you're not super-into this whole newfangled heavy metal thing.

They certainly don't make it easy, though, what with the longass repetitive track at the end and the "Wonderful World" cover. Despite not introducing anything that's too ear-grating or indiscernible in melody, Meads do everything they can to make Damascus Steel inaccessible to your everyday metal listener. The fact that the covers on this album aren't just stapled to the end as bonus tracks suggests the band wanted them to be a part of the narrative. While they're not incompetently done they don't seem to serve much purpose besides making this album even more janky and warped. Perhaps there's just a more high-minded "story" here that I'm not really getting (I tend not to follow concept albums too closely). When one song's entire lyrical content consists of screaming random mythical god names with "fuck" following each of them, though, it become a hell of a lot harder to make that claim. I can get down with some Crotchduster every now and then, but most of the time I don't take well to humor being shoehorned into my metal. Like, yeah, we get it, you're a brutal death metal band that smokes a lot of weed, you didn't need to build an entire album around that and the joke gets old after half a song. The Meads of Asphodel aren't quite that tactless or egregious with their humor, but they do constantly toe the line between serious and goofy in their music on Damascus Steel which makes the whole ordeal a bit confusing.

Admittedly, even though Meads showcases a lot of things in music I usually don't like (excessive spoken word narration, lots of strange interludes, tongue-in-cheek attitude), they do pull it off better than most. Still, just because one of my shits is more well-rounded and healthier-looking than the sloppy explosiveness that usually defines my bowel movements doesn't mean it's not shit. While I can tolerate this album, there's a lot of things that just don't rub me the right way about it. To add on another one, I don't like about half of this guy's harsh vocals. When he does the standard black metal high it's fine, but a lot of the time he's got this weird yell-growl going on that seems like it doesn't have much power behind it. It sounds distinct, sure, but it doesn't really sound good, and it only makes matters worse that the vocalist likes to use it a lot. Emperor/Cradle of Filth maximalist black metal is already a pretty tough sell for me, but when you go and shit all over the mix with weird vocals, instruments and lyrical content, you're going to just push me further away.

Damascus Steel is one of the more overlooked Meads albums, and there's likely a reason for that. Other albums by this band (I'm mostly thinking of their later work a la The Murder of Jesus the Jew and Sonderkommando) have a lot more focus and meat to them and don't seem to relish in the whimsicality quite as often. Take out all the stupid frills and garnishes from Damascus Steel and you've got a good album by a good band. As it stands right now, though, you'd be better off checking out their other work first if you're unfamiliar with it.