Review Summary: Fast, frenzied, frenetic, fun. A lot of F´s that combine to make an A+ tech thrash album.
It´s incredible how diverse and innovative metal music really is. You have a lot of your standard genres (Power, Thrash, Death, Black, etc) delivering some great traditional albums every year, but what really makes metal special, is how each individual or band approaches music to fuse it with their influences. And while there are bands that bring great and innovative ideas so often, that are of no-brainer quality for their sub-genres, what becomes of those bands that fill a niche that (maybe) even they don't know they are filling, while still being innovative?
Mekong Delta is a German band that´s described perfectly by the above criteria. Formed in 1985, with members from various German bands (using false names, to avoid contractual problems and assuming they wouldn´t be accepted for their nationality and style), their initial motto was to "musically outshine all then-current, independent releases". Mixing thrash with progressive, power and strong classical influences, Mekong Delta made 4 albums, 2 ep´s and 1 live album, with changing line-ups, to great critical acclaim.. but almost zero commercial recognition, something caused without doubt by their secrecy, no touring , and really unusual fusion style.
By 1992, however, things started to change. The band started to tour (demonstrating that they could play their extremely technical brand of metal live), Siren ex-vocalist, Doug Lee joined the band, and Guitarist Frank Frickle, ex-Living Death left the band. During this period, Kaleidoscope was recorded, and it sure shows the change the band wanted to make: Success.
Kaleidoscope is (up until this point) Mekong Delta most accessible record, giving the best impression of what the band does best, without betraying its past, and pushing into the future at the same time. Fast thrash metal is what´s delivered on the first two tracks, Innocent? and Sphere Eclipse, with riffs taken, inspired and adapted STRAIGHT from classical music, expressing some of the most unique and original thrash/power riffs ever made, courtesy of Uwe Baltrusch (under the name Mark Kaye), whom after Frickle depart, makes clear his statement of "I can play all his guitar lines and mine" without a single doubt, and with flawless precision.
The bass is the second thing you´re going to notice, and let me tell you beforehand: It's by far the most impressive thing in the whole record. Ralf Hubert (credited as Björn Eklund), not only is the mastermind behind the band exquisite, LOUD, diverse, FRENETIC and tasteful bass, but it's also the responsible for the album excellent production, one that gives every instrument not only chance to breathe, but to individually shine without robbing the others spotlight. Truly his days as a sound engineer (for Warlock, Steeler and Living Death, and owner of the record label Aaarrg Music) paid off with extremely good results. Even on Dance on a Volcano, you´ll be amazed by his technical proficiency, considering the song is a Genesis cover, not originally written by the band.
The vocals and lyrics by Doug Lee (No pseudonym here), also are amazing, but are an acquired taste due to the fact that he is a power vocalist, and his range, while not getting (thankfully) on the highest pitch register, it's still pretty much melodic. This might without a doubt turn some off, but make no mistakes: His lyrics are really good, taking on thrash typical themes (society, introspection), but with a FRENZIED tone that will make you believe he might get off key at any time, but never fails to rhyme with the labyrinthic music behind him, a feat indeed. He really shines on the fast paced songs, but on slow (Heartbeat) and mid paced songs (Shadow Walker), he also keeps the intertwining melodies under check with his vocals.
Peter Haas is one of the most FUN drummers I've heard in a long time. While the guitars, bass and vocals without a doubt will make the listener mouth open in awe, its Haas drumming that will make sure your jaw doesn't leave the floor. It's impossible to imagine the instrumental Sabre Dance (a Russian classic composition made by Aram Chachaturian, adapted), the thrashy About Science and the impressive Shadow Walker, without his immense drumming skills. Although his part on the mix is a tad on the low side, it's clearly well done, making sure each part of his drum kit and technical drumming is never lost.
Featuring an array of great imaginative and skilled musicians with tremendous songwriting skills (that KNOW where to restrict themselves), while being really accessible and catchy at the same time, Kaleidoscope is without doubt the perfect album to get into Mekong Delta. Even though the descriptions of this album make it sound like one extremely ambitious record (and it is, considering it comes from maybe the most pretentious tech trash band ever), make no mistake: except for Lee vocal tone (which may not be everyone´s cup of tea) you won't find any more flaws on this fantastic record and its excellent production. Get it now, this is truly an A+ on tech thrash history class.
There isn't a single weak track on here (even the instrumentals are really good), so all are recommended. My favorites are: