Mekong Delta
The Principle of Doubt



by ChaoticVortex USER (53 Reviews)
December 26th, 2016 | 10 replies

Release Date: 1989 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An overlooked, excellent cornerstone of genre-bending metal insanity.

Playing thrash metal is not an easy task. The fast-paced, tight and precise rhythms, often combined with dynamic tempo switches, and shredding guitar solos all add up to a style that requires skill, patience and discipline. Especially if we’re talking about playing thrash in the late 80’s were the genre had already stepped out of its growing phase and started to mature fast. The inclusion of more demanding and complex riffing, with more challenging strong structures that took elements from other genres were almost a priority if a band wanted to stand out from the rest of the crowd. And even among these bands there ones, that pushed the technical sophistication to levels unheard before, paving the way for brave experimentation and artistic expression.

German bass phenomenon Ralph Hubert and his brainchild Mekong Delta is among the first pioneers of this movement, right down to its concept, which meant that Hubert purposely gathered the most talented musicians in his country into one band outshine everyone else. Thus the membership might have changed over the years, but the music quickly gained its form, with a demand for heighted complexity. Mekong Delta’s songs are a sometimes awe-inspiring, other times almost cacophonic mixture of fast paced, tremolo picking thrash riffs with a heavy dosage neo-classic approach with the guitars mimicking the shivering twits, jumps and shrieks of a real orchestra. Add to this the abandonment of standard song structuring as well as a focus on dense, heavy atmosphere (elements that derive from 70’s progressive rock), and you have the picture of a true cult band.

It’s pretty surprising, that for a group that considered quality musicianship and musical complexity a bigger deal that accessibility, Mekong Delta managed to sustain a prolific output in their early years. With their both debut and its masterful follow-up “The Music of Erich Zann” following each other after a year, the band quickly found and solidified their position in the technical thrash metal crowd. In that sense 1989’s “The Principle of Doubt” doesn’t brings many new elements into the table, with Hubert and his bandmates double down on the violin-like arpeggios, and unexpected
signature changes that characterized their previous albums as well. As they say: If it’s not broken don’t try to fix it.

The infatuation with romantic and more modern classic music are still present, but the free flow and often abstract vibe of jazz are also coursing throughout the ten tracks of the album, with choppy and bizzare guitar chords, and synthetic feedback sounds melding into the buzzsaw rhythms. The opening track “A Question of Trust” illustrates this beautifully as its straightforward manner gets twisted out with sudden mid-paced breakdowns, and a flurry of maniac tappings surrounding the choruses with a wall of controlled chaos. But this track only manages to be a warm-up as the rest of the songs venture even deeper into the field of experimentation with the band throwing nearly every possible idea at the wall, and most of them do manage to stick.

Whether it’s the melodic galloping of the title track, the schizophrenic, stark marching of “Once I Believed” or the hazed, almost space-rock like dissonance of “Shades of Doom”, every song is filled with unique musical ideas almost to the point of sheer excess, yet they never manage to fall into that trap. It’s highly calculated songwriting with surgical execution by musicians at the height of their capabilities, and the willingness to push their sound further. The widened presence of guitar synths and other instruments (horns, timpanis) are all present to fill their purpose of creating the required atmosphere while the guitars and the drums are still in charge. As evidenced in “Curse of Reality”, in which with the help of these tools, Hubert and co. delivers a bone-chilling mid-pacer oozing from dread and paranoid loneliness.

Mekong Delta has always been a collective of fiercely talented individuals, but once again I struggle to comprehend how Rolf Stein and Uwe Baltrusch managed to come up with their guitar work. Their airy, staccato chugs, low end driving mutes, dazzling crescendos of melody, sweeping, haunting solos and efficient power chords are stuffed into a maelstrom of creative rage, nothing short of impressive. Of course Ralph Hubert also adds fuel to fire with his plummeting, virtuoso bass licks, along Jörg Michael’s jazzy, flippant drumming that matches well with the unorthodox nature of the songs. And we can’t forget Wolfgang Borgmann, the ever-dividing singer of the early Mekong years. His hysterical, high-pitched falsetto tends be a major turn-off for most people, but on this record, he does manage to set his pipes at a more tolerable and less over-the-top mode. Personally I consider it a major element as the unusually soaring highs create another fascinating mixture of different tones and sounds.

Another major plus for “The Principle of Doubt” is the characteristic production, which manages to strike a good balance between the rawer, primal aggression of the first record and the more grandiose, instrumental sophistication of the second one. The guitar tone is often otherworld-like, and the numerous other instruments and background noises are mixed into a sonic vortex of hard-hitting abstraction. With strong, efficient songwriting, skilled musicianship and twisted lyrics about madness and politics that feed their conceptual hunger, this record is the certain proof that even with many rivals on their back, Mekong Delta were still in the game bigtime.

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user ratings (59)

Comments:Add a Comment 
December 26th 2016


Album Rating: 4.5

Not a big fan of the Twilight Zone interpretation, but aside form that top-notch record.

As always any constructive criticism is welcome. Marry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

December 26th 2016


Excellent review, pos'd.

Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2016


Album Rating: 4.0

Well written, pos.

I always considered The Principle of Doubt as Mekong Delta's "gothic/thrash metal" album.

Music is classical-tinged thrash, but the atmosphere is gothic metal.

Digging: Sordide - Hier Dj Mort

December 27th 2016


Album Rating: 5.0

great rev

December 27th 2016


Album Rating: 3.0


December 1st 2017


This is dope as hell

Digging: The Go! Team - Thunder, Lightning, Strike

July 26th 2018


Album Rating: 4.5

Pitiful average.

October 12th 2018


Album Rating: 4.0


October 22nd 2018


Album Rating: 4.5

Easily one of metal's most uncompromising bands.

December 2nd 2018


Album Rating: 4.0

Possibly my fave Mekong Delta release due to the feeling of "wrongness" that pervades the record

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