German progressive thrashers MEKONG DELTA have long been one of the most intelligent metal acts on the planet and they seldom get their due. As the oft-referred "best-kept secret in the world" since the mid-Eighties, MEKONG DELTA has seen its ranks shifted and reassembled numerous times with bassist Ralf Hubert (once operating in the band's early years under the pseudonym Bjorn Eklund) as the lone remnant of its inception.
Dispensing with rumors of exile and even death during a lengthy hiatus, Hubert began to reconvene MEKONG DELTA in late 2005 and since then, the band released two new albums, "Lurking Fear" and "Wandering On the Edge of Time", plus the 2012 re-recordings package, "Intersections". Once again finding the need to adjust personnel, Hubert recently recruited current drummer Alexander Landenburg following the 2008 overhaul to the lineup including vocalist Martin LeMar plus guitarist Erik Adam H. Grosch. As second guitarist Benedikt Zimniak is apparently no longer with the band, MEKONG DELTA is now a foursome as they release their latest mind-blowing work, "In a Mirror Darkly".
"In a Mirror Darkly" is designed to be a relative companion piece to "Wandering On the Edge of Time". As Ralf Hubert himself states, "For me, music doesn't start with A and end with Z; it's an ongoing process. In this respect you could call 'In a Mirror Darkly' the continuation of the Wanderer theme, but it's no copy, it's an independent recording". With many of the songs clocking past the seven minute mark, Hubert's assessment of the new album being a continuation of the latter album's sprawling journey is spot-on. It's also just so impressive one has to wonder why MEKONG DELTA remains an underground phenomenon.
If "In a Mirror Darkly" is meant to continue the spirit of exploration of its predecessor, then let it be said the musicians blaze some mighty trails a second time around. The acoustic and string elements opening these instrumentals are about as finite as the compositions get, because once the rest of the band joins in, it takes astute deciphering on behalf of the listener, since every musician sets off on his own course while miraculously keeping to the ever-changing tempo paths. Alexander Landenburg readily fits this band as he has a hundred things going on between his bass drum, snares and toms while keeping a grounded passage for the teeming guitars to both meld onto and separate, then rejoin. Ralf Hubert, as ever, plunks down so many detailed notes on bass and classical guitar his gifts are sadly overlooked by those out of the know.
Thrashers like the Roman deity homage, "Janus", plus "Mutant Messiah" and "Hindsight Bias" uphold MEKONG DELTA's reputation for speed, but the two main instrumentals of "In a Mirror Darkly", "Ouverture" and "Inside the Outside of the Inside" are the most striking. Both send MEKONG DELTA's swarming layers out to pick apart receptors and successively, brain matter. This despite every song of the album containing more adrenalized action than a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final.
"The Armageddon Machine" is one of the slower songs (barely) of the album, but the hurried front and background vocals increase the song's restless progressions and VOIVOD-esque cyber guitars. MEKONG DELTA still nails down an impossible amount of chords and note sequences here, even with a long running time to stack them. Assembling "The Armageddon Machine"'s intricacies sounds like they took considerable time to orchestrate and plot, and this is just one song of eight. Considering the sophisticated, dusky ballet feel of "The Sliver in God's Eye", it's no wonder MEKONG DELTA took four years to work on this album.
Listening to MEKONG DELTA continue to evolve with "In a Mirror Darkly" takes a deep commitment since the thrash comes in doses instead of by mere expectation. You're not going to get off easy with constant steadiness no matter how rapid "Hindsight Bias" is, since the seamless signature changes of the band edge and often force the rhythms off-track from the main thrash lines, yet all of it stays cohesive. There is so much to pay attention to with this album like any MEKONG DELTA record it's nearly inhuman how mathematic they are, no matter who joins and who leaves. Suffice it to say, one listening session to "In a Mirror Darkly" is hardly enough.