When you go check the archives of Lords of Metal for Mekong Delta, you only find two articles: one review by colleague Koen for the 2007 release of 'Lurking Fear' and an interview I did in 2008. I know Ralf Hubert superficially, we have had some mail contact when I ordered all the missing releases in my cd collection from his Zardoz label and my previous occupation as reviewer for Rockportaal.nl made me do an interview with him for the occasion of the release of 'Lurking Fear'. Oh, yeah, we share a common love for science fiction movies, which had some mail contact as a result. After that it became silent from the German side of Europe, until February 28th of this year a mail from Ralf landed in my mailbox. He asked if I wanted to hear the new album. Guess what I said… So a couple of days later I was listening to a rough edit of 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time', an album that seems to be a follow up to 'Dances Of Death And Other Walking Shadows' in more ways than one…
Living in the margins of metal, but many a metalfan knows what you are talking about when you say 'Mekong Delta'. I heard about them the first time in the magazine 'Aardschok' who published a review of their debut album 'Mekong Delta'. The review was full of praise, and it seemed imminent for me to buy this album, I loved metal that went looking for the borders, especially since the reviewer couldn't compare it to anything. This must be a band with a sound of their own. But this wasn't the actual getting acquainted with Mekong Delta that happened when I finally could buy 'The Music Of Erich Zann' that hit me with the force of a sledgehammer. This kind of music was unheard of, and it made the right impression when reading a story from H.P. Lovecraft on which most of the album was based. The first song 'Age Of Agony' still gives me goose bumps. The whole album actually does. But there were a few outstanding facts to state about this band: they loved playing classical music, and more so playing with it. On the debut there was a version of 'The Hut Of Baba Yaga' from 'Pictures At An Exhibition' by Modest Mussorgsky (once performed in rockversion by Emerson Lake and Palmer), on 'Erich Zann' we got an interpretation of the theme of 'Psycho' by Bernard Herrmann, and as a bonus 'The Gnom' also by Mussorgsky.
Another detail is that Mekong Delta used pseudonyms. Some of the bandmembers were under contract with other companies (drummer Jörg Michael was playing under the name of Gordon Perkins for instance), however it didn't go up for the guitarists who were under contract with Ralf Huberts Aaaarrgghh label. Hubert used the name Björn Eklund, which gave the impression that Mekong Delta was an international band, but simply put they were all German. Vocals were done by a certain Keil, who also played chapman stick (as you can hear in 'True Lies' for instance), but who usually listened to the name Wolfgang Borgmann. The same line up as 'The Music Of Erich Zann' worked on the follow up 'The Principle Of Doubt', but that album didn't seem to convince me. There are some songs I like listening to (like 'Curse Of Reality') but I missed the overall impact. Actually I declared myself 'done' with Mekong Delta, something I did with a lot of bands whose third album didn't do it for me (like Overkill for instance). Stupid.
When our drummer came into the rehearsal room with 'Dances Of Death And Other Walking Shadows', my first response was that I had heard Mekong Delta and was done with it. Wrong. Mekong Delta followed another path, on which they didn't write short thrash songs that sounded like classical pieces, this time they actually made a classical piece that sounded like thrash metal, and sticked your ears to the speakers. Four songs, of which one was another interpretation of Mussorgsky (Night On Bare Mountain). And another difference with the previous albums: a huge lineup change. Only Ralf and Jörg were left of the original band, and Uwe Baltrusch covered the guitars for this album and Keil couldn't recognize himself anymore in the new songs and left in favor of Doug Lee, the former lead singer of Siren.
'Kaleidoscope' saw Mekong Delta making a conscious step forward: the songs were more accessible (like 'Sphere Eclipse' or the Genesis cover 'Dance On A Volcano'), but even the most accessible Mekong Delta song can be too much for the mainstream listener. The album knows easier parts, but still has an overall heavy character. The line up changed again: Jörg Michael left the band and got replaced by Peter Haas (who later would play in Coroner) and 'Kaleidoscope' is the first official release that features the bandmembers under their own names.
The following 'Visions Fugitives' is a album walking on two legs: on one side the more accessible Mekong Delta is worked out, but on the other one with 'Concerto For Group And Orchestra' they push the envelope further in regard for their classical ambitions. On one condition Mekong Delta wants to be an accessible band, on the other hand they don't. It's the final album with Doug Lee in the lineup. In 1996 the last studio album 'Pictures At An Exhibition' followed that see the piece by Mussorgsky in a metalversion, but released like classical labels like to do it: the piano version as it originally was intended and the orchestrated version by Maurice Ravel. Mekong Delta released it as a metalversion and a metalversion with orchestra. After that, it became really silent around Mekong Delta.
There is no more fun than to hear rumors in the metalworld: Ralf Hubert has emigrated to Turkey and in the worst one he simply was dead. Ralf Hubert broke the silence himself in the new millennium by announcing a new album on the way with the title 'Into The Hearth Of Darkness'. That idea was abandoned and Ralf started working on many new, very heavy ideas that resulted in the comeback album 'Lurking Fear' that was released on AFM Records in 2007. On his own Zardoz label he released all the older albums in a remastered version.
'Lurking Fear' shows Mekong Delta in a fast and furious version: songs like 'Immortal Hate', 'Rules Of Corruption' and 'Defenders Of The Faith' leave us no doubt: Mekong Delta was playing the best music of their career. Although Ralf had surrounded him with new musicians, the Mekong Delta sound was still there. On guitars he found Peter Lake (Theory In Practice) ready and willing, vocals were performed by Leo Szpigiel (Scanner, Duke, Wolfspider) and the only 'previous member' was Uli Kusch (drums, Holy Moses, Masterplan, Gamma Ray and five hundred other bands), who performed on 'The Gnom' under the pseudonym of Patrick Duval…
But the international press was pleased with the fact that Mekong delta had returned, and the wait for live performances started. That didn't go too easy. In order for playing live, Mekong Delta had to… change the line up again. On drums they got Alex Landenburg (Annihilator), on guitars Eric H. and Benedikt Zimniak and on vocals Martin LeMar. This line up recorded the new album 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time', that should be perceived as a single piece of music in fifteen parts.
I now have had the opportunity to hear 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' and I can tell you that it's a Mekong Delta album, but with some new influences. Was Mekong Delta described as 'progressive thrash', you can leave the 'thrash' part out of it. Only in the song 'Third Movement: The Apocalypt' they raise the tempo, and in some of the instrumental parts of the album the tempo will be somewhat higher, but overall the impression is that Mekong Delta is taking the foot off the pedal this time: 'A Certain Fool' is quite laid back, 'The Fifth Element' is quite easy and a complete surprise is 'Affection', which could easily make it into a hitsong. In the intermezzo of 'Movement 5' I hear some pieces of older Mekong Delta songs passing by, like Mekong Delta creating a leitmotiv for their own. 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' is a concept album like 'Dances Of Death', but musically it reminds me more of the era between 'Kaleidoscope' and 'Visions Fugitives'. It's a less aggressive album as 'Lurking Fear', but not less fascinating. I think this could be a breakthrough album if Mekong Delta finds a record company who can promote this the right way. 'Wanderer On The Edge Of Time' will probably come out somewhere in may, we don't know with which label on the moment of writing. A more elaborated review of the album will follow the release, because I suspect that this is not yet the final mix. But I could be wrong.
In the next issue, or the issue after that, an interview with Ralf Hubert will be published in which we go deeply into the new album.