The Meads of Asphodel - Sonderkommando

by Matt Hensch

I'm not sure if "Sonderkommando" is The Meads of Asphodel's perfect storm or just another dazzling release by these Brits, but the amount of otherworldly magic here is seriously incredible. I've been a disciple of The Meads of Asphodel for some time now, yet this group continues to extend its roots into new ground with each and every release. The folks behind The Meads of Asphodel, being so naturally experimental and eccentric as always, really go to great lengths to prove just how excellent they are at writing insanely unique and anomalistic anthems, which capture an untold amount of emotion and energy. The many contributors of The Meads of Asphodel have created a musical portrait that, much like the project's other works, truly stands on its own as a remarkable and sophisticated piece of poignant, kaleidoscopic extreme music with thrilling intensity and lyrical candidness that is simply unheard of.

The Meads of Asphodel has always been grouped into the experimental black metal label, although most of their latter works mildly drift away from their inborn identity and surf more on the avant-garde waters � la Sigh or a folksy Akercocke undergoing an identity crisis. The lyrical themes and album titles throughout the band's travels haven't been the most warmly received items of all time, and touching on the Jewish people again�specifically the roles of sonderkommandos in Nazi death camps after having released a record titled "The Murder of Jesus the Jew"�will undoubtedly rekindle much of the criticism attached to bringing such a horrid event back to life. That said, their intentions are clearly rooted in explaining the horrors of the Holocaust with honest, uncovered clarity�not the shallow, watered-down regurgitation of statistics lacking the complex realism.

The tone of the album is obviously incredibly harrowing and devastating: a clear vision of the events of the Holocaust as they transpired, told through the many eyes and perspectives of those who had experienced or participated in what is undeniably the worst atrocity in human history. The brutal honesty is never entombed. However, this is no glorification of the ordeal: the essence of death courses through the veins of "Sonderkommando" in gripping fashion, telling a gruesome tale of lives lost, unspeakable cruelty, and innocence forever tarnished. In fact, this truth is made explicitly clear almost immediately after the twelve-minute title track opens its doors into this dark domain, as the soft, keyboard-laced rock jam is mixed with elegant male and female vocals, and they speak the most powerful line of the whole album: "You don't have to die to walk in Hell." Afterwards, the volatile riffing kicks up in the background, and Metatron takes over this auditory vessel of atrocity, leading the listener into a world of unimaginable horror with oars of unapologetic viciousness and ravenous riffing.

The Meads wear many masks, not all of them so epic and perplexing. The following tracks, "Wishing Well of Bones" and "Aktion T4," are less abstract assaults based on catchy choruses and savage riffs; the dynamic oddities of the band are still present, albeit to lesser degrees. "The Mussulmans Wander Through the Infernal Whirling Fires..." is a perfect example of a standard non-epic that this release tends to offer, using intense guitar work layered over unforgiving vocals with occasional bursts of harmonica leads between its bridges. However, The Meads are far more versatile and dynamic during the record's longer anthems. "Children of the Sunwheel Banner (Part 2)" is an otherworldly concoction of harrowing guitar sections, bombing madness, and chromatic keyboard solos flying through every musical orifice that this band could find. The first half of "Lamenting Weaver of Horror" features narrative passages of some twisted nursery rhyme before a boy awakens in the realm of the recently murdered, finding himself in endless darkness as Death itself explains to him that his destination is rooted in one unavoidable truth: he was f***ing born.

"Sins of the Pharaohs" immediately throws out the forlorn despair and dives into a riff-driven journey of defiant vocals and inspirational forcefulness. There's no other group on this world or the next that could pull off this kind of sophistication without driving itself off a cliff; The Meads of Asphodel is truly an excellent faction. I have to add something about Metatron's vocals: his scruffy, crude growls continue to prove that he's one of the greatest extreme vocalists in the realm of black metal, and extreme music in general. The plethora of guest musicians makes everything within "Sonderkommando" insanely magical and bold, and there are zero issues transitioning from punk-laden bursts of aggression to an incredibly dramatic, breathtaking harmony of clean vocals layered over soft guitars and charging percussion during "Silent Ghosts of Babi Yar," yet that's but one instance of this visionary craftsmanship. "Sonderkommando" is also brilliantly paced; it never exhausts itself into redundancy after seventy minutes of epic, artistic voltage.

Like some twelve-trick pony flying up from the lungs of Hell, "Sonderkommando" has much to say in its several musical tongues, a vice The Meads have strengthened throughout the years. Although the project has been labeled a genre-mashing squad almost too bamboozled for its own good by some, you won't find another band that can produce experimental metal at this volume of quality anywhere else. "Sonderkommando" plants in the soil a The Meads of Asphodel that is writing a new chapter of wonder and bliss in a discography already blessed by unmatched ingenuity. In fact, it's no factual amplification to dub "Sonderkommando" not only The Meads of Asphodel's finest opus, but also one of the best releases born in 2013. Lyrically majestic and musically entrancing, this is not to be missed.

"There was no hope, stripped naked and sent to death."

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The Meads of Asphodel - Sonderkommando

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