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The Meads of Asphodel

The Mill Hill Sessions

Review by Mike Korn

Every once in a while, a vague, undefined thing comes shambling out of the darkness and into the sterile, pre-packaged music scene. Yes, even in the world of extreme metal, where cookie-cutter bands are a lot more prevalent than hardcore headbangers would like to admit. These monstrous anomalies wreak utter havoc amidst the safe, predictable formulas, defying all expectation and raising holy hell in the process.

Such a band is the British unit known as The Meads of Asphodel. They describe themselves as "English F@#$ing Black Metal", but that doesn't begin to do justice to their strange combination of primitive barbarism and medieval melodicism. It often has more in common with punk and old British metal of the 70's than the glossy stuff like Cradle of Filth and Dimmu Borgir that bears the black metal name today. The Meads brutishly sneer at sophisticated digital recording techniques, and they further defy the metal tag by inserting plenty of folk and space rock influences into their bubbling stew. Indeed, members of the venerable Hawkwind play on this record.

Granted, "The Mill Hill Sessions" probably does not provide a totally accurate representation of the band. The liner notes clearly state that the songs here were recorded "raw" in the studio, without the usual keyboard backing the band has on their other CD releases. The vocals of Metatron probably come across even more gruffly than usual and the bass, provided by Hawkwind's Alan Davey, seems almost overwhelming in its crude intensity. The 22 minute track "My Beautiful Genocide" is pretty much improvised on the spot. This, too, is another side of The Meads' unique nature. If you are looking for some really raw and unique "dark metal", "The Mill Hill Sessions" will satisfy, but be warned, it is definitely not for everyone!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
God Is Rome
This opening track is the shortest and in many ways, probably the best. It is certainly the most memorable, as the simple punk-influenced riff etches itself into the cerebellum with remarkable ease. I defy the listener to put it out of his mind. Despite the simplicity and rawness of the track, it still has a feeling of majesty and ancient power to it.
Grisly Din of Killing Steel
The simple motif that starts this off reminds me of the glory days of British metal in the late 70's/early 80's, the time that produced the likes of Angelwitch and Venom. The thin organ piping in the background helps give this track the feel of an English Renaissance Fair gone berserk and during the mid-section, singer Metatron gruffly and profanely decries slaughter in the name of God while what sounds like an accordion plays a hurdy-gurdy in the background. It's pretty weird stuff.
Eighty Grains of Sand
Very bleak and suffocating, this track pounds a dark and doomy guitar riff into your skull with the glee of a troll swinging a club. We again get a mid-song break where Metatron grumbles such cheerful tidings as "when you die, you're f@#$ing dead/food for worms that devour flesh/A slab of meat wasting in the darkness". Lovers of pristine digital production, head for the hills when you hear this one...the bass oozes over everything, the guitar sounds ragged, and the drums are as untriggered as you can get. Nevertheless, it's a gruesome and haunting ditty.
The Watchers of Catal Huyuk
For those who want to know, Catal Huyuk is an ancient ruin in Turkey that some feel may be the oldest city in the world. The song itself features another simple, staccato motif that morphs into a more up-tempo feel. My opinion on this one varies greatly depending on my mood. One time, I'm bored by it but on the next listen, it has a cosmic grandeur to it. I guess you will have to check it out yourself.
A Healer Made God
This is a very powerful track and sees the Meads at their heaviest. The riffs have a surging, chaotic feel, and you almost feel like you are being sucked into a whirlpool listening to the track. It's raw and hypnotic. The spacy mellow mid-section is perfectly positioned and has its own majesty, mixing acoustic and bluesy electric very well. "You can take away the gods/but you can't take away me" proclaim the lyrics. The song seems to be the lament of a mortal Christ. This cut really summons up the bizarre mixture of elements that makes the Meads so unique and it builds to a thunderous climax.
Refuse/Resist
This is a cover of the Sepultura classic and a pretty straightforward one at that. The only diversion from the norm is the injection of acoustic guitar along with the bludgeoning electric which comes in at the end, which works surprisingly well.
My Beautiful Genocide
This 22-minute behemoth sounds pretty much improvised in the studio. It breaks down into subsections, but I'm going to look at it as a whole. Beginning with some proggy guitar-drum interaction, this does remind a little of Hawkwind. And well it should, with both Huw Lloyd Langton and Alan Davey jamming along with the other Meads. The heavy riffing then kicks in with Metatron's alternating gruff and raspy vocals declaring "Murder is My God". The vocal hooks are actually pretty catchy, and the guitar soloing from Langton has the feel of old school British rock. Alan Davey's bass is so loud and overpowering, it threatens to bulldoze everything else. Following the early "metal" part, the track then takes a long detour into folkier territory. This will put the rabid metalheads to the test, but actually, a lot of this is quite catchy and bewitching., with a real cool flamenco type section. It just meanders about a bit too much and becomes kind of pretentious. The same could be said of Metatron's foul-mouthed diatribe where he declares "Peace on earth, good will towards men/ Since when?/ Got more s#$t now than we had then". Bluesy space rock follows this cheery observation, mutating into raw Maiden-like riffing before heading back into acoustic territory. Had enough yet? Well, in true Meads fashion, the whole track ends with a ripping black metal cacophony...1000 mph raw riffs, evil screams and pretty much unholy hell. I wonder how Huw and Alan felt on this part? At any rate, the track ends with a blast of noise. Whether it is garbage broken up by bits of brilliance or brilliance broken up by bits of garbage...that's something for the listener to determine based on his own preferences. A little bit of both, is what I'd say.
 
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