posted on 6/2012 By:
In 1985, Ralf Hubert started a band he didn’t intend to join. At the time, he was the owner of the beautifully named Aaarrg Records, as well as a sound engineer for the likes of Warlock, Steeler and Living Death. The initial concept behind Mekong Delta was this: a collective of German musicians who would simply “musically outshine” all the rest of the world, and at the same time, their identities would be kept secret.
The initial Mekong Delta line-up was all of Rage plus Wolfgang Borgmann on vocals, but guitarist Jochen Schroeder and bassist Peavy Wagner quickly departed. Living Death guitarists Frank Fricke and Reiner Kelch joined up, and producer / engineer Hubert eventually stepped in to fill the vacant bass slot. Pseudonyms were adopted, and this line-up recorded the band’s self-titled debut in 1987. In the twenty-five years since, the band has released an additional eight albums, not including this one, and their line-up has steadily shifted – though the pseudonyms and the mystery have been long since abandoned, Ralph Hubert remains, the band’s founding and not-original member.
Intersections is a compilation of re-recordings of tunes from the band’s first decade, all performed by the post-2008 reformation line-up. There are two inclusions from the debut and from 1988’s The Music Of Erich Zann, three from Kaleidoscope, and one each from The Principles Of Doubt, Dances Of Death, and Visions Fugitive. In its capacity as a collection, Intersections serves three obvious purposes: It’s a vehicle for the current line-up to revisit and, in theory, improve upon decades-old songs and recordings; it functions as a best-of; and it allows those unfamiliar with this long-running but largely under-the-radar band to sample sections of history in one fell swoop.
Since my experience with Mekong Delta’s output bookends their career thusfar, it’s in that third capacity that Intersections functions most for me. I own only their debut and now this, so though I’m not quite a neophyte, I concede that I am not terribly far removed.
Luckily, Intersection’s introduction is one of the two songs with which I’m already familiar – “The Cure,” one of the best tracks on the debut and one of the thrashiest numbers on hand here. This newer version sounds better, punchier, reflecting 20 years’ advancement in recording technology. As you’d expect from a twenty-five-year-old prog metal band, the latest incarnation of the Delta plays brilliantly – the guitars twist and shift from riff to riff; Hubert’s bass leads the charge from its place nestled atop Alex Landenburg’s drums. The most notable difference is that between Borgmann and new vocalist Martin LeMar: LeMar has a solid voice, powerful and rangy, but he’s in line with the band’s shift to power / prog, whereas Borgmann’s rawer tone and falsetto shrieks on their debut anchored Mekong more closely to thrash. At times, LeMar sounds eerily like Bruce Dickinson, and he better suits the later Mekong Delta material than the earlier. In harsher moments like the most aggressive parts of “Memories Of Tomorrow” or "Transgressor," LeMar’s voice sounds out of place and forced. Still, on most of Intersections, the man proves himself a more-than-capable vocalist, and only in the most thrash-leaning segments does he come up short. (The second track lifted from the debut, “Heroes Grief,” sports a more epic sound that fits LeMar nearly perfectly.)
Songwise, when viewed chronologically (though they’re aren’t sequenced that way), these tunes show Mekong Delta expanding away from technical thrash and adding elements of a more straight-ahead prog metal. The emphasis on technical riffing and unusual time signatures remains, but the ferocity is ratcheted back to fit in greater amounts of melody and some moodier passages. It’s in these proggier moments that modern Mekong shines brightest – the twisting riffs of “Sphere Eclipse” or the nearly eight-minute epic “The Healer,” both of which are among the latest compositions here and clear highlights. Between the progressive tendencies, the prominent and complicated bass parts, and LeMar’s soaring voice, tunes like “The Healer” exhibit marked modern Maiden tendencies.
As is often the case with compilations, Intersections is a bit scattershot, though it avoids many of the usual pitfalls by virtue of consisting of all new recordings. As a retrospective of a long-running and under-the-radar act, it serves its purpose well enough – it’s certainly sparked enough of an interest in Mekong Delta for me to want to explore the band further, and the longer I spend with Intersections, the more and more I appreciate both it and the band that spawned it. Still, longtime fans won’t necessarily need the re-recordings, except as alternate versions, but for those, like me, who haven’t delved into the Delta, Intersections is a good place to start.
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