Sound — 6
With their sound leaning towards a more intelligent and technical structure to their compositions - from prog-rock-oriented riffs to neo-classical elements - Mekong Delta proved to be one of the best and brightest bands during the initial thrash metal scene of the 80s. The German metal band would be active throughout the '80s and early '90s, but they would go on a long hiatus soon after the release of their seventh studio album, "Pictures at an Exhibition," and wild rumors about the founder of Mekong Delta, Ralph Hubert, circulated about his unexplained disappearance. Regardless of what the real story was, Hubert reappeared nearly a decade later, and the reformed Mekong Delta would release the very impressive album, "Lurking Fear." Having properly returned to the metal scene with that album, Mekong Delta continued forward with their productions, and are now releasing their tenth original studio album, "In a Mirror Darkly."
"In a Mirror Darkly" comes off way more as a progressive metal album than a thrash album. Prog-inspired technical riffage is featured on every song of the eight-track album, and, for the most part, occupy the majority of each track. The good part of this inclination in their compositions is that it shows off the combined instrumental skill of both guitarists Erik H. Grosch and Benedikt Zimniak, bassist Ralph Hubert, and drummer Alex Landenburg (though frankly, that fact was never being disputed), and getting to hear the technical-heavy acoustic guitar parts in "Introduction" and "Inside the Outside of the Inside" is an awesome variation of an acoustic guitar section in a song. However, this emphasis on technicality in the album seems like there was too much invested in it, which left little room for other elements on the album - elements that previous Mekong Delta albums included and were lauded for. For example, the neo-classical elements and symphony-inspired sections play a minor role on the album at most: "The Sliver in God's Eye" is the song of the album that brings forth string instruments, piano, and thunderous drums in its prolonged intro, but it's nothing exquisite. Also, the thrash flavor on the album definitely feels eclipsed by the prog-ness of the album, and while most riffs on the album are heavy and some are fast, there isn't much that really traverses into a proper thrash gear. Riffs stay technical, and the only established guitar solo on the album is in the final track, "Mutant Messiah," which is satisfying, but may leave you asking why there weren't more solos featured on the album. Though the technical riffing that takes up 80% of the album is impressive, the constant gear of that ends up washing over you after time, and doesn't stay captivating all the way through.
Lyrics — 8
Being another striking characteristic of Mekong Delta, their approach towards vocals and lyrics was alternative to the norm of thrash metal, and therefore, came off as more intelligent in comparison to their peers - yet another quality that can be labeled as the "progressive" side of the band, and a quality that has shined throughout the band's career. Though current vocalist Martin LeMar had only written lyrics for this album and its predecessor, "Wanderer on the Edge of Time," LeMar's lyrical ideas work well in the overall spirit of the band, and the lyrics in "In a Mirror Darkly" prove this point again. Though the lyrics on the album don't collectively form a full concept like your typical prog-rock album, subject matter in songs complement each other: the critique of a callous society in "The Armageddon Machine" flows into the unequal relationship between man and God in "The Sliver in God's Eye," which then continues the theme of deities with the song "Janus," which is about the Roman God of Beginnings and Transitions. "Mutant Messiah" also contains a relative theme of relationships between mortals and immortals, but takes on a much darker approach of detailing a gruesome quest of a mortal trying to save the world from the fate of the devil, which fits perfectly with the dark tone of the song.
Overall Impression — 7
When technical-inspired compositions are involved, there's no disputing the instrumental integrity of the band (it takes an unfakeable amount of skill to pull that stuff off), but the problem lies in itself. Though the idea that an entire album filled with technical riffs would seem like an impressive album on paper, the technical-inclined compositions start to become less intriguing when you hear them over and over again throughout the album, and while this may be the sonic theme of "In a Mirror Darkly," some more variation in the sound (perhaps another song with a "black sheep style" or something more raw and rough) would have made the album more captivating as a whole. It's not a bad album, but it should be made aware that there are a few Mekong Delta albums that are more impressive.