|Review: The Meads of Asphodel - Sonderkommando|
Label: Candlelight Records
Year released: 2013
Genre: Black Metal
Review online: October 24, 2013
Reviewed by: MetalMike
Rated 3.7/5 (74%) (10 Votes)
I have to admit that reviewing Sonderkommando, the fifth full-length from Britain's The Meads of Asphodel, was one of the more difficult tasks I've faced. You know when an album starts with excerpts from a speech by Hitler, you aren't in for an uplifting experience. Sonderkommando deals with the horrors of genocide, specifically the Holocaust of World War II, and the lyrics were written by vocalist Metatron during a visit to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 2011. The Sonderkommandos were prisoners whose job it was to dispose of the corpses generated in the concentration camps. While they enjoyed better conditions than their fellow prisoners, mostly to keep them healthy enough for their tasks, almost all were killed after only a few months, due to their knowledge of the workings of the camps.
The album opens with the 12 minute title-track that begins with the aforementioned speech then segues into some vaguely European jazz that has a prominent Pink Floyd feel, with drawn-out guitar slides and female backing vocals, before the Black Metal starts in earnest. Songs like "Wishing Well of Bones" and "Action T4" are straightforward Black Metal tracks with buzzing guitars and guttural rasps. There are more unusual elements mixed throughout the album including clear vocals, the sound of trains (like the ones that brought prisoners to the camps) and an especially hellish conversation between a young innocent and an unfeeling, demonic presence. The Meads of Asphodel even throw in snippets from Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" before accompanying it with dissonant piano, creating an unsettling sound on "Hour Glass of Ash." Other tracks, like "Sins of the Pharaohs," are almost catchy in the way old Venom songs were.
Sonderkommando was tough to listen to at first, dealing with such a ghoulish topic, but, like images from the war that draw and hold your stare, I soon found it difficult to stop listening. The playing isn't particularly special and the music, the traditional Black Metal parts anyway, isn't out of the ordinary. Listening to the album as a whole, however, with the powerful subject matter, discordant styles, effects and all, is quite jarring in ways that can only hint at what the actual experience of the camps must have been like. Sonderkommando takes time to absorb and presents challenges to the Black Metal novice but is unquestionably a profound experience.
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