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The Meads of Asphodel - "Sonderkommando " (CD)

The Meads of Asphodel - "Sonderkommando " CD cover image

"Sonderkommando " track listing:

1. Sonderkommando (12:21)
2. Wishing Well of Bones (3:25)
3. Aktion T4 (4:10)
4. Silent Ghosts of Babi Yar (5:38)
5. Children of the Sunwheel Banner (Part 1) (1:38)
6. Children of the Sunwheel Banner (Part 2) (8:33)
7. Lamenting Weaver of Horror (7:28)
8. Sins of the Pharaohs (5:27)
9. Last Train to Eden (8:45)
10. Hourglass of Ash (6:00)
11. The Mussulmans Wander Through the Infernal Whirling Fires... (4:41)
12. Send My Love to Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (2:06)

Reviewed by on August 8, 2013

"The Meads of Asphodel shows no fear in covering a touchy subject, and the way they present their case is not one of judgment or favor, but an observer seeing the horrors unfold right in front of them."

Controversy has never been far from The Meads of Asphodel, and they don’t shy away from generating some. It’s tough not to when your band names their last album, “The Murder of Jesus the Jew.” They are bound to stir up more uneasiness with “Sonderkommando,” a concept album revolving around the Holocaust. Even after all these decades, the Holocaust is still a sensitive topic, though so was the death of Jesus Christ. The Meads of Asphodel shows no fear in covering a touchy subject, and the way they present their case is not one of judgment or favor, but an observer seeing the horrors unfold right in front of them.

Vocalist Metatron did his research, reading up on the Holocaust and visiting the Auschwitz camp in person. The vocals for the last song, “Send My Love to Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz,” were actually recorded at the concentration camp. As he did with “The Murder of Jesus the Jew,” Metatron devotes the album to the topic, though there’s more exposition that can be found in a PDF written by Metatron himself. The imagery can be graphic at times, but it fits the somber mood.

“You don’t have to die to walk in hell, for hell is here.” With this prophetic statement in the title track, the blissful instrumentation building up for six minutes previously is crushed under a black metal sledgehammer. The title track takes up the first 12 minutes of the album, and introduces the Sonderkommandos, a group of Jewish prisoners who assisted in cleaning up gas chambers and ovens. Their story is not contained to one individual, but a group forced into terrifying jobs against their will.

There is no happy ending for the Sonderkommandos, or anybody else entering the concentration camps. They have their moment of rebellion, detailed in the eleventh track, which has a name so long it would take up half a paragraph by itself. The rising is short-lived, as is explained in the PDF Metatron wrote. The PDF is a useful tool to get a better perspective of what the band was going for with this concept. Though not a necessity, it’s a way to fill in the gaps and flesh out the tiny bits the songs dish out.

The Meads of Asphodel can be labeled a black metal band in only the loosest of terms. They do get down on the tremolo-picked worship, but it’s secondary to the eclectic quality of their songwriting. “Sonderkommando” has a noticeable lack of the more Broadway-ish interludes heard on a song like “Addicted to God,” as the album maintains a darker tone throughout its 70 minutes. There isn’t anything as infectious as “Apocalypse of Lazarus,” though there is some roleplaying with a back-and-forth between a boy and Death on “Lamenting Weaver of Horror.”

The music on “Sonderkommando” is top-notch all around, as the band continues to stretch their black metal outwards. The first part of “Children of the Sunwheel Banner” has a strange, almost patriotic tempo that betrays the grim content. “Wishing Well of Bones” is a quick-paced number with a driving main riff that happens to be about the loss of young life due to the camps. “Hourglass of Ash” uses a classic orchestral piece, which would be tasteful except that it was supposedly used by the Nazi’s as a calming soundtrack for those heading to the gas chambers.

Much of the quirky nature of the music can be attributed not only to the main players, but the long line of guest musicians that join in. The band is no stranger to bringing in friends and other outside talent to bolster their material, and almost every song on “Sonderkommando” features extra help. Sigh’s Mirai Kawashima performs a crafty keyboard solo on the second part to “Children of the Sunwheel Banner.” Even Metatron’s son gets an inclusion as the Boy on “Lamenting Weaver of Horror.”

Like “The Murder of Jesus the Jew,” “Sonderkommando” is a difficult album to just randomly put on and play. Even if the subject matter wasn’t so morose, the ever-shifting style of music is rewarded with avid attention. Whatever your views are on the Holocaust or what the Nazi’s did to an entire race of people, The Meads of Asphodel does not take these themes lightly. They give them the gravity they deserve, and though some may be offended by the unsettling picture these songs paint, it’s a picture that will be engraved in a listener’s mind long after the last train to a horrific fate has departed.

Highs: A gripping narrative revolving around the Holocaust, band continues to push the boundaries of black metal, darker-sounding music than "The Murder of Jesus the Jew," wide variety of guest musicians

Lows: Not as infectious as some of their earlier material, the graphic lyrical content may stir some the wrong way

Bottom line: The Meads of Asphodel cover another touchy subject, this time the Holocaust, with their gripping, eccentric new album "Sonderkommando."

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)