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Black metal band from somewhere in the south of England. The Meads of Asphodel were formed in 1998 by two chaps who call themselves Metatron and Jaldaboath and whose influences ranged from Hawkwind to Immortal to Middle Eastern legendry and so forth. So they're kinda like corpse-painted stoners dressed as Crusaders growling about Biblical Apocrypha and so forth. What's not to like?

The Meads of Asphodel are one of the best - and seriously most innovative - heavy metal bands around right now, I'd guess. This is probably because they are all old campaigners. Their current lineup consists of Metatron, real name unknown, on vox, James Tait on guitars, Alan Davey formerly of Hawkwind on bass, and some chap called Urakbarameel on drums. Previous members have included Huw Lloyd Langton also formerly of Hawkwind on guitars. Although Metatron's identity has never been revealed, and he's always shown in pictures wearing a medieval helm with a chainmail veil down the front, I privately suspect he is none other than Dave Brock of Hawkwind, as close ups of his eyes indicate he's about that age and his voice is how I'd imagine Brock attempting death-grunts while stoned. The Meads have also covered a number of Hawkwind songs (with mixed success), including "Assault & Battery, "Sword of the East," and "Hassan i Sabbah" among others.

Musically, though, they're only really about 40 to 50 percent black metal in terms of the riffing and the keyboard usage. The other 50 to 60 percent is made up of, well, pretty much everything. Notably Middle Eastern folk tunes, or at least synthesised instruments for same. They also have a strong lyrical bent towards Middle Eastern mysticism, Biblical apocrypha, and, erm, hopeless cynicism and bitterness towards religion in general.

Oh, and they're also more than a bit politically incorrect, which is always an attractive trait.

In 2005 they proceeded to respond to the ongoing rise of people getting butthurt about "defamation of religion" by producing a song called "The Gods Who Mock Us." The lyrics for this basically, go, "fuck (x), fuck (y), fuck (z)," for about five and a half minutes, where (x), (y), and (z) are the names of various deities. And I think they put "fuck atheists" in there as well for good measure.

In 2002 they did a split with Mayhem (yes, THAT Mayhem, the same one whose vocalist shot himself and whose guitarist put the picture on the front of a live album). The Mayhem portion was basically live renditions of their songs "Carnage," and "Freezing Moon," but the Meads' portion was a miniature concept album about September 11, 2001 called "Jihad" and the cover of which consisted of an AK47-toting heavily-bearded mujahid strapping a bomb to himself. One song on that album segues into an electro rendition of Carmina Burana mixed with a muezzin. And it gets better. Jaldaboath, who was their then guitarist and who is now his own solo artist, proceeded to release a bootleg edition just with the Meads portion of the split on it and an actual frame from 9/11 as the cover art. Too soon MY ARSE.

Then there's the entirety of their delightfully named 2006 EP "In The Name of God, Welcome to Planet Genocide," from its cover art featuring an actual mass grave via a song called "A Baptism in the Warm Piss of Slaughtered Children" to the final hidden track, which is a 25-minute drunken rant by Metatron in the form of a parody sermon about exactly why God has turned His back on us. This is comedy gold, as is anything which features the line, "Fuck the pheasants!"

And the latest album, "The Murder of Jesus the Jew," due to come out on November 15, 2010, features a song called "My Psychotic Sand Deity" which seems to be a prod at straw evangelists who crow about gay being a sin - but in such a way that you kind of think they might just be actually meaning all this.

In a short, if I had to describe them, The Meads of Asphodel are electro-stoner oriental black metal band. And they're freakin' awesome. You might think that a band that goes for all that shock value would be pretty pants but you'd be mistaken. There's no needles blastathons here (sorry, Marduk, Carcass) or pretentious depressiveness (sorry, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room) here, just evil-sounding buzzsaw riffs that somehow fit with glimmering Oriental synth parts, kinda like how if Scheherazade had pulled out an axe on night 583 and cut off the sultan's head before he could do the same to her. Okay, they do have the cookie monster vocals that extreme metal basher love to deride, but they are still intelligible. More like Behemoth or Emperor's vox rather than Burzum style screeching, and certainly not metalcore vomitousness. In many ways Metatron's vocal style which is harsh but somewhat proclaimed or even chanted complements the music. They are also unafraid to use the dreaded black metal drum machine as well (their cover of Hawkwind's "Assault and Battery" features it), and even (ulp) hardcore punk elements - "My Beautiful Genocide" has this. And they have song titles to rival Demilich or Bal Sagoth. Not even I can say "Behold the Kindred Battle Carcasses Strewn Across the Bloodied Dunes of Gilgamesh Mute in the Frenzied Clamour of Death's Rolling Tongue and Ravenous Bursting Steel" pr "Falling with Lightning Rays Beamed through the Blazing Firmament Towards the Untented Burial Ground of Kharsag" or "A canticle for the lost amputees of Aelia Capitolina who have been trampled under the iron shod hooves of salivating hell rams and impaled on the shimmering tusks of salvation within the abandoned tabernacle of a bronze age myth" without taking a breath. The last of these, at 39 words, is even longer than the Sagoth's longest ever song name, in case you're wondering.

(I am also reminded of some of the hymns from Terry Pratchett's "Small Gods" here, yano, the delightfully bloodthirsty ones that the Omnians would sing, like "Claws of Iron shall Rend the Ungodly" and "The Way of the Infidel is a Nest of Thorns" and "He is Trampling the Unrighteous with Hooves of Blue Hot Iron" and suchlike.)

There is also something strangely poetic about some of the Meads' lyrics. I don't mean poetic like godawful aren't-I-suffering goffick nonsense, but actually poetic, if you're stoned anyhow. The middle third of "Behold the Kindred etc. etc." drops out to a Mideast drum beat while Metatron proclaims something about carnage and battle. Then in "Weeping Tears of Angel Light" he sings about how "like empty clouds, we dance across the sky, watching dreams falling from your tears" which is oddly beautiful considering the rest of the album.

And some of their songs are alarmingly danceable. I point to "Agrat Bat Malah" here which is all weirdly upbeat considering. I have no idea what it's about but that bridge bit with the keyboard, and then the indie rock style acoustic guitar (trampled righteously by a 70s metal solo!) and so forth. I also point to the aforementioned "My Beautiful Genocide" as being danceable as well.

The only thing I can fault the Meads on, though, is that they never play live. I don't think they ever have to be fair. And that's a real missed opportunity. I would pay many pounds to see them hammer out "Watchers of Catalhuyuk" and "Damascus Steel" and "Bene Ha Elohim" and "Jihad, the Grisly Din of Killing Steel" and similar. Which is a pity.

Here's their discography, demos excluded.

(node 12 of my 30 IRON NODES)

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