Mordred – The Dark Parade
Release Date: 23/07/2021
Running Time: 34:08
Review by Simon Black
Mordred back in the day were quite the unexpected thing. Ostensibly a Bay Area Thrash band, they innovatively included crossover Funk sentiments and lots of turntablism, which was then currently coming into its own through the Hip-Hop scene (although as a musical innovation and instrument it actually dates all the way back to the experimental modernist musique concrète movement pre-World War 2 if you really want to be pernickety). Either way, when we all heard their Funk-Thrash hit floor-ripper ‘Falling Away’ all those moons ago, we realised this was something quite, quite different. And to be clear, the whole Nu-Metal movement may not have happened without these boys and then Faith No More, amongst others, dragging this quirky concept into the mainstream.
Mordred’s original label Germany’s Noise International back in the late 1980’s to 1990’s have an awful lot to answer for in this regard, both positively and negatively. For a label whose raison d’être was to stand against the tide of mainstream labels and carve a place out for the Metal and Thrash scene, they (or specifically their owner and A&R man Karl-Ulrich Walterbach) did a lot of damage to the bands in their care along the way in almost equal proportion to the good. Let’s be fair, without this label and its immediate predecessor Modern Music Records, it’s unlikely that we would have seen bands like Black Flag or The Misfits get any European distribution and the spin-off Noise label successfully broke the likes of Sabbat, Celtic Frost, Kreator, Running Wild and their biggest hit of all, Helloween.
That came at a massive price at a time when independent labels were carving a niche based on not shitting on your artists and giving them a bigger share of the albeit smaller revenue pot. This was the label of choice in Europe for the scene and most of us fans had no idea what was happening underneath the hood back then. However, for a label founded by a self-proclaimed anarchist (he was a political activist whose activities borderlined enough on terrorism for the German authorities to ensure he spent the early part of the 70’s in jail, and started his first label from a squat in Berlin) Walterbach frequently used the same capitalist dodgy business techniques as their major competitors. He dictated what he wanted bands to produce (change direction at your own peril), screwed the artists with shitty contracts and poor tour support and if they did not like what they heard, would bury the release, or abandon whole sub-genres on a whim. There’s a whole book out there about it which is worth a read (‘Damn the Machine – The Story of Noise Records’ by David E. Gehlke), which uniquely gives both the artists and Walterbach the chance to present their side of the story. The label didn’t survive the 90’s unsurprisingly and in the intervening years, its catalogue has since been sold from pillar to post, although it appears there are moves to revive the brand name at least.
Back to Mordred though, who clearly have their own view on this having experienced the negative side for themselves. Poised to show up in Europe in the 90’s to tour and promote the last of their initial albums “The Next Room” in 1994, they discovered that Noise had inexplicably buried it and given no tour promotion, causing the plug to be pulled on the tour before it even got going. This showed a huge lack of foresight, given how huge Nu-Metal would eventually prove to be and Mordred’s response to that behaviour was to stick two fingers to the label and disband, rather than get dragged into a protracted legal wrangling like that experienced by Helloween. And disband they did for some considerable time, although they resurfaced for live shows occasionally, but this release marks the first new full length studio recording since 1994 (having dipped their toes in the water last year with the ‘Volition’ EP).
A lot has happened since then…Nu-Metal – a genre directly influenced by Crossover acts like Mordred has come and gone, but there is a deep revival of many acts and sounds from that period, as old farts like me get retrospective and our children realise that some pretty good shit with depth and integrity actually came out of this period, rather than just the perms or mullets, garish clothes and hairspray they had been led to believe.
This album really does musically pick up where “The Next Room” left off, but does so with a distinctly updated and modern take. The line-up is pretty much back to their peak in 1991 with the exception of the drum stool – so this is perhaps unsurprising, although Scott Holderby’s vocals have definitely dropped an octave or two in range in the intervening years. It doesn’t make a difference, as he knows how to use his voice to good effect and leads us through the sometimes controversial lyrics with aplomb, with an emphatic use of diction that weaves you into the lyrical story. The first point that strikes though is the fact that the band have benefitted from a far richer production sound than they could afford back in the day, where the tininess of recording quality could often be masked by bucket loads of reverb, that’s a trick that does not work digitally and the band have made no attempt to sound retro, which works massively in their favour – making the album sound new, modern and relevant despite the retro mood evoked by the turntables.
They also remain unafraid to be experimental, for example the title track itself infuses all the Thrash sentiments and mood with a deep Ska groove that should not work, but absolutely does. Why it works after all these years is that they’ve retained their political attitude, the Thrash/Funk rhythmic groove and the ability to make catchy songs with shout along choruses. The deep rhythmic core of this lies with Art Liboon’s bass and the superb interplay between guitarists James Sanguinetti and Danny White. Where the album falls a little short is that the eclectic selection of song-writing styles on here make it hard to pin down, but what it lacks in by the numbers song-writing, it makes up for in innovation and challenges to the audience’s expectations. I hope this is not just a brief flash in the pan, but a true revival, as the world needs to realise how influential these guys were even if they never got to enjoy the rewards of their innovation back in the day.
‘Demonic #7’ (Official Lyric Video)
01. Demonic #7
03. I Am Charlie
04. Dragging For Bodies
05. The Dark Parade
06. All Eyes on the Prize
07. Dented Lives
08. Smash Goes The Bottle
Scott Holderby – Vocals
Art Liboon – Bass
James Sanguinetti – Guitar
Danny White – Guitar
Aaron “DJ Pause” Vaughn – Turntables/Keyboards
Jeff Gomes – Drums
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