That is, of course, assuming that most folks can make it past the first five seconds of the record wherein dust-echo drums give way to shit-faced Waitsian sea shanty slide bars and the nightmarish monologue of a cult suitor distorted beyond recognition which they won’t because most folks don’t need to seek out fresh, new experimental reaches of discomfort.
Most folks are plenty unhappy on their own.
Lord knows I can be.
Yet, unlike most folks, I developed a yen for the fantastically ugly at an early age (all theories point to being an only, overimaginative child who helped his mother catalog and organize a plastic surgeon’s trauma slides*) and though I’ve denied that inclination plenty of times throughout my life, it’s always been with me. But I am no snuff jockey. Not anymore, at least. If I’m going to go in for the offensive, repugnant or bleak and stick around for more than a quick fix of shameful misanthropy, there needs to be something redeeming hidden in the horror. Something curious, inventive, challenging not just to everyday sensibilities but to the comfortable confines of the fray from whence it came.
And that’s what draws me so consistently to Mamaleek: a mysterious band of brothers from the Bay (and Beirut, now) whose name is Arabic for “slaves.” Since the late aughts, the band has played aesthetic mayhem with the tired truisms of black metal, retaining the crude abrasiveness of the genre (blown throat, cryptic rage, basement hate, etc.) while indeterminately exploring the possibilities of folk, raga, psych and melody. On their latest release, Via Dolorosa (named after the Hadrian way on which Christ bore his cross), the band continues their pursuit of noise not music v. music not noise by incorporating smooth jazz, Tacoma pluck tunings, post-rock meditations and inchoate white boy American blues into their faceless mixture resulting in something akin to the underrated Southern nightmare of Rembrandt Pussyhorse if The Butthole Surfers could’ve given less than the two fucks they offered throughout the acid wash of their early shotgun career or maybe if Mr. Bungle had decided Mike Patton’d gone TOO legitimate with his wack-job and that California would stick better with Varg Vikernes phoning the narrative in from prison.
Was that even a concept record?
The point is that what Mamaleek is doing on Via Dolorosa is so unflinchingly at odds with all conceivable normatives that it could only really pass salt at a Zorn Seder or The Flenser, where it currently resides. It is an epic amalgam of sound fury and naked disparity wrapped in muslin and left under the bed to ferment, then explode like an M-80 in some embattled parish commode.
Via Dolorosa Tracklist:
1. “Nothing But Loss”
2. “Pain as Providence”
3. “This Garden’s Agony”
4. “Already There”
5. “Ain’t No Theif”
6. “What’s Left”
8. “Ain’t Got No Fight”
9. “Χριστός Latmiya”
*You’d be amazed how much can be saved of a man after he’s gone, face-first, through helicopter blades.