Mendel – Subliminal Colors
When one of our readers describes an album as “the best album you never heard of” – we take notice. But who or what is Mendel? I will tell you: Mendel bij de Leij is a Norwegian guitarist of the technical thrash band Escadron. If you aren’t familiar with Escadron, don’t worry, neither am I. But luckily for Mendel, his technical wizardry has not gone completely unnoticed as he has very recently been recruited by veteran grindcore outfit Aborted. Clearly, the man has skills. However, what’s even more fascinating is the myriad array of music he plays. Typically a talented freelance guitarist like Mendel will stay within the confines of his genre when seeking work. Sure there are cases artists hopping across genre lines, but even then, its usually semi-related, e.g. metalcore to hardcore, doom to sludge, you get my point. So when I approached his first solo instrumental release entitled Subliminal Colors, I had no idea what to expect.
It’s not that I have anything in particular against instrumental projects per se, but I do find them generally very boring. They are typically self-indulgent, unfocused, and difficult to listen too. Luckily, Subliminal Colors, for the most part, avoids these traps. It’s engaging, catchy, and technically outstanding. And because of Mendel’s aforementioned penchant for diversity, tracks do not bleed into one another as a lot of technical circuses tend to do, but instead, continually change up both pace and riffs to create an extremely enjoyable experience. This album is truly progressive as it jumps all over the place from thrash, to melodeath, to even a bit of classical, all expertly interwoven to create a fabulous montage of Mendel’s influences.
Opener “Shores” begins our journey in Christmas mass fashion, as delicately played chimes usher in a grandiose organ intro. As his Facebook page states, he is a big fan of Johann Sebastian Bach, and believe it or not, it shows (well sorta). Thunderous guitars demarcate Mendel’s arrival and remind you that this progressive metal, not The Well-tempered Clavier. Mendel’s virtuosity is immediately on display, as an all assault of pure unadulterated thrash gets your blood pumping before evolving into more progressive territory. What’s nice is about 3:45 in, the song takes on a whole new personality with a really killer bass line before bridging back to the main theme to carry us to the end. “Messengers” continues the up-tempo pace after a short 30 second reprieve. Mendel’s use of various melodies juxtaposing one another is outstanding. Around the 3:00 mark, the song slows down for a bluesy guitar solo that is really gorgeous. Do not miss. As it crests to its apex, some dissonance is added to the mix as the song continues to build tension until it crashes down in a djenty style breakdown before abruptly ending.
“Fail” is more mid-tempo, and despite its technical prowess, it has a very poppy vibe to it with sweeping melodies and an expertly crafted catchy main theme. The next two songs for me are absolute highlights and really sold me on Colors. “Moleculair Veil” (yes, that’s how he spells it) is simply awesome. This song is exactly what the last few Megadeth offerings should have sounded like, but didn’t. The 3:00 mark breakdown is incredible, with a whirlwind of guitars that I guarantee will daze and amaze you. Though of a completely different architecture, “Pandora” is equally impressive and as on ode to djent. It features an incredible guest solo by Bart Hennephof of Textures fame that is sublime.
The next three tracks, “Releasing Butterflies,” “Sumerian Sun,” and “The Symbiotic Resurrection,” all follow a similar formula to “Messengers,” but add a few new twists. In “Releasing Butterflies,” the song comes to a screeching halt at the 2:30 mark, where Mendel literally hits the reset button. An intricate theme is introduced which gets repeated several times in various different arrangements that is downright infectious. “Sumerian Sun” adds an introspective main theme through carefully calculated distortion. “The Symbiotic Resurrection” incorporates some wonderful keyboard work that really adds another texture to an already complex body of work.
If the album has a weak point, it’s the last two songs. “Reprise” is a 1:11 piano/guitar interlude designed to prepare you for the 25 minute finale track, “Absolution,” that frankly should have been on its own EP. It’s not that “Absolution” doesn’t sonically fit, but after 47 minutes of non-stop guitar wizardry, this song isn’t necessary. Don’t get me wrong, its a fantastic song that features a wonderfully epic piano arrangement, but it should have been reserved for another release. Anyway, if you do make it all the way through, at around the 12 minute mark, a clinic is put on by Ulrich Schadeck of Rouge. Check it out.
Subliminal Colors was also produced, mixed, and mastered by Mendel himself. Sigh. At a paltry DR5 (barely), you can imagine that the drums have zero impact. What’s worse, is as you probably guessed, the mix has guitars totally in control and upfront, so the drums really feel non-existent. This record is by no means the worst sounding album ever, its just a shame that Mendel had to push each track to the very edge. Really makes no sense whatsoever.
One of the great joys of sharing music on a site like this is the slew of recommendations we get on a weekly basis. Subliminal Colors maybe my new favorite instrumental record to date so thank you! Best of all, this album is completely free on Mendel’s Bandcamp page. You owe it to yourself to download and give it a listen. Highly Recommended.