Review: Mamaleek – Via Dolorosa

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Anything that Mamaleek puts out tends to ask more questions than it answers. The name, if Metal Archives is to be trusted, is an Arabic designation for slaves, but this puzzling and anonymous duo of brothers are anything but bound to the same old routine. As you might expect from a band on Flenser Records, each release gives a giant middle finger to predictability; Mamaleek embraces the limitless possibility of electronics while remaining grounded in an eclectic and noisy brand of metal. Via Dolorosa, their fifth release, continues that tradition in an astonishingly beautiful and fearless fashion.

If you’re familiar with the group’s back catalogue, the first half of the opening track will be familiar territory. “Nothing But Loss” opens with a jaunting groove from an acoustic, rather than programmed, drum set—a first for Mamaleek—and jumps right into a loose, loud proclamation. The chord progression is soulful, the vocals are nasty, and it feels like home. The atmosphere clears around the two-minute mark, and that’s (almost) the last time you’ll hear a distorted guitar on this album. Just in case you’d already forgotten that middle finger in the face of your expectations.

 

That’s not to say that distorted guitars and conventional heaviness were a staple of their previous albums. It does, however, create a much more consistently sparse atmosphere than we’ve seen from Mamaleek. “Already There” sets an imaginative, bare-bones mood with a crackling drum loop guiding a couple wandering clean guitars, which is starkly contrasted by the bitter, vitriolic snarls on top of it all (a sparse guitar lead near the end gives one more glimpse of distortion). The effect is mesmerizing, and I’m not sure whether to kick back with a beer or snarl and stop blinking for the rest of the day. The next two tracks, “Ain’t No Thief” and “What’s Left” follow in a similar fashion, with spoken word and found sounds dotting the landscape. That aforementioned contrast is a standout feature of the album as a whole, and it is on masterful display in the middle three tracks. The instrumental work alone is at times hauntingly gorgeous, or at times relaxingly loose, while the harsh vocal work is positively nasty. What Mamaleek demonstrates here is akin to a developing painter: his early works fill and splash the canvas with bold, clashing colors, while his later paintings allow negative space to work with the brushstrokes to create new masterpieces.

 

While the middle three tracks mentioned above provide a fascinating glimpse of the album as a whole, I would be remiss if I left out the genius of “Pain As Providence.” Dagon, my fish god friend, mentioned to me that he noticed a trip hop feel to parts of the album, which fits the rhythmic profile of this song. Percussive (but not quite drumset) loops establish a lounging, easy mood; the guitars, however, take harmonic cues and tones from jazz, utilizing chordal extensions and blue notes aplenty. And the vocals… oh, those vocals. The style is switched up a couple times through the track, but it is never anything less than positively grating. Mamaleek sets a stage that a smoky-smooth female voice could linger over, but they take the far opposite approach for a brilliant result. Later in the tune, a slightly-out-of-tune piano tinkers in, a warping tonal color that is further explored in “What’s Left” in the guitars.

 

Similar to the way we said goodbye to any semblance of heavy guitars after the opening two minutes, you can also bid harsh vocals farewell after “What’s Left.” The last three tracks get their money’s worth of open space, introspective loops, and sparse spoken word. When I first listened through the album, it seemed lopsided; songs were arranged in a way that favored a weightier front half before drifting off at the end. However, the order seemed more purposeful the more I listened. A better view of the album seems to be a gradual and intentional decompression, like a spinning top gradually losing speed. I hesitate to use the terms “shoegaze” or “post,” as Via Dolorosa is treading in its own waters, but there is certainly an introspective weight to the album as the music thins out. While the album is likely to polarize fans and new listeners, there is no doubt that Mamaleek has succeeded in pushing themselves into new territory. All in all, Via Dolorosa is a superb and refreshing album with a unique voice in the heavy music discussion.

Stream and buy the album here, and like the band on Facebook.

  • Kevin Nash & Friends

    Did someone say Mamaluke? That’s what this band name sounds like.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrEF1dB0F5U

    • KJM

      Shit, you beat me to it.

      • Kevin Nash & Friends

        I was already in the process of posting it when I read the article.

  • Maik Beninton

    *Plays last song.
    *Listens to blackened elevator music.
    It’s nice.

  • The W.

    I got a bit of a Tom Waits vibe from this album. Great review, Stuckhouse.

    • Stockhausen

      Thanks Dub. Who’s Tom Waits?

      • The W.

        Sometimes called Tommy the Cat.

      • Kevin Nash & Friends

        You don’t know Tom Waits? You’d enjoy him. He’s awesome.

        • Tyree

          Wow.

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            That’s what I thought when Stocky said he doesn’t know who Tom Waits is.

          • Tyree
          • The W.

            Since this could go on forever, Stocky was being Stocky. He has written about Tom Waits for this very blog.

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            How did I not remember that article? That was a good article. I didn’t know Stocky wrote it though,

          • Stockhausen

            You’re breaking my heart bones, Kevin Nash.

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            I tore my quads when I realized that you did write an article about Tom Waits. The sheer realization made my quads tear as soon as I stood up.

          • That’s a paddlin’

            Guess what. That’s a paddlin’

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            You’re not qualified to administer paddlins’. I’m afraid I’m gonna have to call the cops.

          • That’s a paddlin’

            You’re in for one too.

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            You can’t paddle the Master of Paddlin’! Now get your hairy ass in line so you can get a paddlin’ license!

          • That’s a paddlin’

            Where do I sign?

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            I just checked our terms and conditions and it said that we don’t give paddlin’ licenses to bears, racists, coprophiles or people with foot fetish. You fill all those so I’m sorry but you’re unable to receive the license.

          • That’s a paddlin’

            But that’s a paddlin’. Right?

          • Sir Tapir the Based

            You will be hearing from our lawyers.

          • KJM

            ^_^

          • JW(E)G
          • Stockhausen

            I lol’d out loud.

        • Sir Tapir the Based

          This is a joke, right?

      • KJM

        You little scamp, you.

        • Stockhausen

          Hehehehe.

  • This is so weird, Stocky! Not my style, I’ve got dizzy listening this. But, still.. Grreat review!

    • Stockhausen

      Thanks Link!

      • The “calm” parts are more weirder than the chaotic stuff in the first track.

        • Stockhausen

          They really are, I love the unsettling feeling of that stuff.

  • Tyree
  • Void Dweller

    Wow. I don’t like this.

      • KJM

        Not my thing either, but it’s all good.

      • Mother Shabubu III 12 BRICKS

        Definitely not Joe in this meme. Hands are too big.

        • Kevin Nash & Friends

          I’ve never seen his hands so I can’t judge him.

          • That is so kind.

          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            I don’t judge people based on such trivial stuff such as hand size.

          • Mother Shabubu III 12 BRICKS

            I don’t either, but it’s been a good running gag here.

          • Void Dweller

            You’re a good man.

          • Tyree
          • Kevin Nash & Friends

            This is a great song. It’s so funny.

          • Mother Shabubu III 12 BRICKS

            FALALALA LA LA LALA

          • KJM

            And then you tried to grab mah ass! HEY!

          • Dagon

            I’m with you. I only judge on the basis of bulk.

          • Tyree

            Cultivating mass.

          • Trivial? Not hardly. Hand size is important.

        • The next time I see HessianHunter I will strike him down in cold blood. Then I’m coming for you.

          • Mother Shabubu III 12 BRICKS

            How creepy is it gonna be when you go to shank him, and you find his basement in covered in pictures of your hands?

      • Void Dweller

        Here ya go…

  • Mother Shabubu III 12 BRICKS

    This is like black metal inspired by 12 Bricks. So weird.

    • Dagon

      WOOHOO

      It says fuck Em fuck Em fuck Em to your expectations
      We don’t love Em love Em love em

  • Dagon

    I felt like this was recorded by Massive Attack’s institutionalized siblings.

  • JW(E)G

    Also: this is a really engaging review. The second and third tracks posted are intriguing (the first embed is blank for me, but with scrollbars suggesting something IS in it).

    Obviously, I was expecting something very different based on that album art, from what I read that’s kind of the point.

    I think I’ll have a bit more of a look into the back-catalogue.

  • Guacamole Jim

    I’m weirded out by this, in a great way. It merits further investigation.

  • INDUBITABEARD

    I’m not sure about this one

    • KJM

      I’m not a power electronics/noise kinda guy.

  • That’s a paddlin’

    I do usually enjoy the musical choices you make Stockypock, but I do not like this.
    I’m not sure if I’ve ever bothered with older Mamaleek even though I’ve heard talk about them.
    I do not like this.

    • That’s a paddlin’

      Pain as Providence has many good individual parts but I don’t like them together.

    • Stockhausen

      It’s definitely different, and I understand it not being up everyone’s alley. You may like the older stuff, it’s still whacked out but more “metal.”

  • Void Dweller
    • Tyree

      Selling my Hells Headbash 2 tickets for this.

      • Void Dweller

        Good man.

        • Tyree

          Godsmack bro.

          • Void Dweller

            Brosmack Bro.

  • Thank you, Stocketc. for reviewing this *ahem* “hipster black metal”. I can’t for the life of me get into Mumblin’ Word but this grabs me. If all other bands would stop releasing music I might actually have the time/money to grab this now, instead of some time next year.