Mehenet – Ng’ambu Review

When one thinks of New Orleans and music, there are many touchstones, but black metal ain’t one of them. Dixieland jazz pours from every crevice of the city, from bars to funeral processions, while zydeco and Delta blues echo through the French Quarter. When it comes to metal, NOLA is renowned for the sludge that slithered from the swamps surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. But black metal? In this heat and humidity? Mehenet, a five-piece active since 2014, is happy to be the black fly in the jazzy New Orleans ointment. Their sophomore full-length Ng’ambu arrives courtesy of respected label Gilead Media, so I was eager to see if “Dixieland black metal” could be a thing.

Turns out, nothing of the city’s other musical styles influence Mehenet at all. There’s a street sound sample intro on “Horse to the Earth” that includes zydeco, but Ng’ambu itself is an unrelenting furnace blast of layered dissoblack with touches of melody and a nasty death metal attitude. If comparisons are your thing, Mehenet are like a slightly less sophisticated Anicon or Outre. But even if there’s no hint of jazz, other cultural aspects of New Orleans are all over Ng’ambu. The band members purport 1 to be practitioners of Quimbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion rooted in ritualistic magic not unlike voodoo. Multiple languages are employed by vocalist Algol, including English and what I assume are Portuguese and Creole, though speaking neither, I can’t confirm. Vocal variety also extends to delivery, as there are deeper growls, higher rasps and semi-clean chant-singing.

Style and atmosphere are paramount on Ng’ambu. Opener “Dona Sete” stirs to life with hand percussion, shakers and whistles. Drums, guitar and Algol’s ritual chants join in and build to a satisfying blast of blackened vitriol. Acheron’s drumming throughout the track is a particular highlight, as he walks a fine line between impressive complexity and feral ferocity. This buzzing energy rubs off on the band throughout the album, establishing a strident urgency to album highlights “In the Garden of Suicide” and “The Mystery of Nations.” “In the Garden of Suicide” in particular explodes from the gate with acute riffing and mouth-frothing violence before settling into an undulating groove, a semi-clean vocal passage and a dissonant squall to close. This compositional progression makes “In the Garden…” the album’s most memorable cut by far, but it also exposes the album’s weakness.

I don’t know if Mehenet purposefully downplay songwriting for the sake of style and atmosphere, but Ng’ambu is lacking a bit in the former to its detriment. “In the Garden…” aside, I have trouble remembering any of the songs if they aren’t currently playing, even if I like most when they are. Part of this issue is a tendency to fragment compositions, especially “Dona Sete” and “Whom God Did Despise.” It took me several listens before I wasn’t checking to see if a new song had started halfway through either track. Thankfully, a tight 30-minute runtime keeps the album from suffering too much compositional entropy.

On the whole, Mehenet’s humid take on black metal is a welcome one, and the regional culture of New Orleans seeping into their themes and aesthetics make Ng’ambu unique among your run-of-the-mill corpse-painted, woods-dwelling second wave worship. It may have a memorability problem, but it’s a wild ride while you’re on it.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Gilead Media
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: Sept 10th, 2021

Show 1 footnote
  1. I don’t mean to cast suspicion on how serious Mehenet are about Quimbanda. They may very well be. I tend to take black metal band professions of faith and anti-faith with a grain of salt.
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