As the 1980s ended, it really was a new dawn for heavy music. The early 1990s is often touted as something of a dark period for metal but on reflection it was a time where the door was blown pretty much wide open. It is fair to say that while “alternative” was in and funk was commonplace that there were very few San Francisco Bay Area thrash bands leading the charge as to including fusion elements into their sound but that is exactly what San Franciscans Mordred were doing. When their debut album Fool’s Game arrived in 1989, it was still thrash but fuelled by a different perspective – especially on stand out cut Every Day’s A Holiday which featured scratching, turntables and groove and hip-hop elements. By 1991 and second album In This Life, Mordred had upped the ante somewhat and thrash took something of a back seat to deliver both a clever and eclectic collection of songs that were still hard hitting but levelled up the groove and funk that showed a level of invention rarely seen in the thrash scene. While “funk metal” did become a “thing”, Mordred were more interested in pulling the bandwagon rather than jumping onto it. A third album, The Next Room arrived in 1994 and despite the record further pushing Mordred’s envelope musically, sadly the record failed to gain much attention and Mordred disbanded.
Mordred’s fourth album The Dark Parade is their first full album in 27 years although a full-on reunion seemed to gain ground in 2013 committing to a tour in 2014, performing a new song The Baroness and releasing the excellent Volition EP in 2020. Obviously, a new album should be in focus and with such a gap between records and changing times but how does Mordred’s previous output stand up? Well, this is the point because the answer is “remarkably well” and The Dark Parade is not about recapturing anything, it adds to a legacy worth celebrating.
The Dark Parade is once more, an eclectic collection of songs, some of which are so off kilter that they are at times unsettling but that is the sheer joy of Mordred as a band and it’s that mix of thrash meets funk and groove where not a single song sounds the same as the one that preceded it.
Kicking off with a solid thrasher in Demonic#7, squally guitar solos meet a stab of scratching that leads a self-contained sonic explosion and full-on riff fest. Malignancy has a solid punk edge but is a real high point on the melody with Scott Holderby switching vocal identities between the verses and chorus, more mid-point scratching and a nervy solo. Lyrically I Am Charlie relates to the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks, the gunfire and emergency services sirens in the background to the guitar is seriously unsettling, a heavy set drum beat on the ‘gang’ shouted’ is one of unity but the menace is palpable. Dragging For Bodies is utterly superb, the guitar line with the keys is just tremendous with Holderby crooning but the title track ramps up the weirdness, a musical version of the wicked cover art, a jaunty guitar, saxophone and Holderby playing a demented ring master pulling back the curtains for the show to begin. With anything from howling dogs to horses in the background, Mordred has hardly gone easy on anyone as to not delivering something to delve into. Maybe one listen it is too much but repeated plays just expands the experience with devastating effect that does leave some head scratching but ultimately is an incredibly satisfying experience. And just as the brief spoken word at the beginning of Malignancy says “this is not for the light hearted.” No sirs, it is not.
As much as Mordred were well respected back in the day, they were not the name thrown around when it came to thrash, maybe too weird and eclectic for the elite at the time. Unafraid to take chances and do their own thing, Mordred were pushing their own envelope and not necessarily dancing to any pre-conceived tune or expectation. As much as Mordred’s earlier works still stand up, paradoxically The Dark Parade could be from the same time period but is contemporary and fully self aware. At eight songs, the album does feel short but in fairness, there is the Volition EP as well so there is plenty of new Mordred to go around and hopefully, this is a new beginning for Mordred with more material to come.
For anyone that has Fool’s Game and In This Life and has not played them for a few years, it is time to dust ‘em down and get ‘em played loud – The Dark Parade is here. For newcomers, the new album is a magnificent place to start and work back. Either way, The Dark Parade is an essential listen by a band that was always way ahead of the curve.
The Dark Parade is out now on M-Theory audio