Anonymity in black metal has always been a double-edged sword. While it’s refreshing to see artists solely focused on their music and presentation rather than themselves as artists, it can also be frustrating to be unable to spotlight bands that truly excel at their craft. This latter point certainly applies to Mamaleek, though you’d be hard-pressed to describe them as “black metal” without employing several genre caveats. The Flenser describes the two brothers as “Bay Area-based black metal weirdos” who “repeatedly create some of the most intriguing, aesthetically-realized Black Metal anywhere.” Despite the boldness and verbosity of these claims, Mamaleek truly has produced a steady stream of releases that enthusiastically exhibit this ethos of exploration. Across Out of Time, the duo unveils their longest and most sonically rich releases to date. It’s a textured journey painted with the brush strokes of black metal’s past with an eclectic range of paints from the surrounding musical landscape.
It’s important to first ruminate on the meaning of Mamaleek’s name. It is supposedly the plural form of the Arabic word “Mamluk,” which means “slave.” Two important points can be drawn from this, namely the band’s strong Arabic influences. Ever-present but never over-bearing, the duo alludes to their co-recording hub of Beirut, Lebanon with subtle notes of the Middle East foreign to modern music genres, especially black metal. Secondly, the choice of the word “slave” alludes to the underlying theme of struggle and suffering existing throughout Mamaleek’s music. Through morose melodies, pained vocals and a sharp industrial edge, the duo’s approach to songcraft blends influences to create a refreshing take on punishing sounds.
Approaching the album with these notes in mind can be a bit jarring, especially if the central expectation revolves around Out of Time being a recognizably “black metal” album. Mamaleek rely heavily on the shades and hues of blackgaze, but opener “If I Had This Time” immediately proves there’ll be much more at play across the album’s 14 tracks. A plodding bass line and twisting, melodic guitar notes fall somewhere between post-punk and post-rock, a bait-and-switch easement into the murk of “Sicarii.” Bass continues its prominent role underneath a steady, Arabic rhythm and perturbed vocals delivered over haunting, repetitive melodies. The vibe falls somewhere between Om, Sunn O))) and Wreck and Reference if these acts congealed there influences into a black metal mold. In a similar way, “Doomed Beast” has a propulsive pace with strong Arabic rhythms and a hypnotic guitar hook that weave together into a thumping yet majestic atmosphere.
Perhaps most prominent in the band’s sound is the presence of electronic tweaks and refinements in just the right places. In some instances, this warrants comparisons to unexpected electronic subgenres, such as the trip-hop and downtempo vibes on “God Is the Irrational Number.” I’m not sure DJ Shadow or Charles Webster have ever been asked to remix and sample blackgaze, but this would likely be the type of song they would produce. Tracks elsewhere on the album explore a variety of disparate influences, such as the jazzy interlude on “Lapis Lazuli” and the sinister noise rock edge of “Where Is the Friend’s House.” Mamaleek ties these influences together on songs like “My Master, My Father, My Author,” which legitimately sounds like a blackened jazz-rap beat produced by Justin Broadrick.
As much as these descriptions come across as an unflattering hodgepodge, this couldn’t be further from the truth. To the contrary, Out of Time contains too many pleasantly surprising experiments to properly document in a review format. Mamaleek once again approach blackgaze from a completely unique angle and carve out their own niche within a slew of genres both near and far from their blackened roots. The duo’s sonic offerings offer a dense, challenging journey through bleak soundscapes that warrant repeat listens to fully unravel. But as these mixtures become less foreign and more alluring, Out of Time will reveal itself as an incredibly rich and rewarding experience well worth a spot among the strongest releases of the year.