Mephiskapheles – Maximum Perversion

5 out of 5

Label: Koch

Produced by: Mephiskapheles

The fans know how insanely unique and awesome this album is, but I get that we can’t trust fans.  Thing is, I was always somewhat baffled at the lack of respect this disc earned, even if it was in comparison to the previous album, which is generally better regarded.  Sure, you’re lumped with a one-two judgement punch: a ska band (which, if you’re not some band like The Toasters or something, people will roll their eyes at as dated bandwagon bait); a Satan-shtick novelty band.  I definitely avoided the group initially over the latter, as shtick bands will forever be shtick bands.  But glory bless the compilation – one of those millions of dollar ska compilations – that introduced me to ‘Doomsday’ and ‘Saba.’   These tracks definitely highlight Meph’s skills as a band capable of penning catchy genre-blending tracks, and I was ready to add them to my holy collection.  I went out to buy the album from which those songs came, and instead was blocked by the newly released ‘Maximum Perversion,’ the silly cartoon cover of which was infinitely more appealing to me, as well as the titillating thrill of being on the cusp of the new (titillatin’ I tells ya).

I was blown away.  I was confused why the world wasn’t listening to this album and marveling at its never-matched ska/rock/jazz/hardcore mash.  The overt smirk of the self-titled album (definitely apparent on even the tracks I mentioned above) was replaced with something much more insidious.  I mean, I’m not trying to claim subtlety here – the cover artwork is of a couple of devils, and we’ve still got an evil theme percolating through song titles – but something about the concept moves beyond catchiness into subversion, with an odd combination of sinister and upbeat on tracks like ‘Attack of the Geniuses’ and ‘Aliens’ that steps slightly aside the gag and, whilst dancing, might catch you out and make you wonder if you’re hearing something deeper than first supposed.  This is further supported when you get to those songs that defy any sort of easy classification as punk or ska, like ‘Break Your Ankle Punk,’ or closer ‘Scram.’  Even without a name like Bill Laswell (who produced the previous album) at the boards, the group has honed their sound and skills: full horn-section combinations that swoon around the complicated arrangements, and the rock/jazz drumming of Wayne Dunton, most jaw-dropping on the solo opening of Bad Toupée.  They keys and guitar are appropriately mixed down to support Invidious’ amazing sing-song growl, but it also creates an murky bass that matches the minor-chord favoring themes of every song.

It’s concise; it’s a gut-punch of a uniquely-flavored sound from literally the first bar until the last.  No filler, nothing that I would say just sounds like a genre convention, and a passion of presentation across the board that defies doubts that these guys aren’t playing and singing their hearts out.  Mephiskapheles leveraged the support they’d earned from the first, kitschier album, to earn the ability to drop ‘Maximum Perversion,’ stretching the limits of what one can accomplish with a joke concept and within an often limiting genre.  If you asked me for one defining album from the ska era… no, I wouldn’t hand you this.  Because it’s too good.  It would ruin everything else.

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