Mephiskapheles – Never Born Again

4 out of 5

Label: Jump Up! Records

Produced by: Mephiskapheles

This is a pretty amazing comeback, the rarity for long-in-the-tooth reformed bands: Never Born Again is on par with some of Mephiskapheles’ best work, perhaps only held back by its brevity. While it perhaps lacks the urgency or swagger of their first trio of releases, it’s arguably more organic sounding than Might-Ay White-Ay, which found the group sort of forcing their image somewhat, through a rocked-up sound. And this carried over to their many-years-later reunion release, self-titled / 1010011010 to a degree, though I was happy that, for the most part, the group had allowed age to reflect in some of the subject matter and not trying to be as forcefully brash as M-A W-A.

Now we’ve gone further, and borne the fruit of finding comfort working together in a new era: Never Born Again has left any and all Satan fronting aside, and finds Meph (with some new players) in a cadence that’s reignited some Maximum Perversion-esque spark: vocalist Andre Worrell is as lively as ever, but his lyrics are a bit more thoughtful this go-around, and drummer Wayne Dunton is once again skillfully slipping between fills and beats and shifts, a bit more of the jazz sprinkle from the earlier era. The greatest leap is in how this combines for the compositions, which maybe has been affected by bringing in a new guitarist – Andy Munante. While Andy isn’t directly credited with writing credits, I’m a believer in band chemistry affecting such things; it might ultimately be coincidental – perhaps the songs were written during previous guitarist Dave Hahn’s tenure, who knows – there’s less of a grunge vibe to the music (which had always been a slightly odd fit with Meph’s style, otherwise) and the line between rock and ska feels much more organic. Hahn is credited as co-writer on concluding track Asmodeus, but the sequencing really works there, saving up the gutsy riffage for the ending.

The shortness of the release, at only four songs, does seemingly limit the subject matter a bit, with Worrell taking varying views on those in power; I think the slightly sinister vibe of the lyrics from Perversion – still the band’s high point – are slightly elusive, but this is stronger stuff than the last EP, which was more on the nose with its commentary. But the music backs that up well: we still maintain the Mephiskapheles “sound”, but again, it’s less in-yer-face; the band feels like it’s comfortable in its reformed identity, instead of being trapped by it (Might-Ay White-Ay) or somewhat obligated to it (self-titled).

The physical releases have demos of two of the tracks. I’m not dinging the rating due to these, but they’re fairly unnecessary, not varying much except in fidelity from the released versions. The vinyl edition has the cover art on the back, which is admittedly a few degrees cooler than an etching.