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Merkabah – Million Miles

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A fierce avant-garde metal/jazz challenge worth every second.

Image of Merkabah – Million Miles

Instant Classic, released Fri 10 Nov

Million Miles, the latest offering from Warsaw’s Merkabah, may only be 8 tracks in length, but you’ll need at least two sittings to properly navigate its labyrinthine passages. Even then, it still may not be altogether clear what you just experienced, let alone how such chaos can seem so well put together.

The title Million Miles suggests impossibly large distances and superhuman feats, but it also ironically provides helpful grounding for a confounding record, a handy signpost to its musical origin. “Miles” surely can’t be coincidental. Metal and jazz elements mingle in a filthy orgy of sound – and the result is something like Miles Davis’ Dark Magus and Agharta, among others of his taxing 70s gauntlets. As Davis rejected melody altogether for raw and uncut funk, Merkabah often dabble in similar voodoo magic; spending most of their time aggressively skirting harmony, sneakily finding ways to eschew and undo musical conventions of both their source genres. Zheng Zhilong, the largest of these mammoth tunes – and probably this album’s He Loved Him Madly – rewards the patiently hypnotised listener with an end of the world explosion. Merkabah build so that they may destroy.

That said, there are enough shimmering sax breaks and lopsided grooves to drain this swamp. It can’t be said that Merkabah replace cold technical prowess – a facet they have in plentitude – for mood and atmosphere. Solar Surfer and A Letter for Marque zip from textural blocks to ecstatic squalls and, most surprising of all, something resembling contemporary heavy metal. It’s by turns fun and terrifying; a roller coaster of death defying leaps and moments of uneasy calm.

Million Miles, much like Davis’ stinking murk of libidinal overspill, at times feels like a real challenge to wade through. In Merkabah’s case, it certainly feels worth it.