Let me start by getting some cursory stuff out of the way: Mendel is a virtuoso for people who don’t normally go down for the usual wankery. Sure, you could easily put Oblivion on shuffle with Yngwie, Satriani, and Vai; but I don’t even keep those guys in my iTunes. While the hardcore fans of such monumental names may dispute my claims, I feel that what makes artists like Mendel more impressive is a profound vision for songwriting. Sure, Joe and Steve may be able to outshred me, but at the end of the day I really don’t give a shit unless it is enjoyable to listen to.
Fortunately, much like the previous Shaking Hands with the Devil and Subliminal Colors, Oblivion is anything but boring. The style feels less like a “look at me and how good I am” and more “let's build an awesome song.” There are inevitably those who will question the appeal of instrumental music, but I assure you that in this case vocals are utterly unnecessary. Mendel conveys more than enough emotion through his axe to engage the listener on a visceral level. Perhaps more importantly, I would say that he has stepped up his game in several areas.
For one, there seems to be a more cohesive vision and concept to the album as a whole. Though Mendel has assured me otherwise, it feels as though there is an underlying story and this is the soundtrack. The overall aesthetic definitely fits the sci-fi cover art (done by Sven de Caluwe). While each song does an exemplary job differentiating itself, there is a uniting theme to the general sound that just screams outer space.
This brings me to another level of innovation: Mendel seems to have stepped up his melding of effects and alternative instrumentation. There are moments right off the bat with “Discover” and the 8-bit-sounding intro to “Pulse” that add dimension and intrigue to the blistering compositions. The cascading delay effects at the beginning of “Horizon” are just keen for a guitar nerd like me, not to mention the addition of Wah-wah. Also, can I just say saxophone solo? This contribution to one my favorite tracks, “Horizon,” (courtesy of Reina van Triest) tickled me in all the right ways. Proggy keys, music box, choral synths: the list goes on, but none of it is phoned in.
Schmancy pedals and synthesizers aside, the basic (if you can call it that) guitar noodlery is still very much intact and as strong as ever. I never cease to be amazed at how many different styles Mendel manages to capture in a single cohesive piece; from the straight neo-classical solos to bangable prog-metal chord progressions that run the gamut from Protest the Hero to Enslaved. There are moments during “Oblivion Pt. 2” where I couldn't help but just smile, and there's a part about midway through where Mendel’s death metal proclivities creep through the cracks. You would think this would clash with the strange instrumentation that immediately follows, yet like everything else it somehow works. Last but not least, there are two exquisite guest solos from Benjamin Ellis (Bloodshot Dawn) and Jan Vermeulen (Mendel's former guitar teacher) that you do not want to miss.
Final word: Mendel has done it again. Foregoing the self-indulgent qualities associated with most virtuosos, Oblivion represents the union of vast technical ability with a commendable foundation of songwriting chops. That's not to mention the increased focus on overall concept and new musical additions. This is a must-have for guitar aficionados and a must-listen for any music fan whether you are into metal or not. You can stream the whole thing via bandcamp. At $7 for digital, this is a no-brainer purchase. The neat artwork might warrant picking up the digipack as well.