The Meads of Asphodel / Tjolgtjar – Taste The Divine Wrath

It is releases like this that are the reason I’ve dedicated so much time to this genre.

It comes as no surprise that the Meads of Asphodel would do yet another fine split release, as they were one of the first British black metal bands to do so, releasing for instance, the fine ‘English/Black Punk Metal/The Bones of This Land Are No Speechless’ with the excellent Old Corpse Road. Sadly Tjolgtjar are a one-man band, and not in the same league as Old Corpse Road, but we’ll come back to that anon. The contributions of the Meads more than makes up for Tjolgtjar’s failings.

It also comes as no surprise that the Meads should draw inspiration from the splendidly named Catholic martyr Chidiock Tichborne, who was a 16th century English conspirator and poet, the Meads have always displayed a far greater historical and cultural awareness than most.

Chidiock was a Catholic in the reign of Elizabeth I, not the safest thing to be in her dictatorship. The Tichborne family found themselves subject to the Elizabethan hatred and persecution of Catholics. The Catholic faith was made illegal and Catholics were banned from practicing their own religion, and it was potential death for the priest who said mass. Elizabeth was a Queen of hatred, greed, manipulation, and bigotry. Indeed it could be said she did her father Henry proud; though he himself had declared her a bastard, the apple did not fall far from the tree.

In 1586, Tichborne joined the Babington Plot, a plot to eliminate Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The plot was foiled by Sir Francis Walsingham, the spymaster of Elizabeth. While awaiting execution in the Tower of London, Tichborne wrote a letter to his wife Agness, containing three stanzas of poetry that became his best known work, ‘Tichborne’s Elegy’. It’s a beautiful piece of writing and worth quoting in its brief entirety. He sums up the grim reality of life in a few short, monosyllabic lines.

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,

My feast of joy is but a dish of pain.

My crop of corn is but a field of tares,

And all my good is but vain hope of gain.

The day is past and yet I saw no sun.

And now I live, and now my life is done.’

 

‘My tale was heard and yet it was not told,

My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,

My youth is spent and yet I am not old,

I saw the world and yet I was not seen;

My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,

And now I live, and now my life is done.’

 

‘I sought my death and found it in my womb.

I looked for life and saw it was a shade,

I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,

And now I die and now I was but made;

My glass is full, and now my glass is run,

And now I live, and now my life is done.’

 

Incidentally, Tichborne’s ‘Elegy’ employs two popular Renaissance figures of speech: paradox and antithesis.

The track ‘Balthasar Gerald’ continues in the same vein. He was the assassin of the Dutch independence leader William I of Orange (AKA, William the silent, which indeed he has been since his execution).

King Philip of Spain had offered a bounty of 25,000 crowns to whoever killed William, who he said was a “pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of human race” No punches pulled there then! Balthasar carried out the deed successfully, but did not live to enjoy his loot (though it is doubtful he did it for material gain). He was put to horrendous torture and execution but remained unrepentant to the end.

Musically, lyrically, production-wise, the Meads have once again exceeded their own high expectations. One of the best metal bands Britain has ever produced.

Alas, now we come to the fly in an otherwise effective ointment, the strangely named one-man act that is Tjolgtjar. There is a lot to said for the dynamics of a proper band, which is why Old Corpse Road were a better choice for the Meads’ previous split. Tjolgtjar’s production is terrible, weak drums, vocals like an undead Jon Anderson, and in many cases, mish-mash of styles and ideas that jars rather than complements. On one track, ‘Winter Research’, a riff similar to Sabbath’s ‘Symptom of the Universe’ is married to a New Wave of British Heavy Metal sensibility –  if only all Tjolgtjar’s tracks had been this good.

A game of two halves then, with the match going to the mighty Meads of Asphodel.

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Steve Earles

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (http://toendallwarscomic.wordpress.com/writers/).