All signs point to “me likey.” Merkaba have their roots in Tulsa, Oklahoma, just like the supremely awesome (and very non-metal) J.J. Cale and Leon Russell. Their lyrics engage Kabbalistic thought and the limits of perception, both non-standard tropes in metal. Their design aesthetic and nomenclature bizarrely combine commie symbols with kabbalistic and occult insignia – rad! Their website provides total transparency through dorky “making of” videos, outspoken diatribes on a variety of social/political/environmental causes, and spiritual manifestos. The four men of Merkaba are nice, smart guys, and they want you to get to know them. They’ve posted their ambitious The People’s EP for free. And why not? Merkaba’s music is their message, and why would you charge for something that you want to disseminate as far as possible?

And there’s the rub. I want to love this band for how open and human it is, but mortals can’t pull off Tool tribute albums, and that’s essentially what The People’s EP is (the band even shares its name with a track off Salival). Tool get away with the mystical raga-metal excess because A) They’ve get a totally inscrutable air about them and B) They’ve got superhuman instrumental/songwriting chops. Merkaba have neither. The riffs in “Death to the Infidels,” “Sofia,” and “The Becoming” are interchangeable but for their differing time signatures. Each has that vaguely middle-eastern crunch to them that Adam Jones does so well, and the watery bass tone that Justin Chancellor uses. Each is also surrounded by Jones’s trademarked effluvia, but in Merkaba’s case they don’t always funnel into the towering climaxes that make the most meandering Tool songs worth it.

There’s a lot of varied stuff on The People’s EP, including a gorgeous acoustic bit called “The Horse and the Rider,” and the moody throb of “Marbas.” Somehow though, the album’s compact 38 minutes seems too long by half (prime chopping block material: frontman Joshua Adams waxing platitudinal at the end of “In the Shadow of Colossus”).

That’s a sure sign of a band whose ambition outstrips its abilities. There are worse crimes, and you could listen to far worse music than Merkaba. Hopefully one day though, I’ll be able to fully appreciate them for something other than their marketing tactics.

(2.5 horns up)


Get The People’s EP here.

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