Some things just are unsettling by nature. You know, the kind of things that are enveloped in an ominous and foreboding shroud that extends over sensory limits for reasons beyond our grasp; the kind of things that haunt us on levels we didn’t know even existed up until coming face to face with it, but even then can’t recognize it for what it is – the inexplicable feeling of dread. Sometimes, that feeling is chaotic and runs rampant; sometimes it’s contained within the expression of an individual entity. Goes without saying that the latter, albeit still just as capricious and uncontrollable, is usually the more preferred option. It is also even more favourable if that entity has a dedicated name. This one does, and that name is Mamaleek.

Formed by two anonymous brothers in San Francisco in 2008, the experimental metal group whose moniker supposedly comes from the Arabic word for slave, mamluk, have released eight albums and an EP since their inception. This anonymity has been firmly upheld throughout their existence; a factor of great importance that adds further emphasis to what I described in the opening paragraph. Their social media is managed by the reputable and respected, also San Francisco-based label The Flenser, and any further outlets such as interviews with the band are fairly uncommon. All in all, in their very essence, Mamaleek is a mystery.

Mamaleek doesn’t recognize genre boundaries or other limitations, which is fully apparent in their output uniting black metal and jazz with electronic and psychedelic influences, drawn from wherever from noise rock to Middle Eastern inclinations. And no matter how vastly these tendencies differ in scope and tonality, they all come together in an unfathomably fluent manner. Each of the band’s albums have their distinct voices, yet are clearly parts of the same, vortex-esque continuum. Their signature avant-garde demeanor is unlike any other, and I’m quite certain all of you are inclined to agree.

Before joining The Flenser with their 2014 full-length He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word, Mamaleek put out three albums, namely their self-titled and Fever Dream in 2008, and Kurdaitcha in 2011. While in hindsight the group was still adjusting to fit their own image during the first trio of records, they shouldn’t be left out of the equation when discussing the band, regardless of the rough-around-the-edges approach of at least the first pair. Why I mention this separately is because these albums are generally less conversed of when it comes to the rather pervasive and constant buzz around the band. This can be merely an observation only I have, but it’s an observation no less, so let’s focus on those for a bit.

The nine-track self-titled album was released independently, and was the type of thing that came out of the blue with a profound impact. The sought-after effort came out on CD-R at the time and is mostly an unattainable crown jewel of an artifact very few posses. The debut embraces a familiar lo-fi atmosphere and already included most of the leanings the band is known for, from the subtle two-minute clean passages to eighteen-minute epics full of distress. The self-titled is easily the most disjointed and uncomfortable listen when it comes to Mamaleek‘s discography, though some of the rest don’t shy in comparison either. Fever Dream amped up the intensity even more, while introducing more thoughtful songwriting into the mix, with such songs as “Go into the Wilderness”, “No More Rain Fall for Wet You”, and “Lay This Body Down”. Fever Dream was already showcasing the sharper edge, which in turn created quite a bit of anticipation for what followed next.

Mamaleek started to make wider racket with the release of Kurdaitcha. It recently saw a reissue too, which can maybe partly be denoted to it being the most approachable effort from the band at that time. Still far from easy listening, Kurdaitcha to this day has its own unique mood when taking into account the preceding and subsequent releases. To my understanding, this more accessible version of the band did alienate some listeners, but then again gained them so many more that it worked to their benefit. The progression, while most likely fully uncalculated, also seems very natural right now, and the album acts as an entrance point for many, not the least because of its identifiable, strange but enthralling artwork.

Speaking of, Mamaleek‘s artworks and overall aesthetic are heavily emphasized in everything they do, and have the kind of eye-catching value very few seem to have these days. From the mentioned glance at an unexplained moment on the cover of Kurdaitcha to Diner Coffee‘s absolutely seething figure and the eerie shadows on Come & See and Via Dolorosa, Mamaleek have established themselves on the art front. Often left unexplained or just vaguely scratched on the surface, the direction with the artworks hint again towards the mystery and unknown elaborated on earlier. I think at this stage, you could call it a holistic master plan.

Unsurprisingly, the above stands equally for their song titles and lyrics, which across the board are bereft of light and happy thoughts. Just take such titles as “Nothing but Loss”, “Out of Love”, “Winter Has a Grave, and I’m in It”, “We Hang Because We Must”, and “I Wish I Was Dead” as an example. To my understanding, no lyrics has been officially released anywhere, but thanks to this world including a lot of people with more precise ears than mine, you can find some of them written down from wherever online. Not limited to the more depressive specimens listed above, recently Mamaleek have incorporated more and more vague and open notions to their titles as well, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation, much like literally everything else in their existence does. Lyrics are lyrics, but they can be weaponised, and Mamaleek is a good illustration about just that.

Continuing the album recap, after Kurdaitcha, Mamaleek‘s been working with The Flenser, who in their own right are widely recognized for their focus on boundary-pushing and limit-breaking art in the form of music. One could write a few features about the label alone, so now’s not the proper time to digress. Either way, after the first trio of records, the following trifold string of He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word, Via Dolorosa, and Out of Time cemented Mamaleek‘s position in the underground, being the purveyor of all unpleasant things. Contrary to this, however, the relationship between them and The Flenser have garnered them the attention they’ve deserved from day one.

He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word broadened Mamaleek‘s scope, introducing more droning elements to their already soul-crushing mien, adding layers of wickedness and downright malice to their output. The emotional barrage Mamaleek unloads on the listener here has maybe more impact than ever before – or ever since – and I’ve noticed this one being the one album I tend to return to time and time again. That’s not to say the later efforts would pale in comparison, but my personal preference points at this particular direction. I think Via Dolorosa took things to even more dismal heading, including a wider range of dynamics while clearly distancing itself from its predecessor. I personally find Via Dolorosa, as well as its successor Out of Time, somewhat blurry, which is not to say they’d be bad, god forbid, but they appear less infectious to me overall. Whenever I uncover myself in the Mamaleek hole, I gladly bathe in everything the band has put out and seem to also discover these two albums anew, they’re just something I don’t automatically think of when it comes to them.

I think the above is somewhat of a reason for Come & See being a bit of a dormant hitter for me, personally. As the aforementioned albums journeyed deeper to the experimental territory I couldn’t find as enjoyable as I should have at the time, I didn’tt budge at the notion of getting another album from them at firs. In due time I did listen to it, but it didn’t fully grasp my attention for reasons I couldn’t really elaborate on. The only thing I can think of is that Mamaleek are the type of artist that requires the correct timing to properly hit, and that’s exactly what took place with myself and Come & See.

Come & See excels in a wildly different field than before due to its overarching atmosphere, utilizing components normally found in noise rock, only here those are put to use in a manner that’s definitively more abrasive than what you might’ve accustomed to. It’s also perhaps their most band-oriented recording so far, which also required few extra steps as a listener to get used to. However, once the album truly hit me, it did so in an unbelievable fashion. All it needed to put me into the right mindset was a global pandemic. Simple as that, huh?

Now, two years later, Mamaleek have just released their eighth studio album Diner Coffee, which continues on the route established on Come & See, only reverting back to their out-there experimental roots more, and the result is something thoroughly fascinating, gnawing, and all-encompassing. To fully explain the way I feel about the new record, I needed to get the twelve earlier paragraphs out first. The second I heard it, I knew a standard review wouldn’t do it justice as much as it should, so why not recount their entire history first? *nervous laughter*

On Diner Coffee, Mamaleek showcase themselves in what is their most refined and complete form as of yet. You can read into the title and theme of the album as you will, whether you see it as social commentary or a scene directly shot in the real life version of the Black Lodge, or anything else for that matter, is up to you. What’s for certain is that the album is as terrifying as it is fascinating, and works as a hypnotizing mirror seeking its palette directly from the deepest, most sullen confines of your soul, while the reflection is that of a faceless, grinning being of pure evil. Is that enough hyperbole for you? Good.

Starting with sludgy, distorted hits, juxtaposed with people laughing, is an unbelievably simple yet effective way to start an album that quickly picks up its pace on the elevator jazz intro of “Boiler Room”. The song was the first single cut from the release, and in context, it’s easy to see why, as the track’s carefully constructed cacophony and noisy sound design provide the optimal setting for the remainder of the album as well. The effortlessly flowing and awfully quiet “Badtimers” underlines a newfound production value in Mamaleek‘s output – a factor that has always been pivotal for the band is somehow taken to brand new heights this time around. The dynamics vary from subtle crackles to overwhelming pummeling, and while that spectrum has existed before, it’s pushed to a new extreme here, and sometimes even within single songs, such as in “Wharf Rats in the Moonlight”.


Overall, Diner Coffee exists in a liminal space between one existence and the other, providing a perfect soundtrack for the limbo. Invisible Oranges recently interviewed the band about the concept of the album (which you can and should read here), where they described the thought process behind it comprehensively enough for me to quote it in full below:

We did talk about diners and their representation briefly, and one thought we explored was that they’re waystations for souls all over the world, existing aside long truck routes and travel routes, meant for people along the way in their journey. It’s another example of one of life’s simple pleasures, or it’s a moment of respite from the long road. We made this during the pandemic, during a pretty intense time for us personally and culturally, as so many people experienced, so the diner almost seemed like a beacon we were looking for and metaphorically travelling to, a meeting ground. There’s also a certain working class solidarity there that’s important to us, and an unmanneredness about it, something that respects the virtues and toils of a human.

Artistically, there have been some really important depictions of diners, none of that really came into the conversation, but I think it is interesting. I appreciate the dialectic possibility in the location, the sense of the diner being a place for an unexpected occurrence or a chance encounter, something fearful, or a place of solace, or a place of connection, or a place of rest, quite frankly. These places of rest, for contemplation and reflection, like a park bench, or a booth in a diner, those places and locations are being razed, especially in the United States. The erasure of those public places is on our minds.

The thing here is that Mamaleek conveys this exact mindset in a damn near unprecedented fashion on Diner Coffee, which, given its datum and delivery, transcends the bounds of an album. It’s first and foremost an experience each of us should undergo. On the surface, Mamaleek‘s output currently relies heavily on distorted vocals on top of jazz licks and rhythmic gait, with touches of sludge, noise, and poetry sprinkled in here and there. Gone are the disturbingly ravaging black metal tendencies and droning longform moodsetters, but Mamaleek prove they’re capable of producing their unique atmosphere and bringing these tonalities to a palpable form in any possible way they see fit, and that’s just fucking beautiful.

Time will tell where Diner Coffee will settle in Mamaleek‘s career, but I have a distinct feeling it’ll turn out to be a point of reference when speaking not only about the band themselves but experimental music as a whole, and that’s no trifling feat.

Mamaleek has musically come a long way in the past fourteen years, while staying more or less the same in essence. The members are still anonymous, the music is still as intense and crazy as ever, and they continue to cover new ground and amass new audience with every single move they make. With The Flenser backing them up, there really is no telling yet where the band will end up in due time, but what’s certain is that it will be glorious. As said earlier, their Facebook page is managed by the label, but you should throw it a follow to keep yourself up to date with the band’s doings. You also should head out to discover the subliminal aural locker Mamaleek alone occupies through their Bandcamp, from where you can find passageways into their hazy and captivating realm. Mamaleek is dread made flesh.

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