The record begins with laughter. Not the hackneyed “evil” laugh of old metal albums or even older horror movies. This is like a Greek chorus of laughter, or a crowd at a comedy club but stripped of all context. It’s mocking, even menacing without a target for the guffaws. When stabs of sludgy guitar occur, they only add to the sinister atmosphere.

No strangers to weird and unsettling music, this is how the mysterious entity Mamaleek chooses to begin their latest album Diner Coffee. (Buy it on Bandcamp.) And that title isn’t exactly standard metal fare either. But what else should we expect other than the unexpected?

Whatever blueprint exists for Mamaleek is present on the first proper song, “Boiler Room.” Mamaleek initially began as a black metal band, but that doesn’t really describe their current sound. “Boiler Room” alternates between off-kilter sludge riffs and a jazz-damaged blues riff, as the vocals rant over the top like Tom Waits in corpse paint. As the song progresses, the volume drops and the listener is immersed in surreal midnight jazz sounds. The piece ends with what sounds like Jimi Hendrix trying to quietly figure out how to play dubstep.

The truth is that there is no blueprint for Mamaleek‘s sound. “Badtimers” sounds like Portishead meets Khanate with its lumbering slow funk. An old record sample briefly interrupts the flow and when it returns it seems to drown even deeper in a narco-haze. Meanwhile, “Save Your Poor Wicked Soul” summons the ghosts of an Americana band and keeps the spectral ambiance intact during its short duration.

Much of Diner Coffee avoids the directly heavy. Instead, the metal-adjacent work comes from its unsettling atmosphere. To this end, they employ additional instrumentation, most prominently woodwinds. It’s not unusual for a stray flute or saxophone to burst out of the mix only to disappear again. Also, an anonymous harmonica player improvises over key sections of the album. In addition to strengthening the blues feel, on tracks like “Grief and a Headhunter’s Rage” the instrument sounds like a bandoneon, adding even more to the alien atmosphere.

Need more proof of the insanity at hand? “Wharf Rats in the Moonlight” sounds like a demon muttering to itself beneath a pier before launching into a full-blown metallic free jazz freakout. Then Diner Coffee ends, with its title track. A slinky guitar finds itself wandering around a doom-jazz spaghetti western soundstage, trapped in a movie that never starts filming.

There’s no easy way to describe this band or this record. It’s the Necronomicon performed as Beat poetry. If Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil, Mamaleek acted as middlemen for the whole deal. Best to go investigate this one for yourself.

Todd Manning

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