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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review: Mercury Rain - St Matthieu, remastered & reborn

Most of us must by now be familiar with the metal female voices phenomenon that has been increasing its share and influence on the metal scene the last two decades. Mercury Rain, formed back in 1994 when that genre was in the midst of arising, is one of the earliest representatives of it. It didn’t start as a female fronted metal band though. In fact in its early days they didn’t even have a singer. It started as a collaboration between bassist Jon Hoare, drummer Andy Pester and guitarist Dion Smith with the sole intention to just play metal. Only when Sonia Porzier replied to a ‘singer wanted’ advert and blew the guys away, the road to female fronted metal was treaded. After the release of a demo in 2000 followed by two more releases within the next 4 years, the band split up in 2006. Back in 2008 Jon and Sonia met up with former guitarist Rich Shilitoe and the three of them started writing new material. However, due to personal reasons that renewed collaboration was set on hold until the end of last year. Once more the trio started working together, this time hopefully for good, which resulted in the release of ‘St Matthieu, remastered & reborn’. It’s not a new release, it’s a compilation consisting of the full track list of the 2004 version of ‘St Matthieu, three tracks from ‘Dark Waters’ and two from their demo ‘Where Angels Fear’. All, of course, remastered.

This asks for a different approach, because the music must be reviewed set in the appropriate time frame, over a decade ago. Does this mean ‘St Matthieu…’ is filled with dated, old fashioned songs? Well, no, it does not. Even though at times it’s not hard to tell these songs are not from a recent date, most of the material is still very much up-to-date and can easily match many a recent release. It all starts with an intro, ‘Tales From Beyond’, which is sung in French, revealing Sonia roots and from there on you find yourself in a musical journey that arguably has set the standards for a substantial part of the female fronted metal. Whether it’s in the powerful ‘Sanctuary’ the crushing ‘Chimaera’ or the dreamy, emotional ‘Heaven In Sunset’, many elements that still find their place in modern day female fronted metal are to be found somewhere within Mercury Rain’s work. For those that do not have the patience to sit this through, although in my opinion it is well worth your time, album closer and highlight ‘St Matthieu’ is an awesome 10-minute epitome of what is Mercury Rain, or, probably better, what was Mercury Rain back in 2004.

Being a great album as it is already, especially in the light of the time it was created, the next five songs are a bonus. And not only that, in addition to being a bonus they also show very clearly what style choices the band has made since they started and how much they have grown music- and composition-wise. The three songs from ‘Dark Waters’ (2003) are clearly much more gothic-influenced, creating a darker, more grievous atmosphere, while the two songs from ‘Where Angels Fear’ (2000) sound much more bright and sparkling. Their final release is more a mix of the two, with the addition of elements from other genres of metal, such as power metal. I personally think the path they have followed has been the right one, simply because I think the musical style they display on ‘St Matthieu’ fits them best. Sonia’s operatic voice can definitely be an asset to the more darker style, but frankly she has more to offer than just that. Her voice deserves more variety in the music, which will in turn add more depth to the overall sound. The same can be said from the musicians, they are perfectly capable of playing a dark, gothic type of music, but they too have much more to offer.

Now, back to today. Does this release shine a light on Mercury Rain’s current style and direction? No, of course it does not, all it does is give you a great insight of what the guys and girl are capable of. This is a very good, greatly remastered release to get to know the ‘old’ Mercury Rain and its music, but at the same time nothing more than that. It does not lift the shroud of mystery surrounding them one bit, it merely provides a possible clue on what their new material, which I hope will come eventually, could sound like. Not necessarily a bad thing to be honest, hearing this left me wondering what is still to come. I for one am curious to find out if and how time has left its marks on Mercury Rain and its music. They certainly should be able to play a leading part in whatever genre of metal they decide to play once more, but whether that will happen remains to be seen. Still I advise you to give this one a serious try.

Written by Henric van Essen

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