Wednesday, December 29, 2021

MERCURY X "Imprisoned"


(c)2021 Frontiers Records

  1. Until The Break Of Day
  2. The Light In Your Eyes
  3. Lonely
  4. Imprisoned
  5. The Sound Of Nothing
Martin Bjorklund--Lead Vocals, Guitars, Violin
Jonas Vedin--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Alfonso Flores--Bass, Backing Vocals
Denis Diaz--Drums, Backing Vocals

I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see an EP on the Frontiers Records label, as I can't off the top of my head recall another one by the Italian label.  But then, after listening to Imprisoned by Swedish prog metallers, Mercury X, I get it; the EP clocks in at more than 45 minutes of music, with the title track making up nearly half of the release (it's more than 20 minutes long)!  As such, there is a lot to unpack when listening to this record.  Like so many other bands, Mercury X took advantage of their Covid-19 quarantine time to create new music.  In fact, the title track, "Imprisoned", is based upon that quarantine situation and being locked away from the rest of society (the cover art has the four guys in their recliners, which is where a lot of people found themselves for long stretches of time).  Unsurprisingly, the music here is moody in places, reflecting those darker times.  In other spots, there is an upbeat, more hopeful feel to the music, with some epic moments of musicality carried out by the four Swedes.

When approaching the review for this album, I really had to look at it as two different entities: the four shorter songs, and the massive title track.  With the shorter material, the more casual prog metal fans are going to likely find themselves drooling over the exquisite musicianship, incorporating some insanely fast riffing, sweeping synth work, and solid rhythms from the bass and drums.  Lead vocalist Martin Bjorklund has a huge voice loaded with power and passion, and he really shines on a track like the more mid-tempo "Lonely", where he alternately sinks and soars on the extremes of his range.  At times reminiscent of James Labrie of Dream Theater, at others more akin to Russell Allen, Bjorklund is more than capable of handling the sweeping challenges these intricate songs throw at him.  To be fair, I do think the backing vocals could be a bit stronger, or maybe beefed up in the mix a bit, but overall, I have virtually no complaints on the shorter songs here.  It is all to0 evident these guys are masters of their instruments and the song structures here are tight and focused, even with the multiple tempo changes and time signatures.  The guitars of Bjorklund and Vedin intertwine with each other, chasing each other across heavy drum patters and thick bass runs, along with some perfectly placed (and also uncredited) synth work.  If I had to pick a favorite of the four shorter tracks, I think I'd be inclined to single out "The Sound of Nothing",  as it builds from a quiet piano intro, each note echoing into the ether, before the band hits with full force, a wall of guitars blasting you before breaking down into some hard-charging rhythm lines and a frantic synth line threading its way through the track.  Bjorklund stays mostly in the middle of his range here, easily gliding across the heavy guitars and thunderous, galloping drums.  In fact, it is on this track that I think Diaz really showcases just how powerful he is as a drummer, with the interlude at around the 4:30 mark really finding him on the attack at the kit, seemingly punishing his drums.  Interestingly, just prior to that, the song takes on a softer, more jazz-like quality that allows Flores some room to work with his bass.  Massive synth sweeps provide an undercurrent for the song's exiting guitar solo, while heavy rhythm riffs continue to chew away at the track.  To me, this song has the strongest connection to the heavy-yet-progressively-melodic style that I think Dream Theater absolutely mastered on Images And Words, and fans of that era of the band are going to salivate at what Mercury X is doing here!   That being said, the sheer power of album opener, "Until The Break Of Day", is awesome to take in as it hits hard with a definite Queensryche vibe in the opening few moments that melds into a Dream Theater musical tapestry.  A strong guitar solo and some hints of more modern elements add to the power of this track that really sets the tone for the record as a whole.  I'd also be remiss if I didn't give a nod to "The Light In Your Eyes", with its galloping drum and tight twin guitar intro that just teems with harmonic goodness!  The chug-chug-chugga-chug of the rhythm guitars during the verses sits in stark contrast to the smooth, soaring style of the chorus sections.

The title track...well, there's a lot to digest there.  Originally conceived as a stand-alone single EP, "Imprisoned" contains so many layers, so many twists and turns, it's almost too much to absorb as a single song, at least for me.  Epic doesn't begin to accurately describe all that is going on here.  Bjorklund is all over the place vocally, singing, soaring, snarling, and harshly barking his way through the various movements of the song.  The guitars hit aggressively but then back off into a more ethereal, atmospheric approach in places, while sounding mournful as it weeps its way through a brief interlude at the 10:50 mark, only to explode to life again in a huge, machine-gun burst of speed and aggression with a fret-running solo that is dizzyingly fast and still melodic.  I have no idea how a drummer is able to maintain the way that Diaz does here for nearly 21 minutes, but his unique patterns, intricate fills, and the handling of the tempo changes are impressive, to say the least. I also wonder if his tech had to change out cymbals after his aggressive assault on the metallic discs at the 12:35-ish mark of the song!  Soft and heavy, harsh and lush, angry and hopeful.  So much is going on with "Imprisoned", both musically and lyrically, that it pretty much deserves to be tackled as the stand-alone track it was originally envisioned as, just so you get a chance to really appreciate the musical scope of the song.    

If I'm being 100% honest, I'm not a real fan of the layout of the album, with the monstrous "Imprisoned" positioned before album closer, "The Sound of Nothing".  When a band gets this ambitious on a track, I like it to be stationed at the end so that I can hear the other material first, and then work my way through the epic piece as I have time.  As it stands, I would imagine the vinyl release of this album is somewhat imbalanced, with only 18 minutes of music on Side A, and more than 25 minutes on Side B.  Regardless, this is a minor point and one that doesn't take away from the impressiveness of the project as a whole.

The production here is excellent, with a lot of heft and depth to the music, and Bjorklund's vocals perfectly placed atop the musical fray.  As I mentioned earlier, I think the backing vocals could have used a bit more oomph, but other than that, I have no qualms with the way the production was handled, which seems to be an issue a lot of people take with Frontiers releases.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this project, as I admittedly am not the biggest fan of epic prog metal such as this.  Again, the album's namesake track is considerably more than my 3 to 6 minutes per song brain typically can effectively assimilate, but I can't deny my appreciation for the insane musicality of the track and the sheer force of will it must take to perform a singular song for 20-plus minutes.  The songwriting throughout the album is interesting and challenging, and the guitar work alone is worth the price of admission.  It is likely I will be seeking out the band's previous two efforts based solely on this, their Frontiers Records debut.

Rating:  Crankable...and enticingly exhausting!  Crank this to an 8.

No comments:

Post a Comment