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Old 01-20-2012, 09:42 AM   #749 (permalink)
Trollheart
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One among the living --- Mystery --- 2010 (Unicorn Digital)


You have to admire the spirit and determination of Mystery's drummer, Stephane Perrault, who in 1993 lost the use of both his legs, but refused to allow that to cut short his career, and became the first drummer to operate solely from a wheelchair. He's not with them now, but that story is such a triumph of the human spirit over adversity, and the power of music that I felt it needed to be related. Formed in Canada in 1986 by guitarist and keyboard player Michel St-Pere, Mystery have steadily grown their fanbase over the course of twenty-five years and now five albums, creating a name for themselves in the world of progressive rock.

The album opens with a squealing guitar, lovely little keyboard and piano line with a vocal line by David Benoit, who later of course joined the nth incarnation of Yes, and is busily making a name for himself on their current album, “Fly from here”. Just over a minute long, “Among the living” leads into “Wolf”, a good rocker with great synthy keyboards and powerful guitars from St-Pere, plenty of typical prog influences: long keyboard passages, stabbing drum sections, intricate guitar workouts, all music to my ears! Most of the songs are relatively long, after the opener, which I see really more as an introduction or overture to the main event. This, and followup “Between love and hate” just miss the six minute mark, while “Till the truth comes out” is over nine, but even that pales beside the multi-part composition “Through different eyes”, clocking in at around twenty-three minutes. More of that later.

Right now, back to “Between love and hate”, which is slower, more relaxed and ambient, elements of Mark Knopfler's guitar in Michel St-Pere's almost lazy melody here, and indeed the track seems to rely more on the guitar, with less of the keyboard seen in the previous one. It seems St-Pere can shine as easily on guitar as he does behind the keyboard, and he really is the heart and soul of this band --- in addition to being the founder --- but much of the album stands or falls on Benoit David's gentle, soulful vocal, and in general, it stands proud. The blues influence St-Pere brings to this song marks the difference between Mystery and a hundred other prog-rock bands, that they can switch and mix styles, not being constricted to the one type of music, and it's very healthy.

“Till the truth comes out” opens on lovely acoustic guitar, redolent of early Rush or the best of Steve Rothery, with lush keyboards joining it as the vocal comes in gently from David. You can see why he was a natural replacement for Jon Anderson in Yes: he really sounds so much like him, that if I didn't know better I might think it was the great man himself singing on this album. Speaking of great men, Mystery rope in some stellar talent to guest on the album, including Daryl Steurmer, John Jowitt and Oliver Wakeman, though on what tracks they play I can't tell you, as I've been unable to locate that information.

In general, this is a slow, stately track with some lovely guitar and some fine keyboard melodies running through it, with a large instrumental section in the middle, vocals coming back in on about the seven-minute mark to reprise the opening and take the song towards its conclusion, acoustic guitar taking centre stage for the final part, at about 8:30, and the track finishes instrumentally, fading away which is perhaps a little of a disappointment, as I would have preferred a strong, dramatic end, but definitely a standout track so far.

More jazzy and funky then is “Kameleon man” (spelt that way, don't blame me!), with a lot of boogie and swagger about it, nice brassy keyboards from St-Pere as well as some pretty damn rocky guitar. It's probably the most out-and-out rocker on the album, with little of the prog rock about it, but personally it's my least favourite so far. It leads into the epic on the album; as already mentioned, “Through different eyes” runs for about twenty-three minutes in total, and is divided into six parts, the first of which is a nice slow ballad with great vocal harmonies and what sounds like violin or cello. “When sorrow turns to pain” runs for almost four minutes, with some nice guitar touches , then “Apocalyptic visions of Paradise” is a short instrumental, just short of two minutes, mostly carried on picked guitar backed by violin, though it's probably made on the keyboard. Very emotive though.



One of the two longer parts, at just under six minutes, “So far away” reintroduces David's vocal over essentially the same melody as the previous section, still slow and stately and graceful, sailing on like some majestic ocean liner traversing a glittering sea of music and melody. The piece gets a little heavier as it reaches the halfway mark, though losing nothing of its beauty or fragility, then it drops back again to that guitar melody that opened the whole thing, joined by keys and slightly heavier percussion, choral vocals complementing Benoit David's as he sings like the very image of Anderson.

Part IV, entitled “The point of no return”, gets a lot heavier with machine-gun drums and hard guitar, upping the tempo, though David's vocal throughout remains calm and composed, like someone standing in the very eye of the storm. As guitars wail, keyboards howl and drums batter him all around, he stays focussed, intent on his job and suddenly the storm passes as Part V comes in, on a gentle guitar and crying keyboard line. “The silent scream” is the other long section, again close to six minutes, a slow, measured, almost acoustic tune but with some truly beautiful seventies-style prog keyboard from St-Pere, and a Gilmouresque guitar solo which leads into a really dreamlike melody that carries the composition towards its final conclusion, in Part VI, “Dancing with butterflies”.

For a song as long as this, it's quite amazing that Mystery have resisted the urge to do the usual, as it were, and change time signatures, moods, speeds, tempos and styles, opting instead to keep the same general melody and theme throughout the whole composition, tweaking it a little here and there, but essentially not changing the overall formula, and yet ending up with an incredible piece like that. Quite astounding. And we're not finished yet.

The title track reminds me of the general mood of “In the air tonight”, or perhaps some of Tony Banks' more atmospheric (come on, you knew I was going to work that word into the review, didn't you?) tracks, split open halfway through by powerful guitar and then upbeat prog keyboards as the song takes on a distinctly Genesis flavour: is that a mellotron? David's vocals are strong and forceful here, as he abandons his usual gentle tone for a much more urgent, persistent sound and Michel St-Pere cuts loose with another great guitar solo. Then “The falling man” has a very ominous guitar sound to it, as David cries ”Help me!” in the background. The song breaks into a pretty powerful cruncher, with heavy guitar taking the dominant role, fading right down to allow David to sing the opening lines then blasting along with him as he hits his stride, falling back again, coming in again in a mad dance that, though it seems arbitrary, is choreographed to the max.

Certainly the heaviest track on the album, with more musical ideas than the other heavy track, “The kameleon man”, it's a powerhouse that stomps rather than rocks, a sense of impending doom in the almost Metallica-like guitar, the keys keeping a dark counterpoint in the background. Progressive doom metal? Not quite, but definitely a different take on Mystery, a long way removed from the intricacies of the likes of “Through different eyes”, “Wolf” or “Till the truth comes out”. They even throw in a little jolt of jazz/funk near the end. Special.

The album closes with “Sailing on a wing”, five minutes of very progressive rock, reminding me, inescapably, of Yes, with its acoustic guitar and alto vocals, tight bass lines and swirling keys. More great vocal harmonies put the finishing touches on the track, and indeed, on a very fine album.

Mystery may not be known all that much outside their native Canada, but with musicianship of this calibre that is surely set to change. This album was released in 2010, so hopefully by now a lot more people have been turned on to their special brand of progressive rock, and discovered for themselves what a unique band these four guys from Montreal are. As for me, I'm off to check out the albums that led up to this. I need more Mystery in my life!

TRACKLISTING

1. Among the living
2. Wolf
3. Between love and hate
4. Till the truth comes out
5. Kameleon man
6. Through different eyes
(I) When sorrow turns to pain
(ii) Apocalyptic visions of Paradise
(iii) So far away
(iv) The point of no return
(v) The silent scream
(vi) Dancing with butterflies
7. One among the living
8. The falling man
9. Sailing on a wing
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