Monday, December 28, 2015

Mini-review: Mercy Isle—Storm (EP) (2015)

Storm EP cover

Album: Storm
Artist: Mercy Isle
Genre: Symphonic metal
Tracks: 4
Total time: 15:56

The symphonic metal scene has been growing in the United States over the last several years, with many new bands cropping up all over the place; some of them even with bandmembers spread out across the country or the continent. In the case of Mercy Isle, their band reaches across the Atlantic, with four parts in Wisconsin and one part in The Netherlands!

As it seems to be with many bands these days, Mercy Isle was born from the remnants of previous bands that the members each belonged to: the husband-and-wife team of Kassy and Chad Novell once played together in a band called Orphonic Orchestra, and guitarist Cory Scheider was in a band called Luna Mortis, which toured with Orphonic Orchestra at one point. Cory and Chad began their musical partnership when Kassy suggested Cory for a new band Chad was in called Second Soul, and when that band needed a drummer, Cory recommended his friend Adam to fill the spot. (Are you keeping track?)

Meanwhile, Kassy was recruited to a project called Eve's Apple, which is a collaborative effort featuring many prominent female voices throughout the metal scene. Eve's Apple was a regular fixture at Belgium's Metal Female Voices Festival, and it is here that the international connection was made, when Kassy met keyboardist Joop de Rooij in 2012. After a few years of singing with Eve's Apple at the festival and constantly getting asked when she would be starting her own band, Kassy decided the time was right, and after receiving an equally enthusiastic response from the musicians who would make up her new band, Mercy Isle was formed in late 2014.

The band's first single, “I'm Gonna Make It” was released in early 2015, and after such positive feedback and a successful IndieGoGo campaign, Mercy Isle worked hard throughout the year; and in October 2015, Storm was unleashed upon the world.

“I'm Gonna Make It”: The first single, this song is less than 3 minutes but packs a wallop. As soon as Kassy's operatic vocals fade in and kick off this rockin' tune, you know that you're in for something good. The chorus is infectiously catchy, and has all the hallmarks of a good power metal anthem: lyrics about never giving up, and doing what it takes to reach your dreams, no matter what. Kassy has some impressive operatic chops, but can also pull off clean vocals that are just as mighty.

“Storm”: The title track is heavy as hell, and Kassy's sweet vocals give it that perfect contrast. The emotion in her voice on the line, “everyone laughs, everyone's comfort to know that everyone dies” is so heartfelt that it pierces your soul; it walks the line between anguished and angry all in just a few seconds. The keyboard part in the middle is very prog-influenced, which I like.

“No One Will Save You”: This song is probably more your typical “symphonic” or “gothic”-metal tune: the slow piano with soaring yet mournful vocals, along with contrasting male vocals, alternating between Chad's “clean” vocals and growling vocals done by none other than Kassy; putting a twist on the classic “beauty and the beast” dueling vocal style which is such a trademark of the genre. I see this being a favorite among many of the band's fans.

“Uncaged”: Some awesome bass work by Chad starts off the closing track, which is another song sprinkled with just enough gothic and symphonic influences to please any aficionado of the genre, but also has this small pinch of prog-metal flair to it. The song is only 3½ minutes, but it has all the sweeping, theatric bombast of a symphonic metal epic twice its length. The song is a perfect way to wrap up the EP: it leaves the listener wanting more, with the hint of better things to come.

Overall opinion: Mercy Isle is a fantastic new addition to the burgeoning symphonic metal scene in the U.S., and as they work on their full-length debut, it promises to be one of the most anticipated albums (for me) in 2016. Their cross-culture fusion is a perfect melding of European artistic creativity coupled with American musical economy. In other words, they are able to construct a tune that could stand up next to any of their European counterparts, but manage to convey the same message in half the time; concisely wrapped up short and sweet for American listening sensibilities. In a 3 or 4-minute song, Mercy Isle captures all the dramatic flair, excitement, and grandeur that bands like Within Temptation or Nightwish might do in a 7 or 8-minute song. Vocally, Kassy can hold her own among some of her contemporaries in the genre as well: while she has a gorgeous operatic voice, she also knows how and when to use it, and does not go overboard with them as many similar bands sometimes tend to do. She doesn't have to, because her clean vocals are just as lovely, and possess just as much vibrancy and character. Storm is less than 16 minutes, but within those 4 songs, manages to project a lot of musical depth and intensity. Mercy Isle is an interesting look at the future of the genre, and it just might be possible that they could be one of the bands here in the U.S. who will go on to carry the torch as the scene continues to evolve from once being solely a European commodity, to the global phenomenon it has now become.

Special thanks to Chad and Kassy Novell

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