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Why? Why, indeed? Dirk Thurisch and Christian Pohlmann had such a great thing going with Angel Dust; just why did they decide that this side project was better worth their time than continuing on with that creative metal juggernaut? Okay, so maybe Of Human Bondage wasn’t as tectonically amazing as Enlighten the Darkness, but then again, nothing else done by any other power metal band in this time-space continuum could possibly top that pinnacle of inspiration. (Well, okay, maybe Rage’s Soundchaser and Falconer’s Armod come close.) It’s just one of those turns of musical history that leaves you shaking your head, kind of like Queensrÿche’s recent discography. Anyhow, to judge by their debut, Mercury Tide is prone to a few of the same flashes of brilliance that imbued Angel Dust (anything featuring Dirk Thurisch would kind of have to do so), but sadly, they are much fewer and further between.
A couple of those flashes of brilliance are ‘Back to Reality’; ‘My Dear Enemies’, an almost-progressive heavy metal number whose surging, powerful bass line should sound refreshingly familiar to any Angel Dust fan – same as with ‘Lost and Torn’, which could have been an Of Human Bondage B-side; and ‘Another One’, which took that sound off in a different direction – a satisfyingly dark piece of hard-rock experimentation, replete with some interesting keyboard effects. ‘Another One’ is slightly more melancholy than a lot of Angel Dust’s work, thematically following up on the psychological dimension to Border of Reality and the later tracks of Enlighten the Darkness. Even the title track leads off quite strongly – though it isn’t exactly an Angel Dusty sound, it nevertheless hints at a similarly dark, brooding variety of metal. Indeed, if this band were just starting from scratch and were not made up of weathered power metal veterans, I would take these tracks as hints of possible future brilliance. And who knows? It’s a brilliance that might yet return.
But for now it seems that Mercury Tide are more interested in making acousticky arrangements with emo lyrics and barely any bite to them at all – see ‘Save This World’, ‘Souls of the Ocean’ (em, ‘scuse me, Mercury Tide, but someone’s Nightwish fan-boner is showing slightly – don’t worry, though, I get those too upon occasion) and the disappointingly anticlimactic ‘Alone’. Tracks such as ‘Set Me Free’ attempt to recapture that elusive taiji of Enlighten the Darkness with a grinding rhythm line meshing with the atmospheric keyboard melody and synthesiser effects, but it just somehow fails to materialise. Something is missing this time around, a certain level of conviction that characterised Angel Dust’s golden era. ‘Set Me Free’ annoyed me slightly by bait-and-switching me into a major transpose (which is one of my pet peeves in power metal particularly). ‘Alone’, I believe, attempts to mirror ‘Oceans of Tomorrow’ in terms of its quiescent beginning, suddenly flaring up into an emotional power-ballad structure; even featuring a passable, upbeat guitar solo. If the preceding material had been kicking my arse nonstop, this would be acceptable, even welcome. But after an album as already-patchy as this one, it comes off as tiresome rather than as inspired; forgettable rather than breathtaking.
As mentioned earlier, the lyrics are very personal, abstract, even existential (as the title of the album would seem to suggest). At their strongest, they deal with sin, abandonment (and perceived abandonment in death), forgiveness (or lack thereof), and ultimately unity – though one wishes they had more creative ways of bringing these themes together than they did on, say, ‘Save This World’. The lyrics begin incorporating some pseudo-social and pseudo-political themes on ‘My Dear Enemies’, but this just seems to be a one-off, and actually fits fairly well into the rest of the album’s themes.
It just seems to me that the entire album suffers from a lack of balance. It can’t decide whether it wants to aim at a melodic, gothic sound off the beaten track, or whether it wants to continue with the sound of Angel Dust; often with these two tendencies warring with each other in the same track (like the inadvertently-appropriate ‘Lost and Torn’). The end result is a schizophrenic album which shows sparks of lucidity, but which fails to capitalise appropriately on them.
13 / 20