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Great with a few stains - 85%

AcidVoodoo, March 25th, 2013

Mark Shelton returns with Mysterium after recording the excellent Beyond the Boundaries of Sin with Hellwell, which featured a lot of harsh vocals from his part and a really heavy keyboard presence, both of which are absent from his latest opus as this album is a different beast, pretty good and diverse, but different nonetheless.

Starting from the production aspects so often criticized of this band, this record possesses a decent recording sometimes bordering on being really good as tracks like “Only the Brave” or “The Hermitage” showcase having a strong bass up front and heavy-sounding guitars while still being able to notice details in the drum department, although sometimes there are moments where it’s still a little hard to make sense of what is going on, as in the last sung part of “The Battle of Bonchester Bridge”, but overall this album has a nice raw sound to it.

As for the songwriting department, you can expect some great heavy metal songs delivered in a mid-range voice with some interesting bass and a tremendous guitar work. Starting things with the right foot with “The Grey God Passes”, Manilla Road puts its strong elements up front, which are some pretty solid and dark sounding verses along with interesting melodies for choruses and great use of the guitar that keeps you enthralled and often captivated. These elements are all present in what I like to call the “heavy” songs on this album, such as “The Hermitage”, “Only The Brave”, and “Stand Your Ground”, along with the opener.

A different subject within this album are the ballads present here, being “The Battle of Bonchester Bridge” the easiest to digest of them both, featuring a great sounding verse sung over beautiful arpeggios for the first part and ending with heavy guitar wankery and one of the greatest vocal melodies of the album . “The Fountain” is an all acoustic number in which all I can say is that Mark’s songwriting skills are enough to make this song feel at place with the album and his vocals give this warm feeling that helps the song feel authentic. To bind this acoustic piece with the album's longest track, there is a weird, yet not boring instrumental called “The Calling”, which makes a good prelude for the last track.

The start of the epic closer, “Mysterium”, is a mixture of the soft guitar sounds and verses featured in the ballads with an eerie touch, making it interesting enough to keep with until the middle part rocks it out with the influences of the “heavy” songs cauterized by dark sounding vocals and riffs along with guitar solos that bind together the last part of the song, sounding like the last part of “The Battle of Bonchester Bridge” in the way that is slow, heavy, and melodic, thereby creating a consistent piece that’s coherent with the other material featured on the record.

Sadly, this album does indeed feature songs that don't seem to stack up to the level of the great compositions present. “Do What Thou Will” and “Hallowed Be Thy Grave” feel as if these guys played it safe with these tunes, the result being somewhat catchy numbers with some good moments, but not as remarkable as the rest of the material.

To conclude this, Mysterium at its peak is an album where great guitar dynamics, good drum work, and clever bass lines mix along tasteful vocals and cool lyrics, and at its low (which is really hard to find since there are only two lackluster pieces here, IMO) it’s kind of flat and safe sounding with some good, yet forgettable melodies.