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Wicked Mystic > Lithium > Reviews
Wicked Mystic - Lithium

Finding middle ground between prog and power metal - 89%

Agonymph, April 2nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2002, CD, Mausoleum Records

Sometimes unexpected breakups inadvertently mean that bands go out while they’re at their peaks. Yours truly was thoroughly impressed with Wicked Mystic’s sophomore album ‘Lithium’, but before they could properly promote the record, the band had already broken up. And that means that outside of the Netherlands, not many people could acquaint themselves with this highly interesting hybrid of progressive and power metal. During those days, it wasn’t easy to find a record in the genre with such a perfect balance of melody and variation in the songwriting department. Easily one of the best Dutch metal records of all time.

Compared to its excellent predecessor ‘The Paramount Question’, ‘Lithium’ is more concise and a little more aggressive, but the general sound is similar. Specifically, this means the songs are shorter, but not simpler. Within the songs, quite a lot of things happen, but they never end up sounding disjointed. In addition, some of the album’s best moments are not in the riffs – despite their obvious quality – but in the clean and acoustic guitar passages, that the quintet seems to be quite liberal with. This may cause the album to sound a little busy at times, but that generally is its strength.

Two of the songs are even largely acoustic. ‘The Reverie’ is a beautiful, folky ballad with some excellent fretless bass work by Erik Schut, but the most wonderful acoustic work can be heard on the breathtaking closing track ‘Last Honesty’, which tells the story of a wrongfully convicted death row inmate through an immaculate build-up. Some acoustic guitar solos pop up from time to time, with those near the end of the strong heavy metal track ‘Inborn Jester’ standing out most. The heavier ‘Mournful Rhymes’ and the euphoric ‘Hollow Phrase’ profit from extended clean sections with fantastic lead guitar work by Niels Kuenen and Harald te Grotenhuis.

On the more aggressive side of things, there is the relatively speedy ‘Calm Despair’, which builds from a high-speed twin guitar intro to a song with driving rhythms and great vocals by Remko Roes, who draws parallels to Ronnie James Dio and Tad Morose’s Urban breed. ‘Knight Errant’ is the song that demands most versatility from him – from the more aggressive opening to the harmonies of the chorus. Opening track ‘Toxemia’ is easily the most modern song on the record and while it’s good, it’s probably not the best song to open with, as it’s a bit misleading.

Wicked Mystic recently had a brief reunion with one of their early line-ups, mostly focusing on the more aggressive thrash metal leanings of their early work. While it was a pleasant listen, ‘The Paramount Question’ and ‘Lithium’ were without any doubt the albums that showed the band from their more unique side. To call this progressive metal would give people the wrong impression of what the music sounds like, but it is a fact that Wicked Mystic didn’t let itself be limited by what was expected from contemporary power metal bands at the time. Worth a listen if you are into Iced Earth’s more adventurous material.

Recommended tracks: ‘Last Honesty’, ‘Inborn Jester’, ‘Hollow Phrase’

Originally written for my Kevy Metal weblog.

Blind Purchases, part 1 - 55%

Ribos, January 21st, 2010

Back before I discovered this website, there was a brief period of time in which I was buying metal albums without a damn clue of what I was getting. While I could have done a lot worse, there are very few of these discs that I still listen to on a regular basis. Of course, it’s questionable as to whether the Archives would have been able to help me on some of these: most of them were used copies of rather obscure bands no one gives a shit about (and usually for good reason). While this was a cheap way to expand my collection, it would have been useful to know what I was spending my money on. Thus, I’m going to write a series of reviews for these albums, in the off-chance someone finds the information useful.

This is, of course, the first in that series, but it is neither the best nor the worst. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the ordering of this series of reviews. This isn’t really relevant or necessary information, but it provides a nice parallel to the album at hand. Wicked Mystic is a power/”thrash” metal band that no one really knows or cares about, and probably could have never existed without any impact on the metal world. In short, they were entirely unremarkable, despite their attempts to stand out amongst the hundreds or thousands of other bands getting signed to smaller labels around the turn of the millennium.

I put “thrash” in quotes in the above paragraph because, while the Archives page lists their genre as such, it’s the sort of limp-wristed half-thrash that dominated the 90s and early 00s. The best way to describe it is as “modern metal,” similar to the likes of a less-energetic Nevermore. Now, if you know me from the forums or from my other reviews, you should recognize that a comparison to Nevermore is never(more) a good thing. Calling a band a less-energetic form of Nevermore is even worse. There’s the occasional chug-chug riff interspersed with other misguided attempts at aggression mixed into some thoroughly uninspiring – and uninspired – power metal.

This album is not bad, really. If someone threw this on during a road trip, I wouldn’t mind listening to it. I’d probably ask if they had anything better, but I wouldn’t really complain about it. The biggest thing holding this album back from a higher rating (say, a 70 or so) is the fact that the band was trying too hard to show off their songwriting chops. If they had just filled an album of full-speed rockers, this album might even be fairly enjoyable. Instead, they throw in various softer and slower sections, “heavier” parts, and other sorts of inevitably post-Master Of Puppets-inspired nonsense. Now, variance in an album can be a good thing. There’s a reason mamy well-loved albums are not one song repeated eleven times. However, an even greater number of classic albums attained that status because the band is good at what they do. This sounds like an obvious statement, but many songwriters end up combining various styles for the sake of variance regardless of what they’re actually good at.

With this in mind, it should come as now surprise that the best songs on this album, and indeed the only memorable ones, are those with the greatest level of straight-forward speed. Toxemia and Calm Despair would be the standouts, if anything here could be called such. Now, it’s true that the 90s and early 00s were not exactly the golden age for power metal, but let’s put this in its actual context: this album came out in 2002 and it already sounds dated from that time. Compare that to Persuader, who released their debut in 2000 and Evolution Purgatory in 2004, two albums that still sound fresh (admittedly, the debut’s production was less than perfect, but that’s for another review). Tad Morose also released an album in 2002, and… well, I’ll let the reviews there speak for themselves. Point is, 2002 had far better offerings. The dating inevitably comes from the songwriting, with the aforementioned mish-mash of style for the sake of variance reaching a peak in popularity in the 90s. The production is undoubtedly modern, nice and clear with a thick guitar tone. No complaints there.

The musicianship also adds to the lack of album memorability. Those Nevermore chunking chord riffs don’t require much skill, and their blandness leaves them easy to forget. The solos, while present, do not offer anything that you couldn’t get from any other power metal or thrash group; they are limited to very simple arpeggios and scale-run melodies. The bass gets turned down in the mix, but there’s no real loss: it follows the guitar on the boring parts, and deviates only in parts to play something even more derivative. The drummer is one of the most boring I’ve heard in style, reusing the same rhythms you’ve heard a million times already with practically no fills. Furthermore, he appears to be limiting the band’s speed. He keeps time just fine, but it feels like he’s working at the top of his game. That leaves the vocalist. He adds a bit of grit and aggression to his delivery, which saves him from the realm of god-awful, but he’s still sub-par. He sounds much like what the guy from Machinae Supremacy would sound like if he decided MS were a thrash band and not a bunch of video game nerds writing power metal homages to their hobby.

Overall, I can’t recommend this album. I wouldn’t say to avoid it, as it’s not bad per se, but it lacks memorability and could use a hefty dose of competency as well. You’ll probably enjoy this a fair amount if you’re into the whole “modern” sounding power metal groups a la Nevermore and later Iced Earth… and judging by the review numbers, that’s entirely too many of you… but even then there’s no real reason to seek this one out. This band is just unnecessary; there are plenty of other bands who play a similar style but better AND have a discography that’s easier to track down.