The Room – Beyond the Gates of Bedlam (2015)

TheRoom_BeyondBedlam4 out of 5 Stars!

After listening to The Room’s debut album (Open Fire) for more than a year now, and finally hearing this recently released sophomore collection of tracks, I’ve concluded that this group is definitely a bit weird. The debut album was not a fluke, as I thought might be possible, but rather an actual trademark of the band itself. And please know I say the word “weird” in a smile-worthy and positive way.

But why?

For me, it’s typically refreshing when I hear something slightly “off” when it comes to new bands playing in a favorite genre, bands offering more than just another cookie-cutter version of [insert the name of some classic, highly influential band here]. So when I discover a group that blends diverse influences (ingredients) to create its base sound, then sprinkles into the mix its own musical magic (and the talents of each band member) to concoct a somewhat different and successful end-product, I deem it a joyous occasion.

That’s what I’ve proclaimed with The Room. In my estimation, the band is, on many levels, a typical melodic Hard Rock act that successfully incorporates diverse Prog-Rock elements into its material in the same manner as a band such as It Bites triumphantly merged varying amounts of different genres to create its own sound/product. A bit odd, a bit quirky, for certain. But definitely engaging and weird…but also highly welcomed.

And I’m not talking about just the instrumentation either (including the diversity when it comes to guitar tones or keyboard/synth sounds), or the way the band writes or arranges its material, but also when it comes to the lead vocalist (the instantly noticeable “band stamp”). Martin Wilson truly has a different sort of voice and style of delivery. In quieter, ballad moments, such as the more straightforward tracks “Masquerade” or “As Crazy As It Seems,” Wilson reminds me of Michael Sadler from Saga, or Phillip Griffiths from Alias Eye (especially when it comes to the vibrato and overall tonality of both singers). Whereas on livelier, more off-the wall tracks, he has unsuspected yet recognizable quirks to his voice (and on songs such as “Full Circle” or “My Friend Jack,” there’s even a slightly demented manner to his delivery), giving him a fun, bizarre style that is not at all indigestible, but rather, it adds an unanticipated spice to the band’s overall off-beat flavor. This is in the same manner as singers Francis Dunnery (of It Bites), Jens Appelgren (of A.C.T), or even Alex Harvey (of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band) contributes/contributed to each of their group’s instantly identifiable sounds.

Therefore, as expected for an “off” band such as The Room, every track has numerous marriages of influences. For instance, on “She Smiles,” the electric piano brings to mind shades of Supertramp, only with a heavier twist when it comes to the other more traditional “Prog-Rock meets Hard Rock” orchestration. The intro of “The Book,” on the other hand, includes some dreamy Mellotron and choirs in a moody Neo-Prog opening, then goes off into a bouncy—almost pop—direction during the verse and choruses. The mid-section of the track, however, is yet another alteration in styles, with heavy organ (almost in the vein of Uriah Heep) and a quirkier, dramatic vocal delivery that seems like an Americanized version of Fish (from Marillion). The song’s ending, on the other hand, is yet another type of blended style, with dual guitar leads/melody lines that remind me of Thin Lizzy meets Wishbone Ash over typical Neo-Prog Mellotron/organ. Once again, this band excels at delivering surprises, at offering a wide level of influences while creating a sound all its own.

“Splinter” could have come straight off an album by the aforementioned Alias Eye perhaps, whereas “The Hunter” is a Saga-like track when it comes to its melody, instrumentation, and arrangement, but melded with sounds from instrumentally diverse groups such as Magic Pie or Magellan. “Bedlam,” on the other hand, is a harder-rocking tune in the style of (perhaps) the more Prog-oriented Axxis meets the more blues-based Gotthard, with those “slightly demented” style of vocals from Martin Wilson (including a “loony tunes” laugh at the end) along with touches of the more Prog-Rock moments of the British band Nightwing…a great closing track.

I couldn’t close out the review without also mentioning the album’s opening song (and single) “Carrie,” which is another fine (and catchy) example of The Room’s unique merging of styles. Melodic Hard Rock, diverse when it comes to its Prog-Rock orchestration (similar to It Bites), with a brief synth solo near the end straight out of GPS or Spock’s Beard. A quirky choice for a single, but an expected one from a band with such an unexpected merging of styles.

So for music lovers of the Prog-Rock variety, this is one band you might appreciate as much as I do. On either of the band’s albums, you certainly won’t find the “usual/usual” when it comes to any particular sound or style, but some variety and intriguing moments when it comes to the overall musical influences (the stylistic ingredients) to liven up the taste buds (or, more correctly, the I-Phone earbuds). I encourage those unfamiliar with the band to check out either release, as they are both high in quality. And have fun attempting to actually identify the band’s various musical influences…I sure did even though I’m sure I failed miserably.

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Mystery – Delusion Rain (2015)

Mystery_DelusionalRain4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I’ve been a fan of this Canadian band for quite some time, so have watched (and quite enjoyed) its rather lengthy transformation in developing its current sound and style.

In 1996, Mystery released its first full-length album, Theatre of the Mind (prior to this, the band had released a self-titled five-song EP, of which I have yet to hear). To me, the band seemed primarily an AOR act (not unlike Journey, thanks to singer Gary Savoie, whose voice is similar to Steve Perry’s) with periodic touches of Prog-Rock on various tracks, especially the lengthier ones. For the most part, this style continued through to the next album Destiny?, which appeared several years later, although the band appeared to be adding more Prog elements to its sound. Eventually, after Savoie left the fold and the band added Benoit David to its ranks as his replacement, they disappeared for nearly a decade, and during those missing years, Mystery really flipped things around. Therefore, on its 2007 release Beneath the Veil of Winter’s Face, they seemed to have morphed into a full-fledged Prog-Rock act with only touches of its former AOR sound. 2010’s One Among the Living furthered that shift in style, until the last album to feature Benoit David, 2012’s The World is a Game, proved the final step in that lengthy (and fully successful) transformation. And to me, that album was undoubtedly the band’s most accomplished and enjoyable release to date.

Therefore, when I learned that Benoit David left the group to join Yes and the band hired yet another vocalist, I couldn’t help but wonder (with both anticipation and no small amount of dread) whether the band’s sound would change again, whether Mystery would continue down the path where it left off or if it would once again veer back toward the dominant AOR sound of its early career. Changes in vocalists are always tricky, so would the band weather the storm and maintain its style? It was (every pun intended) a complete Mystery.

And finally in 2015, the newest Mystery album became available with vocalist Jean Pageau at the mic. Thankfully—and with a huge sigh of relief on my part—it’s instantly apparent that Jean fits in splendidly. His range is as far-reaching as Benoit David’s, although his tone is a tad fuller, rounder in texture. And even better still, the band’s overall style has not changed one iota since its previous release. Indeed, it has actually improved, has been perfected even more, with the new songs being (in my estimation) the finest, most consistent collection of tracks the band has ever produced.

The album contains half a dozen songs in total, three of them in the six-to-seven minute range, and the other three lengthier, with one being nearly twenty minutes.

The album kicks off with the ten-minute title track, a high-quality piece of Prog-Rock in a similar vein to bands such as IQ, Also Eden, or Galahad. It perfectly blends both acoustic and electric instrumentation, including Mellotron, beneath a wonderfully grand and haunting vocal line. This track is expertly polished, a preview of the classy music to follow.

“If You See Her” is not only the shortest track, but an exquisite cross between Prog-Rock and AOR and probably the catchiest song Mystery has ever created. Reminding me of the band IQ in particular, the ballad’s full, rich chorus kept ringing through my head long after the album stopped playing, so deserves special praise for its memorability.

“The Last Glass of Wine” is yet another fine example of the Prog-Rock and AOR merger, the style in which this band excels. When it comes to Jean Pageau’s singing style and melody line here, vocalist Ted Leonard (and the band Enchant) somehow spring to mind.

At nineteen-and-a-half minutes, “The Willow Tree” is the album’s magnum opus, a magnificent treat for all Prog-Rock lovers. It starts with a dreamy atmosphere, mostly due to the hypnotic guitar pattern performed in the best Steve Hackett tradition, and some delightfully melodic verses. A heavier, orchestrated section eventually takes over, with each musician displaying mastery of their instruments, including terrific dual guitar solos, along with some synth leads and a complex arrangement. Afterward, the band brings us back to a reprise of the opening verses, this time with different instrumentation that somehow reminds me of Pallas, IQ, or Marillion. The song’s final section offers yet more enticing vocal lines, making this entire track a triumph of melodic Neo-Prog!

“Wall Street King” adds another slight shift in influences, with a powerful ballad played almost in the style of the Prog-Metal band Threshold. Dense, full-bodied, and moving.

At twelve-and-a-half minutes, “A Song for You” closes out the album. The introduction reminds me of bands such as Yes, Cairo, and Glass Hammer when it comes to the keyboard sounds and breaks, then a lighter section of the song, including gentle flute, kicks in with yet another beautiful vocal passage. Several shifts in rhythms, moods, and orchestration follow, all making for another breathtaking foray into Neo-Prog nirvana.

So congratulations to Mystery for not only successfully completing the ongoing transition into full-out Prog-Rock, but for also expertly selecting the new lead vocalist without altering the band’s style. For fans of Mystery (especially the previous album) who are wondering whether the band continues on its path to greatness with this new release, then fear not…this album is close to perfection. And for those unfamiliar with the band, but appreciate top-notch melodic Neo-Prog in the same realm as IQ, Galahad, Also Eden, Pallas, Arena, etc., grab this album as soon as humanly possible…and savor.

Get The Album Now!