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TRACK LIST: 1. The Black Forest 11:10 2. A Quiet Little Town 6:58 3. Black Sunday 6:20 4. Elegy 6:14 5. Citadel 7:02 6. Between Sun & Moon 5:07 7. Freak of Life 8:15 8. Kingdom of Heaven 6:20 LINEUP: Roine Stolt – guitars; vocals Nad Sylvan – vocals; keyboards Lalle Larsson – keyboards; vocals Walle Wahlgren – drums Jonas Reingold – bass
Prolusion. The Swedish band AGENTS OF MERCY initially started out as the solo vehicle of Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings, Kaipa, Transatlantic), but in a few years this side project has developed into a fine and mature band, actively recording and releasing new material and performing it live. "The Black Forest" is their third and most recent CD, and was released in the fall of 2011.
Analysis. When looking at the current line-up of this ensemble, you don't need to have a deep knowledge about the art rock scene to know that the musicians are of the highest caliber. These are well known names from well known bands, most of them renowned as performers in their own right. But while that may guarantee performance, it's no foolproof documentation of quality, as everyone who remember 80's outfit GTR can testify too. But with two previous albums under their belt Agents of Mercy is a band that doesn't really need to prove themselves in the performance or composition department I'd suspect. On this third excursion of theirs, they pretty much continue where they left off in 2010, and have also chosen to expand their repertoire ever so slightly. The stylistic foundation resides safely within a 70's oriented symphonic progressive rock style, keyboards and organ aplenty that comes courtesy of Lalle Larsson in tight interplay and frequent harmony with Stolt's guitar escapades. References to bands like Camel and Genesis aren't hard to find, and the occasional slight nod towards Stolt's main band The Flower Kings is a natural ingredient too. Although in the latter case of reference I think the description other main band sounds right just about now, as Agents of Mercy comes across as something much more than a side project by now. Delightful musicianship and familiar sounding expressions aside, there's also quite a bit more to enjoy on "The Black Forest". On the detail level, there are some delightful funk-tinged guitar motifs to enjoy on A Quiet Little Town, the following Black Sunday contains some nifty passages with slightly more of a Deep Purple feel about them, and later on Citadel incorporates a fair few details that should please fans of good, old Led Zeppelin. And then there are the vocals. Nad Sylvan has a fairly dramatic, theatrical delivery, and this time around the songs comes across as tailor made to suit his delivery and timbre, to the point that his contribution is essential. His voice has always sounded right for this band, but there's a slight difference from being a perfect match for a band to become an essential part of the totality. And on this production, my perception of the album overall is that this subtle change is a reality. With that in mind, I'd pull out Elegy as my chosen highlight, a ballad oriented affair where Nad really gets to use and utilize his voice. This is a fine, high quality creation overall, albeit few instrumental passages a tad too elongated for my personal taste and some numbers slightly lacking the subtle contrasts I prefer to experience. A case of personal taste obviously, others may well highlight those compositions as the essential ones if they tend to enjoy those features most.
Conclusion. Vintage oriented symphonic progressive rock is what Agents of Mercy is all about, with a few bells and whistles added to their repertoire this time around that does add a subtle nuance of innovation to the proceedings. Excellent musicianship, performance and production all around are the icing on the cake. If you have a soft spot for the likes of Genesis and Camel and generally enjoy that sound, this is a CD that should appeal to you.
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