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(62:44 / Unicorn Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. As I Am 5:41 2. Beneath the Veil of Winter's Face 5:58 3. Snowhite 4:07 4. Travel to the Night 8:38 5. The Scarlet Eye 5:35 6. The Third Dream 6:11 7. Voyage to the Other Side 6:24 8. The Sailor & the Mermaid 5:23 9. The Awakening 11:12 10. The Preacher's Fall 3:30 LINEUP: Michel St-Pere - el. & ac. guitars; keyboards Steve Gagne - drums Benoit David - vocals Patrick Bourque - bass With Antoine Fafard - bass Benoit Pepin - bass
Prolusion. Like most if not all the contemporary progressive rock outfits from the Canadian province of Quebec, MYSTERY is a band from the Unicorn Records roster, though it would've been something unbelievable had it been otherwise, since the founder and the keeper of the band's name, Michel St-Pere, is at the same time the general manager of that label. "Between the Veil of Winter's Face" is the fourth studio album by Mystery, nine years separating it from its predecessor, "Destiny?". Comeback is the word.
Analysis. According to the press release, "Between the Veil of Winter's Face" is destined for fans of Rush, Journey, Genesis and Styx. Hmm, I'd better leave this statement with no comment for the time being. The great majority of the ten tracks on Mystery's new CD represent a song-based material that, while never stooping to a straight verse-chorus approach, contains quite a few recurring vocal lines. What is really new however, compared to any of their previous recordings, is the band's inclination towards a much heavier, edgy sound with the prevalence of meaty, elaborated guitar riffs. The arrangements, the instrumental ones included, favor Michel's electric guitar, though I will not neglect the tracks where he shines as a virtuoso keyboardist too. Overall, the music here has structurally much more in common with Whitesnake, Dio and suchlike collectives, but probably even more with late Black Sabbath (work from "Headless Cross" forwards) than with those who are traditionally regarded as prog-metal performers, though such followers of the progressive Doom Metal Godfathers as Threshold can to some degree serve as a point of comparison as well. Of the four references offered in the press kit, only Styx is more or less appropriate, singer Benoit David being the only bearer of it. As to the, say, undeclared artists, some echoes of Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project can also be heard, but so rarely that I could have omitted the matter without any serious detriment to the review. Some readers may reproach me for my frequent resort to Doom Metal as a category, perhaps even finding it to be unjustified in this particular case. However it is enough to listen to any recording by the genre's founders, and compare the guitar riff construction with that on most of the songs on this CD in order to come to the same or at least a very similar conclusion. Take any of the three ballads here, Snowhite, Voyage To the Other Side and The Sailor & the Mermaid (the first of which is heavy throughout, the other two partly so). Are these so different from No Stranger to Love or Dying For Love by Black Sabbath? It's another story altogether that plenty of metal etc performers frequently borrow the discoveries of that English band. The two up-tempo rockers located on the disc's boundary tracks, As I Am and The Preacher's Fall, are both nothing other than melodic Power Metal and are my least favorite pieces, even though I clearly realize that overall, they aren't inferior to most of the others. It's a matter of taste for sure. There are a few instrumental sections to be found on each of the already described songs, meaning the ballads included, but quite a few of those are only perceived as kind of bridges between the vocal ones. While The Scarlet Eye, The Third Dream, the title track and The Awakening are all for the most part moderately slow (at least basically), all of them can arguably be defined as progressive Doom Metal. Within their vocal sections, The Scarlet Eye and The Third Dream are very similar to each other, combining guitar riffs with lush string pads at the fore, but otherwise the former piece is stronger, on a par with the title track, approaching the yet-to-be-named winner in progressiveness. The ninth piece, The Awakening, lasts for more than 11 minutes and is somewhat overextended for my personal taste, but then it features several instrumental interludes, one of which is done firmly in the neo-progressive style - yes, with the keyboards brought to the fore. A real standout would be the second longest track, Travel to the Night, - an amazing largely instrumental journey to the vintage era (kudos to Michel for using the organ register here) somewhere halfway between classic Deep Purple and Black Sabbath's "Seven Star", with a lot of keyboard-laden arrangements. Finally I'd like to note that all the comparisons used are relative, since regardless of any influences Mystery still has a strong identity to their sound.
Conclusion. Overall, "Between the Veil of Winter's Face" is a good album from any standpoint, no matter that most of the music here is only proto-progressive in nature. The CD should please all of Mystery's old fans and gain some new admirers for them as well.
VM: September 13, 2007
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