Mercury Rain - St. Matthieu
Dark Symphonic Metal
9 songs (48'14")
Release year: 2004
Mercury Rain
Reviewed by Alex
Surprise of the month

Being from Bristol, UK, Mercury Rain would certainly appreciate the following analogy. You can be the hottest rookie soccer player this year, only to completely disappear the next season. A proverbial “flash in a pan”. Alternatively, you can continue to work hard and be called “the most improved player” year after year. Without a doubt, Mercury Rain fall in the second category as their new opus St. Matthieu is a significant step up over 2003 Dark Waters.

The core of the band remained the same, Jon Hoare playing bass, keyboards and producing, Dion Smith handling guitars, and, most importantly, Sonia Porzier providing her vocal grace. I understand Rich Shillitoe (guitars) left, and the band is currently in between drummers. Yet the final outcome is vastly superior.

I may have been a little harsh on the band in my previous review saying how difficult it would be for them to reconcile their introspective gothic female vocals and classic/power metal instrumentalism. The answer to the question above came somewhat in a form of a curveball. Jon Hoare and Co. elected to go with a dark symphonic edge this time which turned out to fit the band perfectly. Mercury Rain proved me wrong and St. Matthieu humbles me.

Proceedings on this album start just like they ended up on Dark Waters. Sonia sings in French (or is it a dialect?) practically a capello, the only accompaniment being some dark synth. Desperate serenity is tossed aside when heavy tight riffs of Sanctuary enter the fray. Quick overlapping guitar runs do not distract from the rhythmic tightness, a trademark of Mercury Rain songwriting. In this particular song, Sonia’s voice wanders on her own, somewhat disconnected from the guitar chords. I can’t help but think this may always be the case with Mercury Rain, given the nature of Ms. Porzier voice. A male choir, something not present on Dark Waters, is a great find and provides a perfect background for the lead vocals. So is the rougher male voice in The Messenger, combining with Sonia in a duet over heavy galloping riffs. I can see why Therion took Mercury Rain on the UK tour with them. St. Matthieu is soaked with mysterious symphonics so prevalent in the Swedes’ art.

While heavy and tight throughout, guitars almost border on menacing (Mercury Rain style, of course) in Chimaera and Eldritch Mirror. However, this time around the band integrates the chops and Sonia’s voice much better than on Sanctuary. I am not sure whether it comes from the ever present keyboard touches or not doing much of the double bass, the tempo often chosen on Dark Waters. Yet, this time around, music and voice do not travel the separate planes like they did in the past. I can’t ever call Sonia’s vocals operatic. Instead of soaring, she just floats along, deep and sensual. There is another quiet piano ballad in the album, Heaven in Sunset, where she has to do it on her own, but most of the time dreamy slow buildups coexist well with heavy and progressive sections (Sortileges).

Jon Hoare can tune his keyboards, so they sound almost like the full orchestra, as I don’t think it was used on the album (at least, the liner notes do not say so). The sound on St. Matthieu is extremely voluminous and three dimensional. Jon’s melodies on the epic title track impress, but I still feel that song needed even more kick than provided by a strong and confident guitar solo. Why not use that great male choir again? What could be in the band’s future, and I do not have a crystal ball, is collaboration with a philharmonic ensemble and further melodic diversification.

The album comes with a DVD containing one video and three live tracks. Beings that I can’t play a PAL video I am plain out of luck there, but the DVD inclusion makes it for an even better package. In this sense, Mercury Rain is playing their cards right by releasing independent albums rather than signing a rip-off deal.

Even and strong throughout, St. Matthieu qualifies for the Surprise of the Month by the sheer value of the improvement made by Mercury Rain. Impressive cover art and the lyrics invoking mystic abandoned places complete the picture.

Killing Songs :
The Messenger, Chimaera
Alex quoted 82 / 100
Other albums by Mercury Rain that we have reviewed:
Mercury Rain - Dark Waters reviewed by Alex and quoted 67 / 100
Mercury Rain - Where Angels Fear (Demo) reviewed by Chris and quoted 55 / 100
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