Monday, October 6, 2008

Mehida - Blood & Water (2007)

"Supergroup" can be a dirty word, or it can be a thing of beauty. Either way, faboys generally salivate over the possibility of their favorite musicians joining to collaborate on a musical project. Sometimes it works out (Tobias Sammet's Avantasia) sometimes it does not (VH1's "Supergroup" that included Sebastian Bach, Scott Ian, Ted Nugent, Jason Bonham, and Evan Seinfeld). However, when a group of prolific musicians get together in a concerted effort, they have the potential to create something beautiful.

Such is the case with Mehida. Before purchasing this album, I had no idea that it was supposed to have been the followup to Wingdom's debut. Nor was I aware that it was a "supergroup" of sorts. After doing some research on the band, I realized that I had struck gold. Just taking a brief look at the list of bands these 5 gents have been in, you know they're already quite experienced. Scanning the list of band names, you also see a handful of reknowned bands in there: Candlemass, Sonata Arctica, Kotipelto, Therion, and DivineFire all come to mind. There are also quite a few high quality bands that are newer or not quite as lauded as the others, such as 7 Days, Essence of Sorrow, Random Eyes, Templar, and the classic Kenziner. With a musical pedigree that good, it has to be good, right? Not necessarily so: thankfully, it is with this band. Let me first get off my chest that this is simply one more project involving Jani Stefanovich that is pure gold. Everything that man touches or is involved with ends up being top draw, and this is no exception.

Right away, the album starts off on a high note. "Unchanging" comes in with an interesting sort of vaudville type intro, then blows right into a keyboard line & simple riff. When Thomas Vikström starts singing, the riff changes up a bit with some double bass & underlying bass work. Thomas' vocals shine right away, with strength and confidence, and a nice falsetto in one spot. The chorus is anthemic, and provides an interesting melodic divergence. The 2nd verse changes things up a tad with a slight change in the guitar sound & riff. The vocals here have an interestic rhytmic effect over the rest of the music as well, adding an interesting element. The guitar & keyboard solo work here isn't over the top, but fits the song well. Markus Niemispelto provides a really interesting drum/cymbal rhythm at the end of the song that caps it well, and shows the progressive element of this band. "Wings Of Dove" is highly melodic from the word go, and is well constructed with it's subdued guitar and keyboard lines throughout, as well as the plodding bassline. Thomas' layered vocals show off nice harmonies. The extra vocal layering in the chorus is excellent, producing a choir-like effect that is quite anthemic. It's no wonder Thomas marked this as one of his favorite songs off the album on the band's official website. The riffing in this song is fairly simplistic, allowing the vocals to carry the melody nearly all the way through, but it's very effective. The keyboard solo here again is not over done, but just right. "Burning Earth" brings the heaviness level up a bit, providing an interesting guitar intro with a fast, near blast beat rhythm that intros the song. The riff here is heavy yet atmospheric. The verses are even more atmospheric, with a more subdued riff, bringing guitar back to the fore by the chorus. Keyboards are here, but are quite understated, bringing an atmospheric element to the band without dominating. The vocal effect used toward the end of the verses is interesting, but slightly hampers one's ability to make out the words, though it's only for a few seconds. The song fades out with a repeat of an earlier passage. "Multitude" has a bunch of voices at the beginning speaking the opening words of "I have never done anything wrong..." until the riff comes in and a gruff vocal (I'm assuming Thomas didn't provide this, perhaps Jani?) repeats the line sevearl times. This song has a nice underlying keyboard sound, a plodding bass & guitar rhythm, and a solid drum beat. This song also employs some really nice group vocals and layring, showing off Thomas' range a bit. Thomas' phrasing in this song is also a bit unique, adding to the semi-progressive nature of this CD. Again, the guitar solo here isn't insane, but fits the material well. "Stronghold" begins with an understated guitar riff that could have made it's home on a mid-90's industrial rock album. Instead, it's here, followed by a much heavier riff and rhythmic section. The keyboard work here is very understated, with little piano plinking underyling the understated portion of the riff during the verses and a faster rhythm atop that. The chorus is simple and anthemic, but very catchy, with the keyboard provies a nice backdrop. The solo is really good, with keyboard & guitar interchanging a bit, and providing slightly more flash than in previous tracks. The lyrics speak of God being the "stronghold", the fortress and shield as told in Psalm 31.

"Guilty" opens with an ominous keyboard intro, then blows into a heavy riff coupled with lots of double-bass in the rhythm. Thomas is in fine form here, providing nice vocals, and a good harmonized vocal in the pre-chorus, as well as layering in the chorus. Once again, the chorus is quite anthemic. Lyrically, the song talks of the weight of sin on a person's conscience and soul, noting that we're all guilty of sin. Great layered keyboard here with an excellent keyboard solo to boot. "A Letter From Home" opens with some nice electric piano work, as well as an electronic rhythm that would feel at home on an Enya CD. This doesn't last, however, and the heaviness comes in shortly, with the rest of the instruments coming in. The verse sections employ the electric piano nicely, and the segue between verse & chorus has some nice choral vocals in the background. The song talks of God's love for us, and how He hurts when we hurt, and how He cares for us no matter what. The bridge toward the end has a nice female vocal effect and dissonant piano which plays on the understated guitar nicely. "Dry Bones" has a cool keyboard effect intro, followed immediately by one of the heaviest rhythms on the CD, a fast drum rhythm and driving guitar riff with bass in tow. Keyboard effects here are spare, but work well within the context of the material. The chorus employs a lot of double bass & one of the more complex guitar parts found on the CD in a couple spots. The song talks about how we as humans have "dry bones" without knowing God's word, and how hearing His word brings us to life through knowledge & acceptance of Him. There are a couple operatic vocal effects in the bridge which remind me of the opera scene in the PlayStation game Parasite Eve, though that's mostly because of the way they're processed. Great keyboard solo work here as well. "Lost Ones" starts off with a tempto, picked rhythm and keyboard line that makes it sound like it might be the power ballad here, but when the heavier riff & ominous keyboard sound comes in, it belies that though. Instead, we get a nice dark feel to it, with an interesting lower-end vocal from Thomas that makes its only appearance in this song. The effect on the vocals is interesting, and adds to the atmosphere. The chorus has a nice choral effect to it, helping to make it more anthemic than the darker atmosphere would normally lend itself. I like the solo work here - very understated, but quite fitting to the song, with nice keyboard & guitar layering at the beginning, then allowing the guitar a few seconds to shine. Lyricaly, the song confirms that "we all like sheep have gone astray" in that we're all sinners. It is sung in the verses from God's perspective - He has called us, but we haven't answered. It's quite chilling to think that He has called many of us, and many of us have ignored Him. "Grace" is a powerful song, written from the perspective of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who asks Him to remember him in Heaven, only to hear from Jesus that he would be joining Him in paradise. It's one example of God's unending grace; no matter what we've done, He will forgive us for our sins & we can be with Him in eternity. Musically, the song is understated, with nice electric piano & keyboard effects, a simple but effective riff, solid drumming & bass work, and some nice layered vocals. The lyrics really shine here, with the thief saying he isn't worth a penny, but God gave him the opportunity to turn away from his past life and accept Jesus. Nice vocal layering toward the end of the song that gives a slight choral effect. "End of the World (Outro)" is an interesting pastiche of clean guitar picking, keyboard effects, samples, organ music, and disharmonic instrumentation. If it weren't for the keyboard solo work in there, I'd say this would have fit perfectly on a Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus album, with it's "apocalyptic folk" feel. An interesting cap to the album, to be sure.

What else can be said? This is a stellar release. I'm intrigued at how the musicians on this album can put aside the usual over the top methodology they have employed on other releases they've been involved in to create an understated, yet incredibly anthemic and cathcy release such as this. I would never have thought this to be a melodic metal album by looking at the cover, the logo, or the album title - I had considered it was probably a goth-rock album. I'm glad I was wrong, and I'm glad I didn't let that initial thought sway me from buying this album. This is a top-notch release by a group of highly skilled musicians; more importantly, this is a triumph of songwriting, and proof that metal doesn't have to be overly heavy to be immediate, nor does a metal band with progressive tendencies and uniqueness have to sacrifice the songs for the sake of being as technical as possible. This album strikes a near-perfect balance of technical prowess and songwriting restraint. Sadly, this album will probably be overlooked by many due to the overt faith-based lyrics, and by the cover art & album title. If you are reading this review and still aren't convinced, head over to the band's Myspace & listen to a couple tracks. You won't be sorry!


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