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Mercy Isle - Storm

Mercy Isle - CD Review




CD Info
Self Released
English lyrics
4 tracks


In the interest of full disclosure, the members of Mercy Isle are personal friends of mine, all of them. I’ve known vocalist Kassandra Novell since before she was Mrs. Novell, since long before Mercy Isle was even a concept. Husband Chad is also someone I’ve known, and admired for his musical talent for a long time. Guitarist Cory Scheider I met more recently, as is the case with drummer Adam Maltby. But keyboard player Joop de Rooij . . . known him for a long time, one of my favorite musicians. He’s been on two of my Releases of the Year, don’t need to say more. But, this is a new project, one who’s inception was planned and orchestrated at a recent MVFV where Kassandra has performed to top reviews for a number of years. I’ve been talking about it too, for at least 3 years, every time I could grab husband Chad to a corner during Enemy Star (Kassandra’s previous band) performances in the Wisconsin area. Well, it’s finally come about. We talked about what to do during an interview last winter here in Wisconsin, I argued that a short EP would be the way to go, Kassandra wasn’t sure. But, looks like that’s the way things are going, this little 4 track EP gives a more than adequate introduction to the Mercy Isle sound and the promise is there.

Now I know not everyone in the world knows these people, but I do. And, I listen to material from all over the world on a regular basis. Kassandra takes a back seat to no vocalist, as anyone who’s heard her at MFVF will testify. And Chad may be the best bass player I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been listening longer than you have, trust me. Joop, no need to go further there, and Cory and Adam have the talent and experience to provide for a solid sound in those areas. You get it all here, and there are a few things I wasn’t always expecting, vocals especially. The material is probably not what I’d call ‘murican" metal, which is certainly what we got with Kassandra’s last band, Enemy Star. This release is heavily influenced by the sounds we get in Western Europe, it’s got MFVF written all over it. Which certainly works for me. The 4 track EP covers several sounds and goes in directions Enemy Star could never have anticipated. But, with musicians like this, that shouldn’t be hard to understand. I asked Kassandra about the production process: “For the most part, all of the writing is done between Joop, Chad, Cory and myself. For Uncaged, we started with my vocal melody. Cory and Chad then took it and came up with guitars and chord progressions (Chad loves figuring out chords for bare vocal melodies, it's like Tetris for him). Once we got those written, Joop listened and added his parts. Then it went back to Cory & Chad for developing the arrangement (when to play verses, choruses, how long, etc). It's all done through heavy file sharing on Google Drive, frequent Skyping, and near daily conversation on our private Facebook group.”

I’ve heard most of this material live during a performance this summer here in Madison. It was pretty much a dress rehearsal so it didn’t have the final engineering effect we get with this release. And, of course, Joop wasn’t actually there which takes something away from the sound, samples do have their limitations. So this is a pretty well developed interpretation of what we can expect from the band. And how does it sound? Well, let’s get to the details.

The lead track I’m Gonna Make It has been around for a while, I heard it over Bloody Marys last Winter here in Madison, probably their first recording. This one is pretty European sounding, Joop has a lot of things to say, Kassandra starts things out with an operatic background sound that leads to the lyrics. Now, this one is not housed lyrically in the Gothic, we get no lyrics from the grave, no mention of eternity, no reflection on pain, remorse or hopelessness. That aside, the music is more than what we typically come to expect from ‘merikan metal. Cory’s guitars pound, Chad and Adam provides a bottom and Kassandra does what Kassandra does. And Joop provides the “Dutch”.

The title track goes even more European. And, it gets a little more Goth. Both musically and lyrically. This is metal, lots of guitars, lots of pounding drums. But, with anything on this release, it’s hard to get past the vocals. Kassandra is, of course, the central component here. But, this one gets some assistance as Chad does some vocal work with the Mrs. And, it’s quite nice. But, the haunting sound that tells the tale is primarily from our lead vocalist. The lyrics go a bit dark:

Everyone laughs and everyone cries
It’s a comfort to know that everyone dies / Especially you.

The third track is No One Will Save You. It begins like a ballad, until Cory and Chad arrive to take it to a more metal moment. Again, we get duel vocals from Chad and the Mrs. but, with this one, the Mrs. goes Death Metal Vocal, and, again, she takes a back seat to no one, even the best from Europe. Their interaction vocally takes a dark road as they trade verses:

Chad: I’m sick of life, I’m sick of life ticking by
Kassandra: So close your eyes
Chad: I’m done with you, I’ve seen enough to know the truth
Kassandra: Give in to fate
Chad: I’m holding shut, I’m in a rut, waiting for you
Kassandra: Just take one chance
Chad: Done waiting for life, gonna take it back from you
Kassandra: To break the chain

Cadaveria never sounded better. Again, I had to wonder where this direction came from, Kassandra suggested the following: “The darkness of the other tracks is a reflection of Cory's history in death metal and his band Casket Robbery. I have encouraged him to keep elements of death metal guitar riffing and writing in his parts--I want to appeal to his creative juices. So his driven, heavy guitars is Mercy Isle embracing an aspect of death metal writing. You may notice Chad also has interesting, moving bass lines. He's a music theory nerd and loves prog music. I also support his desire to give his bass personality instead of being buried under the guitars.”

Uncaged is the final track. This one takes a personal direction, dark but in a personal way. Again, the metal defines the music, the drums pound and the guitars are not to be ignored. But, there’s a level of intensity to this, both musically, vocally and lyrically, that drives the track. Kassandra has not, as a rule, gone in this direction, and I’ve been listening to her for a long time. We hear a level of anger here that defines the music:

I hear the roaring of the sea
Sings not it’s symphonies for thee

Fuel my rage / till you're nothing but ash
And I will burn evermore / I’m uncaged
I’m everything you fear / I will not forget
I am uncaged

Some of you may be aware that Mercy Isle and the Michigan Femme Metal band Aria Flame have a lot in common, including sharing keyboard player Joop. However, that association has led to some other interesting developments. For instance, the bands will jointly perform at the Deland Rock and Metal Fest in Florida this Fall. But that trip evolved into some other opportunities, as Kassandra explains: “We asked our promoter friends for booking advice. Bobbie Dickerson from Maryland's Flight of the Valkyries Fest recommended I contact her friend Hoyt Parris of Pathfinder Promotions in Atlanta. When I told him that both Aria Flame and Mercy Isle were coming through Atlanta looking for a gig, he got the inspiration to find other ffm bands to create a one day festival, which he named Valkyries Over Atlanta. Basically, our interest in touring through the area inspired Hoyt to create that fest. Very cool, IMO. The other dates on our tour, in Michigan and Alabama, are our own networking with bands and promoters.”

Not bad when your efforts lead to the development of a new festival.

Mercy Isle is a project that has been in the demand and planning stage for a while. I know I’ve been screaming for it. And, now there’s something to listen to, and see if you’re anywhere near the locations where MI and AF will be performing. And, if you can, I think you’ll enjoy it. Kassandra’s come a long ways since Enemy Star.

You can purchase autographed copies of this release in the Sonic Cathedral Store here