Review: Mercy Isle – Undying Fire
Written by Brett Kihlmire
Opening Mercy Isle’s first full length album is ‘Wake Up.’ Clearly a nod at the lyrics and song title, we’re first greeted with synths reminiscent of an alarm clock before being greeted by a strum of the guitar by Sebas Honing and the captivating synths of Joop de Rooij. Vocalist Kassandra Novell enters the fray with a powerful, and I mean powerful, voice just as the song kicks into a nice groove. In many ways, Kassandra reminds me of Floor Jansen in terms of her power and control, especially when she amps up the power. Other highlights of this tune include the increased technicality of the guitars over the band’s debut extended play, the prominence of bassist Chad Novell’s voice and bass style, and a nice and reserved but still shreddy guitar solo. One track in, I can see Mercy Isle has grown a good deal from their debut.
‘Storm’ originally appeared on the band’s debut extended play Storm and was reviewed at the time of the release. A discussion with Kassandra Novell revealed that the guitar was reworked for this track giving a little more complexity while leaving the song largely the same but with improved production value.
‘Stop, Kiss me’ is one of the catchier songs on the album. Something of a power ballad, this track delivers a fantastic performance from Chad Novell on vocals. By the end of the song that chorus will get caught in your head, I guarantee it.
‘If I Could’ is a touch on the softer side. Driven by just a simple drum beat and piano for the first two minutes of the track, we’re shown the beauty and power of Kassandra’s voice. Once the guitar kicks in, however, things a get a little heavier, but not so heavy that a flute solo (by guest musician, Jeroen Goossens) can’t captivate the listener before a truly awesome guitar solo.
Having originally appeared on the band’s debut extended play Storm, ‘Uncaged’ was reviewed at the time of the release, but this song saw the most improvement of the three remakes. Featuring a half-time chorus, slightly altered guitars, a radically different keyboard solo, and a much more shreddy guitar solo, this song was given a major facelift to fit the modern Mercy Isle sound.
Like the other two remakes before it, ‘No One Will Save You’ originally appeared on the band’s debut extended play and was reviewed at the time of the release. The improvements here are extra backing vocals from Chad Novell near the end, superior production value, and more menacing death growls by Kassandra. Though I loved the original version, this is a welcomed improvement.
‘I am’ is one of the stranger tunes on the album. I say this because it stands out from the rest for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the passive-aggressive lyrics and matching tone, the melodic guitars, the eerie bass lines echoing in the background, the X-Files-like keyboard solo, or all of the above. By no means a bad tune, ‘I Am’ is somewhat of the lame duck of the album. But then again, it’s pretty hard to stand up to what’s come before it and what’s still to come.
‘Saying goodbye’ is THE ballad of the album, if not the year. Featuring the vocal talents of the lovely Amanda Somerville and driven by an enchanting keyboard, this track shows the extent of Kassandra Novell’s vocal talents and her skill as a lyricist. And though it’s a relatively simple duet with just the piano and some minor synths sprinkled in for good measure, this is without a doubt the most powerful track on the album.
‘Come to Me’ starts with a choir that hits me right in the feels. Why? Because my MATG colleagues Kolin McCormick and Tom Callahan, as well as yours truly, were given the awesome opportunity to lend our vocal “talents” to that little part of the song. Moving on, this track has a nice power metal feel to it. A shreddy guitar and an upbeat groove drive this one while Kassandra brings a great deal of passion to her vocals. And then there’s de Rooij’s synths. Whether you love or hate keyboards, they give this track a nice atmosphere that plays well with choir sections. Over all, it’s not the most technical track, save for the solo, but it’s one of my personal favorites.
Ending an album on a high note is the goal of every finale, and ‘The Ghost’ nails it! Starting with the tapping of the keyboards and some seriously catchy synths and ghostly vocals in the background, the guitar soon charges in and takes command before both Novell’s return for one last performance. Kassandra shows her control and power well throughout while Chad performs backing vocals until a lead section about halfway through allows him to shows his range better than anywhere else, especially his high notes. And just when Chad’s foray at the front ends we’re treated to the best guitar solo on the entire album. All in all, Mercy Isle set out to end this album on a high note and they accomplished their mission. ‘The Ghost’ is seeping with energy and is easily one of the best on the album.
Starting their journey as an American-Dutch band and evolving into a Dutch-American band, Mercy Isle has come a long way from their debut extended play. Perhaps it was the inclusion of renowned producer Sander Gommans and the vocal coaching of Amanda Somerville, but Mercy Isle returned with a much more European sound this time around. As much as I enjoyed Storm, Undying Fire wins the day. This was simply an outstanding album and a true testament of how a band can prevail in spite of some serious struggles (like having half your band on the other side of the world, or losing both your guitarist and drummer in a short period of time). All in all, this is without a doubt one of my favorite albums of the year. 9/10
For the review of the original Mercy Isle EP Storm, which includes in depth reviews of the original versions of ‘Storm,’ ‘Uncaged,’ and ‘No One Will Save You,” click here – https://metalatthegates.com/2015/09/29/mercy-isle-storm-ep/