Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Mental Home - Upon The Shores of Inner Seas

Mental Home - Upon The Shores of Inner Seas
2000, The End Records

There are elements surrounding this release that will doubtlessly have certain reviewers crying for a re-evaluation of this band's 'cult appeal': the elegant cover art and layout (good job, Andreas), the stellar ultra-clear production, the defensiveness on the part of the label in trying to categorize this release as being 'still metal' (not such a good job, Andreas), and last but certainly not least, the kiss-of-death in 'true' circles: a distribution/licensing deal with the bloated Century Media. Just for the record, I know that CM, obese giants astride the world scene as they are, have made many signing mistakes in the past (many of which still reside comfortably on the label when they should have been tossed by the wayside long ago - I know, harsh...but also true). They also have scored a lot of sweet deals which people on this side of the pond should be thankful for - not the least being the wide domestic release of Mayhem, Emperor and Gorgoroth. My feelings, politically, on Century Media are mixed...but most of the time I really just don't care. Who would be annoyed at the umpteenth EyeHateGod remix when the same company is putting Malicious titles in your corner megastore? You have to take the good with the bad, I suppose. Enough of that for the time being.

As I tried to make clear in my earlier review of Mental Home's 'Black Art', I feel that a band of this caliber and talent really doesn't have to justify their music on any level, least of all to ignorant music 'journalists', as they are following a program and method of progression that is completely original, and they are far enough out of the spotlight to remove any notions of 'commercialism' from their detractor's criticism. Whether or not this is something that other writers will be able to perceive and/or understand is another matter. At first I was put off the songs on this record because of the clean production, but when I sat down and really took the time to listen to the melodies and the messages within the music I concluded that my initial unease was nothing other than a defective defensive reflex. The guitar tones have been cleaned up a little, the keyboard is a little more prevalent (especially in the wide-ranging 'washes' where the synths spread vast melodic landscapes over the rhythm section), and the vocals have been changed a little to suit the new songs, but that is really all that has been modified. The Mental Home FormulaTM is still very much intact.

Part of that formula is their concentration on building evocative songs around very strong, memorable melodies. As I said in my earlier review, I believe this band is one of the most talented in the world when it comes to writing emotionally passionate, driving, aggressive melodies (sometimes sounding almost like a cross between Amorphis and Dissection, if you can believe that) and while their music never collapses into a downright morose doom crawl, it is almost always filled with a tangible sense of melancholy and loss. This album is not different in any way. Listen to the almost-instrumental fifth song on this album, 'Against My Will', if you need convincing: it is the heaviest Mental Home song I have ever heard, pacing deliberately through a blasting opening to a woe-drenched epic chorus section, organ fills, bass-plucking transitions, expertly stirring solos (excellent lead work, Sergey!), tremelo-picked main riffs (2:51), and heavy-handed crunching (3:30) in the middle. Intense.

Almost all of these songs are very strong, however. Take the opening 'Downstairs' with its short intro of an orchestra tuning up (damnit, I thought of that years ago, they got to it before me) launching into a distortion-soaked guitar and keyboard duel through descending melodies that seem to actually fall through space, collapsing the choruses in upon themselves; the expertly-constructed follower 'Late to Revise' with has some of the best melodies of the entire album: both the opening/main lead (a supremely moving selection of ten notes repeated four times with a small variation) that sets the mood perfectly or the subtle chromatics of the keyboards playing a complementary run through the slow sections. The third song, 'Eternal Moan', is the selection, I think, that will have most people sit up and take notice, as it starts off with an elegant subdued piano piece (which lasts all of 45 seconds) and then lurches into life with quick-strumming guitars reminescent of punk bands more than anything else, combined with lead and keyboard contributions that I can only describe as being Uber Pop Populi: meaning filled with that sugary Asiatic melodic sense that Russian bands seem to have taken as their calling card - a sense of melody that combines totally obscure references with the most blatant atmospheres. Strange, to say the least. This can be explained, I believe, by pointing to the overwhelming influence Asiatic sensibilities have had on the folk music of Russia - it is a country that stretches from West to East, remember. Or maybe not, I don't know. I would like to hear more, however.

This band deserves to be one of the most highly-lauded in the genre, and one of the most successful as well. I can only hope that the world soon decides to wake up and listen to what is happening in Russia, as this band is spearheading a musical movement that has been slowly boiling over for some time now.