Friday, March 26, 2010

Mental Home - Mirrorland EP (1994)

We may take Russian metal for granted these days, since it's long enough after the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. that the music is quite common there, and there are now a great number of bands in a great number of sub-genres (though folk, death, black and melodic death seem to be prevalent). But in the 90s, you were still hearing many fresh sounds from the nation. This was well before Arkona, mind you, or the ethnic, worldly sounds of Raxa or the prolific Senmuth. These was the days of the Blazebirth Hall black metal community (Branikald, etc), or the second decade for maturing, classic metal acts like Aria and Master. So it was quite an event when the band Mental Home arrived as a bleep on the radar, a band who had very little in common with most of the metal happening in their country, falling in more in line with the sounds of earlier Pyogenesis or Paradise Lost.

Ultimately, though, there was not a band in existence in the 90s which too closely resembled Russians, and since the band has (I'm assuming) disappeared this past decade, I haven't heard anything quite like them since. The band's debut EP Mirrorland feels like only a crudely cut gem in comparison to the sparkling jewels that grace the necks of later albums Vale or Black Art, but you can clearly hear the band's trademark mix of synthesizer and guitar to evoke waves of gothic, epic sadness, occasionally raging out to mid-paced rhythms as the guitars shed tears above the lush atmosphere, but never getting any more extreme than this, and never needing to.
Probably the one stumbling block to this earlier material would be that Sergey Dmitriev had yet to truly integrate his vocals to the sound. His words have always held an original quality due to the accent and lack of utter snarling or growling, but here he seems rather awkward coughing across the tracks, incapable of meshing with the melodic subtext.

It's not a complete distraction, but it's enough to spoil what is otherwise a pleasant introduction into the band's mythic style, music made for the sadness of a gray day or being lost in the majesty of a vast wilderness. The keyboard/guitar player here, Roman is the original, and he too would improve vastly on Vale, but his soundscapes here are enough to drive alongside the winding melodic structures without leeching from them. "Dreaming Beneath the Rain" is a slower, graceful doom which almost seems like an accessible, gothic parallel to the guitar work being used in Sweden's In Flames in the mid 90s, though they were taking place at the same time. "Amidst the Waves" is a little faster, like a prototypical folk/power metal track with a cheesy mystique conjured through the keys, and "Drowned" has an urgency that calls forth an influence from Russian classical composers.

The latter half of the EP feels much more raw by comparison, and I didn't care for the gothic, almost nu-metal chug & breakdown accompanied by squealing that is the title track "Mirrorland". "Cemetary Flowers" is better, with a nice melodic guitar that complements some of Sergey's better vocals here in Mirrorland. The "Outro" is simply synthesizer, piano and the sampling of birds and nature. I'm not sure if it's just the recording I have, but it feels as if these tracks might have been recorded separately, or just a bad transfer.

Mirrorland is not strong enough that I'd track it down if I were looking for something fresh and new. The songs are somewhat mediocre, and the vocals undefined, but the EP operates on a 'would have been, could have been, may yet be' foundation from which Mental Home would very shortly elevate themselves on the great debut album Vale, a wondrous offering that captures a mystique rare in metal. It's rather a shame the band isn't discussed more widely these days, because the potential they developed in their prime was quite staggering, though they'd fizzle out as soon as the big 2k.

Verdict: Indifference [5/10] (suddenly I hear the voice)

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