Album Review – Of Blood and Mercury / Strangers EP (2019)

A mix of dark pop and ambient with a touch of synthetic nostalgia from the 80’s by a Belgian duo not afraid of experimenting in music, giving us a hint of the concepts and harmonies to be feature on their upcoming album.

Brought into being in early 2018 in the city of Brussles, Belgium by vocalist Michelle Nocon (Bathsheba, Leviathan Speaks, Serpentcult) and multi-instrumentalist Olivier Lomer-Wilbers (Enthroned, Emptiness), Avantgarde Noir Rock project Of Blood and Mercury is not exactly what you would expect from the fusion of musicians from extreme bands such as Enthroned, Pro-Pain, Bathsheba and Luminance, but that doesn’t mean it’s bland or tiresome. Quite the contrary, Michele and Olivier united their creativity in a very vibrant and detailed musical style that could be described as a mix of dark pop and ambient, with a touch of synthetic nostalgia from the 80’s.

As their first adventure through the realms of avantgarde music, Of Blood and Mercury are offering us an enthralling three-track EP entitled Strangers, where Michelle and Olivier have the support of bassist David Alexandre Parquier (Soror Dolorosa) and drummer Jonas Sanders (Emptiness, Pro-Pain, Resistance) to help them give life to their very distinct project. Recorded in the caves of Brussels’ Blackout Studio, Strangers gives us a hint of the concepts and harmonies to be feature on their upcoming 10-track album to be released later this year, with the melancholic tones of Michelle’s voice beautifully depicting the shadows that drag the wonders of nature to their ghostly forms.

Ethereal sounds ignite the mesmerizing Strangers, where you’ll feel embraced by Michelle’s vocals while she recites the song’s delicate lyrics (“Dusty words remember a lost cause. A feeling of a half filled glass. / Half poison, half wine. Half bitter, half sweet. some steel, some rust, some victory.”), with an extra kick added to the musicality thanks to the precise drums by Jonas. Put differently, this is first-class heavier-than-usual Dark Wave penetrating deep inside our hearts and souls, which can also be said about the following tune, titled Walk the Void. Inspired by the music by Enya with a modern and melodic twist, Of Blood and Mercury generate an inebriating atmosphere throughout the entire song, with Olivier doing a great job with his precise synths, keys and guitar lines. Furthermore, it definitely feels like the band is focusing a lot more on the atmosphere rather than just the music itself, and the final result is absolutely amazing. And the last song of the EP, Estranged, continues to wander between the rock and electronic genres in a very gentle and serene way, inviting us to simply close our eyes and let the hypnotic waves crafted by Michelle, Oliver & Co. invade our senses. In addition, some people like to say that musicians are the poets of the modern era we’re living in, and based on the lyrics crafted by Michelle and Olivier that statement is more than valid (“Estranged one, / in oblivion. / The disease has sprung. / Wear the mask of Cain. / ‘Cause you still haven’t learned to exit the dream. / And I still feel numb. / Estranged one, / in oblivion. / Symmetry gone wrong, / infertile brain.”).

You can listen to the entire EP by clicking HERE, follow Of Blood and Mercury on Facebook, and obviously show your true support to this classy duo by purchasing their debut EP directly from their BandCamp page. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for a full-bodied release by Of Blood and Mercury in the coming months, and until then we can satisfy our craving by listening to Strangers again, again and again, letting our minds and souls wander through the vast and melancholic lands of the distinct Avantgarde Noir Rock presented to us all by two veterans of the extreme music scene who are not afraid of experimenting and trying new musical styles and nuances, consequently showing the world there is no such thing as boundaries for musicians who create music from the bottom of their hearts.

Best moments of the album: Strangers.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2019 Independent

Track listing
1. Strangers 4:54
2. Walk the Void 5:30
3. Estranged 4:58

Band members
Michelle Nocon – vocals, programming
Olivier Lomer-Wilbers – guitars, keyboards, programming

Guest musicians
David Alexandre Parquier – bass
Jonas Sanders – drums, percussion

Advertisements

Concert Review – Guns N’ Roses (Rogers Centre, Toronto, ON, 07/16/2016)

Do you know where you are? You’re in Toronto, baby! Wake up! Time to die!

OPENING ACT: Billy Talent

GNR_Toronto_2016I must confess I’ve never felt so happy in my life for missing an opening act like what happened this Saturday, when I “couldn’t” arrive on time at the Rogers Centre to watch Canadian Rock N’ Roll band BILLY TALENT opening for Guns N’ Roses on their sole Canadian concert from the colossal Guns N’ Roses: Not In This Lifetime… Tour. I had the unpleasantness of watching their lame and tiresome concert once back in 2011, when for a reason beyond my knowledge they played AFTER classic bands such as Exodus, Death Angel, Testament, Mastodon and, believe it or not, the almighty Slayer, and were obviously booed throughout their entire “performance”. Whoever had that brilliant idea of inserting such a hideous group among so many real metal bands might have been involved in the stupid decision of placing them as the opening act for Guns N’ Roses instead of the excellent Alice In Chains, the iconic The Cult or even the not-so-bad Lenny Kravitz, as it’s happening in every city Guns N’ Roses are playing except for Toronto. The only thing I know about their performance is that drummer Aaron Solowoniuk was replaced by Jordan Hastings (Alexisonfire), which doesn’t really mean anything at all for any regular fan of Guns N’ Roses. Their setlist is below, but why bother?

Setlist
Devil in a Midnight Mass
This Suffering
Louder Than the DJ
Rusted from the Rain
River Below
Surprise Surprise
Afraid of Heights
Devil on My Shoulder
Red Flag
Fallen Leaves
Try Honesty
Viking Death March

Band members
Benjamin Kowalewicz – lead vocals
Ian D’Sa – guitar, vocals
Jonathan Gallant – bass guitar, backing vocals
Jordan Hastings – drums, percussion

GUNS N’ ROSES

IMG_1542Who would imagine that after 20 years Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan would not only be reunited on stage, but still kicking fuckin’ ass as if they had never split up in the beginning of the 90’s? I’m pretty sure the entire crowd of over 50,000 gunners who were at the Rogers Centre this Saturday will agree with me that GUNS N’ ROSES were almost flawless during the whole concert, blasting their biggest classics from the 80’s and 90’s blended with some “newer” material from the controversial (but good) Chinese Democracy, their latest studio album. To be fair, after they played It’s So Easy, Mr. Brownstone, Chinese Democracy and Welcome to the Jungle, I was already satisfied enough to go home so good those songs were. Let’s say the only thing that didn’t make anyone happy were all those despicable scalpers trying to extort good people who just wanted to see one the best Hard Rock/Hair Metal band of all time playing. I truly hope very few people ended up getting their tickets from those scammers, and this is only going to end when absolutely NO ONE buys tickets from unauthorized people anymore, but you know how diehard fans are, right?

Anyway, getting back to what really matters, the (official) price paid for the tickets was definitely worth every penny. The whole band was in such perfect sync it’s hard to point any issues with their concert, and except for minor changes I would personally make to their setlist (which might have been already perfect for many) everything else went beyond my expectations. The “least famous” members of the band (Frank Ferrer on drums and Melissa Reese on keyboards, or whatever she was doing on stage) did their job, provinding the necessary support for the other guys to shine. Keyboardist Dizzy Reed (don’t ask me why they have three keyboardists, including Axl) and guitarist Richard Fortus proved why they’ve been with Axl for such a long time, probably even more time than Slash and Duff themselves, especially Richard who was spot-on with his riffs and solos to the point he wasn’t overshadowed at all by the one and only Slash. Quite the contrary, they make an amazing guitar duo together. However, no matter how much I praise those musicians, we know everyone was at the Rogers Centre to see the “heart”, the “soul” and the “blood” of Guns N’ Roses.

Starting with the “blood”, known as bassist Duff McKagan, he couldn’t be more physical and dedicated to the music he plays. Wearing a Lemmy T-shirt and having a Prince sticker on his bass guitar (a nice tribute to two unique musicians, with only the black star by David Bowie “missing”), Duff was on fire with his rumbling bass lines and awesome backing vocals. And when he was the lead singer, like in their cover version for Attitude, by the Misfits, he showed all his love for Punk Rock and how charismatic he is.

IMG_1541Axl Rose, who will always be the “heart” of Guns N’ Roses, surprised even the most skeptical fan with an absolutely incredible performance on vocals, singing each and every song as if he was the same Axl from Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion. What he did on my favorite Guns N’ Roses songs of all time, the superb Estranged, You Could Be Mine and Civil War (how can the lyrics for this song still be so meaningful after more than 20 years?), was a thing of beauty. He kept running around the stage, danced a lot, wore some almost-classic outfits from the 80’s and smiled to the fans all the time, and by seeing that I finally realized his troubled years might be dead and gone for good. When they played the beautiful ballad This I Love, the touching Sorry and the fun Better, songs where Axl is truly needed as they had zero contribution from Slash or Duff when composed, we could witness a focused and passionate artist that has found peace and is now on the right path to reconquer the world of music. Even when Axl talked about their small incident at the border, when the police found a gun with them, he didn’t get angry or anything like that, simply mentioning it was a funny moment and that “it wasn’t his gun”.

Lastly, what can I say about the “soul” of the band, the unparalleled Slash? That guy is getting better and better as time goes by, delivering his unique riffs and even more unique solos for the total delight of every fan of the band. His guitar duet with Richard Fortus, his beyond stunnig solo in November Rain and his classic riffs and solos in Sweet Child O’ Mine led many fans to an amazing state of ecstasy, a sensation many had to hold for decades to feel again. Let’s just hope Slash remains with Guns N’ Roses for many years to come, because that’s the place where he truly belongs in music. Well, as everything must come to an end, after the masterpieces Nightrain, Patience and Paradise City, together with a cover version for The Seeker, by The Who (which could have been easily replaced by another classic like “Think About You”, “Used To Love Her”, “Don’t Cry” or “Yesterdays”, or even by “Madagascar”), it was time for Axl, Slash, Duff & Co. to say goodbye to the awesome Toronto crowd after almost three hours of concert and get ready for the next city. No one knows if they’re coming back to Canada soon, but based on the reaction of the fans and the smile on the faces of each band member when the show was over, I doubt it will take another 20 years for us to see those guys in action again.

Setlist
Looney Tunes Theme (Intro)
The Equalizer (Harry Gregson-Williams song)
It’s So Easy
Mr. Brownstone
Chinese Democracy
Welcome to the Jungle
Double Talkin’ Jive
Estranged
Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
Rocket Queen
You Could Be Mine
Attitude (Misfits cover)
This I Love
Civil War
Coma
Speak Softly Love (The Godfather Love Theme)
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Sorry
Better
Out Ta Get Me
Slash & Richard Fortus Guitar Duet
November Rain
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover)
Nightrain

Encore:
Patience
The Seeker (The Who cover)
Paradise City

Band members
Axl Rose – lead vocals, piano, keyboards
Slash – lead guitar, backing vocals
Duff McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals
Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, percussion, backing vocals
Richard Fortus – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals
Melissa Reese – synthesizers, keyboards, programming
Frank Ferrer – drums