Mirage is an atmospheric, emotional, and technical progressive rock/metal band from China. One could easily call them a Chinese version of bands such as Dream Theater or The Last Successor. It took the band ten years to record their first record, but it was worth the wait. Soon after, the singer quit and was replaced by a female vocalist from Taiwan, and I was quite curious to hear what was to come next from them.
The band opens its self-titled album with its best song: “Mirage” from the album Mirage by the band Mirage. It’s a calm and atmospheric ballad with warm-hearted vocals and impressive but coherent changes. This being said, all vocals are sung in Mandarin Chinese (of course), and I translated the band name and song titles for coherency. We get a few almost jazz-oriented parts, faster metal passages, progressive rock keyboard solos in the key of Genesis or Yes, layered vocal passages, and a few gracious female vocal parts in the laid back parts. In the end, the record ends on a very peaceful note, and the vocals are a true tearjerker. Despite its nine minutes of running time, the song never gets boring and is probably one of my favorite progressive metal songs ever.
The rest of the album is strong but can’t quite reach the quality of the opener. The second song, “Lonely Journey”, comes very close though. It has more of a vivid space rock atmosphere that would be a highlight on any Ayreon record. It convinces with an amazing keyboard performance, a good rhythm section, and melodic vocals. In only four minutes and a half, the band integrates more emotions and ideas than other bands or projects do in entire overlong conceptual records. “Money” experiments with a more direct vocal performance and crunchier, more modern, and sometimes even industrial metal-oriented riffs. The track is a nice variation, and the epic and almost Tang Dynasty-influenced chorus is the cherry on the cake (even though I prefer the first two, calmer songs).
“Unreal Empty Shells” starts with dramatic orchestral sounds, and sounds like something from the soundtrack of a horror film. Once the vocals set in, the track gets more experimental and modern as it blends the styles of prior tracks togethe – blending original ideas like a fast, power metal guitar solo and a punching drum solo. The track definitely has its moments, but not all parts really fit together. The banal and basic vocal performance and the simple riffs don’t please me that much.
“The Memory Of Times” is the longest track on the album, with a running time of over nine minutes. This song is completely instrumental, and even though it’s a track filled with changes from seventies’ rock passages in the key of Deep Purple up to virtuous guitar solos that sound pulled from a Fates Warning CD, I’m missing some vocals to carry this long song. However, even though I’m not a fan of instrumentals, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a while. As it’s hard to convince me with this approach, I’m aware of the fact that the band actually did a very good job on here.
“Heaven” starts with modern electronic elements and strong bass riffs before things get more atmospheric in a dark and disturbing way. The dark vocals feel a little bit too direct, while simplistic groove metal riffs meet dominant keyboard sounds. This mixture sounds a little bit odd and too modern to me, and the song is rather hard to digest. The strong parts are what I identify as pre-chorus and chorus, where the vocalist can finally show what he is capable of, while he gets supported by majestic backing vocals. “I’m Still Behind You” is a calmer keyboard-driven ballad with powerful vocals supported by warm violin sounds. Again, the band simply sounds greatest in these laid back and magical moments. It’s a song for longing or romantic hours and a true tearjerker. This is really a well-kept secret, and one of the most profound moments on the album. It would have been a perfect close to the album, but the band chose instead to end things with the shortest song – “Water”. It’s another calm isntrumental track with excellent guitar work, but it’s more vivid than the previous piece. The orchestral parts sound a little bit artificial and unclean on here, and I think a better production or higher budget would have helped.
In the end, Mirage delivers us a very well thought and emotional debut record, with fifty minutes of diverse and professional musicianship. The calmer songs on here are absolutely outstanding, while some tracks need several spins to open up (though I suppose that’s just normal for a progressive metal record). If a more famous western band had put out a record of similar quality, it would have been called a convincing return to the basics, I’d guess. That’s why it’s time to spread the name of these Chinese talents. Fans of bands like Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and the like need to look into this.