• ''Risky reorientation'' - A review of 海市蜃楼 / Mirage's ''湖光山色 / Lake''

    海市蜃楼 / Mirage - 湖光山色 / Lake (2015)

    Now that was unexpected! Chinese progressive metal band Mirage pulls off quite a stunt six years after its extraordinary debut release that recalled Dream Theater's early years. The opening track ''山 Mask'' focuses on electronic samples including an overlong coda and is mostly based upon chugging nu metal riffs. This record features two keyboard players and sound effects and piano melodies are indeed much more prominent than anything else. As if that wasn't surprising enough, instead of the crystal clear vocals of their former male singer of Korean origin, we get to hear the soft and soulful vocals of a new female singer from Taiwan. Instead of getting exclusively lyrics in Mandarin Chinese, some tracks feature both Mandarin Chinese and English lyrics. But I must admit that this band truly understood what progressive music should always be like. The band is trying out new experiments instead of repeating itself and is steadily breaking new ground on this release. After an initial shock, the opener turns out to be quite diversified, entertaining and epic. It actually reminds me of a more experimental James Bond theme due to the distinctive vocal performance. After the absolutely mind-blowing last record of Tang Dynasty and now this unexpected change of style of Mirage, maybe it's a trend for contemporary Chinese bands to constantly shift and change their song writing approaches. Maybe Screaming Savior will release a darkwave record next and The Last Successor a thrash metal album.

    What else does this EP have to offer? The majestic and menacing ''十面埋伏' mixes cinematic and symphonic sounds with complex drum patterns between tribal elements and progressive rock passages. As if that wasn't enough, let's add some raw spoken word passages in the middle part that contrast the charming high vocals in the chorus and calmer parts that recall beautiful traditional Chinese music. Uplifting choirs towards the end of the tune recall indeed a Chinese musical I have recently attended. Some people might call this weird and it is but I adore it because it's courageous, exciting and completely unique. ''接龙'' is a calm and numbing tune with appeasing guitar sounds and dominant electronic lounge elements. New singer Joyce can really show her unique vocal skills in this song and she convinces from start to finish. ''光之翼'' goes back to the style of the opener with vivid electronic soundscapes and simplistic modern metal riffs leading to a harmonious chorus filled with symphonic samples and uplifting vocals. The middle section of the fourth song is the first time we actually get to hear some authentic metal music but this genre has become only one element among many others. The melodic progressive metal guitar solo kicks in before an electronic keyboard solo takes the lead again. It only last for twenty seconds or so but it sounds quite well so enjoy it while it lasts. The last new tune ''To the End'' hits a similar vein but the keyboard work is clearly more challenging and progressive while melodic guitar solos add a more gripping note to the tune. Elegant female lead vocals and appeasing male choirs performing in English in the epic chorus make this track the catchiest tune on a stunning record and end this release on a satisfactory note. The remaining four tunes are instrumental versions of the first four tracks of this release. 

    It's a challenge to appropriately rate this output because it's completely different from the magic debut album that was one of the best progressive metal releases in the past decade. While I'm slightly disappointed that the band didn't continue to play this type of music where it had immediately achieved a stunning level of sonic excellence, this new output is definitely something experimental, fresh and completely unpredictable. Even if the five new tracks sound quite diversified and even random at first contact, this record actually has a clear concept. This genre-transcending release is hold together by its soulful female vocals, its consistent progressive spirit and its numerous appeasing melodies. The band's reorientation was risky but worked successfully in my opinion. I would wholeheartedly recommend this release to fans of melodic progressive rock, harmonious electronic music and epic movie soundtracks.

    Final rating: 80%

    « ''Entertaining parody of French-Canadian rural life'' - A review of Abitabyss' ''Rural Métal''Transformation and reinvention of Chthonic's hits - A review of 閃靈 / Chthonic's ''失竊千年 / Timeless Sentence'' »
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