Artist: Iris Divine
Album Title: Mercurial
Label: Layered Reality Productions
Date of Release: 20 May 2022
I’m a little late to the party with this record, but I have my reasons. The album in question is ‘Mercurial’, the third full-length album from Virginia-based US progressive metal band and one of the main reasons I’m lagging behind is because the trio never make it easy for me. I’m in no way suggesting that they should make their music easy for reviewers, but every one of Iris Divine’s records that I have reviewed have been tricky to write. Yet again with ‘Mercurial’, I have had to take some serious time to get my thoughts in order and decide what I really think about this record. But I believe I’m finally there, and happy to commit my opinion to writing.
Comprised of the core trio of Navid Rashid (vocals, guitar, programming), Brian Dobbs (bass), and nw drummer Scott Manley, Iris Divine have chosen to explore the subject of human emotions on ‘Mercurial’, delving into quite deep ideas such as how our emotions may limit our perceptions, or change our individual or collective outlook on life. It’s definitely an album to get you thinking, so if you relish lyrics and subject matter that go beyond the basic, then ‘Mercurial’ immediately puts a tick in the box.
What’s so great about this album, is the way I which the music echoes the intelligence of the subject matter. I can now say this with some confidence having been a little on the fence early on in this listening journey. In my defence, I’ve never been the biggest fan of alternative rock and grunge, so when these genres present a significant element to Iris Divine’s music, it takes a bit of getting used to, and I needed some time to warm to it all. But then, with compositions that are equally as influenced by the likes of Rush and Kings X, alongside a flavour all of their own, it was probably only a matter of time before the prog lover in me started to feel the pull of the music and erase any doubts I had at the outset.
In fact, as I sit here now typing this review, I’m not entirely sure how I didn’t enjoy it as much to begin with. There is so much going on within the music that it feels like it should be longer than 39 minutes; the three musicians certainly like to cover a lot of ground within their compositions as the eight tracks here ably demonstrate.
Perhaps the initial reticence was caused by the first song here, ‘Bitter Bride’, because of them all, it is arguably one of the spikiest and confrontational songs I’ve heard from Iris Divine. Kicking off with a jangly sounding riff, powerful rhythms and soundbites of spoken word, it’s something of an intense opening, verging on a cacophonous wall of competing sounds. When it settles into its true rhythm, it becomes much more of a driving, up-tempo piece that introduces a grower of a melody or two in combination with Rashid’s first vocal lines. That said, the clashing sounds return alongside some caustic vocals at points to keep the listener on their toes, and under no illusion that the trio are angry and in confrontational mood. With time though, the energy of the song, as well as the great musicianship overtake all else to ultimately win me over. It will never be my favourite track on ‘Mercurial’, but it’s a grower that I now enjoy.
It doesn’t help either when the opening moments of follow-up track, ‘Silver Tongued Lie’ feature brass embellishments in the form of what I believe are trumpets, giving the song an immediate ska edge. Urgh. However, all is forgiven when I’m hit first with some muscular riffs, and then with some irresistible hooks and melodies within the song’s stunning chorus. I cannot get enough of it, it’s that good, and it acted as the catalyst to force the necessary repeat plays to get to this point. I owe it a debt of gratitude for sure.
The full force of Iris Divine’s progressive tendencies emerge in spades within ‘Thirteen’, a longer track that uses its time wisely to explore a number of different soundscapes within what feels like a darker, more brooding cloak overall. The funky bass playing, incisive but meaty riffs, and dextrous drumming within the extended mid-song instrumental passages all underline the technical credentials of the musicians, whilst the inclusion of numerous shifts in tempo, and bold keys add depth, drama, and intrigue to the song. It’s another composition that has grown on me to the point that I now really like it, and look forward to when it arrives in the running order.
Two songs that were much more instantaneous appear in the form of ‘Sapphire’ and ‘Death By Consensus’ respectively. The former skips along with a really upbeat swagger that’s infectious, as are the melodies that weave in and out of the track. The vocal effects are interesting too, as are the subtle ethnic melodies in the latter stages, both of which add further ingredients to the mix.
‘Death By Consensus’ is an instrumental track, but it’s full of energy from the very first note, seemingly unwilling to pause for breath. Happily though, this is an instrumental that grabs the attention of the listener pretty swiftly thanks to the electric performances from all three members. There are plenty of complex ideas swirling around, but at it’s heart is a slightly more simplistic melodic hard rock vibe that veers into AOR territory thanks to some delicious, warm melodies that put a smile on my face every time I listen. Of course, there are moments of gratuitous soloing by bass, drums, and guitar alike, as well as the odd foray into discordant jazz territory, but it’s never overdone, and it doesn’t get in the way of the song’s overall vibe.
The alternative rock/metal influences come to the fore with gusto within ‘Negative Seed’, albeit tempered by overt proggy vibes that are liberally sewn throughout the song. However, the angry spoken lyrics and attitude of the track nearly put me off until the bruising, groovy melodies thundered through the speakers in the second half of the song, pulling me round to their way of thinking yet again.
And that’s the story with the entirety of ‘Mercurial’ too, because, despite some early misgivings about the strength of the alternative and grungy elements, I have been won over. And not just a little bit – I’ve been won over comprehensively. There’s clearly a hugely positive chemistry within the band that shines through a lot of the material and, when coupled with the intelligent song writing, there is an awful lot to enjoy on this record. If you were a fan before, you’ll not be disappointed. And if you weren’t a fan previously, but you like high quality progressive music that’s just a little bit different, I urge you to put this high up on your list to check out. I’m not a betting man, but if I was, I’d be laying down good money that Iris Divine will be gathering a glut of new fans with ‘Mercurial’, and rightly so.
The Score of Much Metal: 90%
Check out my other 2022 reviews here:
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