Merchants Vice - Amber

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Just For Kicks Music
Catalog Number: MVCD01
Format: CD
Total Time: 63:43:00

One of the reasons I fell in love with progressive rock, was the beautiful arrangements that were used. Not stuffing your creativity in three minutes, of which one minute was repeated two times, but rather bands taking their time to work out an arrangement and turn it into the most amazing music you have ever heard. Among all the releases, many were more metal orientated. So imagine my happiness when I finally hear a band that has almost the same level as, for example, Knight Area has. This band is Merchants Vice. Formed in 1997, the band had to take a long road to get to their first album, Amber, but the result is well worth the effort!

Founding members are Les Wardle (vocals), Mark English (keys) and Chas Allen (drums) and their line up was completed with Paul Brown (Janison Edge) on bass and Nick Martin (Medicine Man) on guitars. The music of Merchants Vice is neo-prog, with many references to bands such as Arena, IQ, Camel. Vocalist Wardle reminds me very much of Maurits Kalsbeek, the vocalist of the now disbanned Dutch prog band Egdon Heath. Maybe he is not the most technical perfect singer, but I find his voice typical for the neo-prog that I discovered some 10 years ago (and still love, although those were mainly Dutch bands, only some of them are still around today, sadly).

With the exception of "Dark Before The Dawn," everything clocks well above 6 minutes, with two even topping 11 minutes. Already in the opener "Reason To Change" convinces me of the qualities of this band, especially English, whose keyboard arrangements define the prog in the songs, with great solos. At times the tempo really slows down, such as in "Glass Child" and "Intoxicated," and that is where you hear the shortcomings of the singer a bit, but the latter one knows some great instrumental breaks and changes, and the mix between vocals and music is very good here. They manage to keep the songs exciting. An absolute highlight is "The Hollow Man," for its lush keys and excellent guitar work by Martin. I did not mention the rhythm section, Allen / Brown, but without their solid foundation, this album would not have been so great as it is. Noteworthy, the baseline in the aforementioned "The Hollow Man"!!

The guitars are a bit back in the mix, as are the keys at times. This is something I hope they will change with future releases, as then it would be much more fun to listen to this album. However, Amber is a stunning album, with strong prog songs and a fantastic sound, the band did the production themselves. An independent release I'd like to add to the list of Casual Silence, Knight Area, Kayak, Vox Tempus and Mindgames. All excellent prog bands who have released top albums, with a high quality packaging! If you are into (neo) progressive rock, you definitely MUST hear this one! I do hope they will improve some elements (mainly in the mix), but nevertheless I find this an essential album.

Similar bands: Camel, Edgon Heath, Knight Area

[This review originally appeared August 2004 at the ProgPower Online review site -ed.]
Reason To Change / Storyteller / Glass Child / Intoxicated / The Hollow Man / End Of Story / Dark Before The Dawn / All Our Lives

Les Wardle -vocals
Mark English -keys
Chas Allen - drums
Paul Brown (Janison Edge) - bass
Nick Martin (Medicine Man) -guitars

A Story To Tell (ep) (2001)
Amber (2003)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: November 27th 2004
Reviewer: Marcel Haster
Artist website:
Hits: 1189
Language: english


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