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Agents Of Mercy


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3 stars I love this album! It is simply beautiful. It has grown on me through repeated listens, and now I really have a great appreciation for each song. First, a small background on the album, it is mainly the brainchild of one of my favorite prog musicians of all time: Roine Stolt. His signature sound is all over this album. Another notable feature of this album is the singing of Nad Sylvan. I'll admit, his voice took me a little getting used to, but once I did, it really enhanced the music. His voice is a cool cross between Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Fish- 3 of my favorite singers. He has a lot of character in his voice that really comes out in the compositions of this album.

The album is a little more laid back than your average prog album, but I love it that way. It gives the album a really cool mood that is consistent throughout. And, don't be misled, there are moments when it rocks hard. It is a brilliant combination of classic Genesis, Beatles, and the signature Flower Kings sound that comes with Roine Stolt's songwriting. It makes for a rather enjoyable listen.

The title track kicks off this album with some tinkling piano and Nad's signature vocals. It is a brilliant piece that moves seamlessly. "Unwanted Brother" took a little more getting used to, but once I did, I found myself in love with this song. I love the "like a thief in the night" part and how the harmonies really fit together. It is just really fun, calm little song. "Afternoon Skies" is a delightful song strengthened by some strong acoustic guitar playing. It is really peaceful with wonderful vocals. Then comes one of my favorite songs of the whole album "Heroes and Beacons". It starts out softly before it builds into a powerhouse of a song. It is full on prog in all its glory at its best moments, with great mellotron and guitar playing from Roine. I do have to make a special note of the guitar solo from Roine Stolt towards the end of the song, it is beautful and tasteful. Just another reason why Roine Stolt is one of my favorite guitarists. I just find myself captivated by the song from start to finish. Another captivating song for me is the next one, "Jesus on the Barricades". It is a slow ballad, but it is emotionally powerful and features some excellent basswork from Roine's bandmate, Jonas Reingold. It is one of my favorite moments of the album and a strong contender for best song of the year.

What I like about "Wait For the Sun" is that we finally get to hear the wonderful vocals of Roine Stolt. I've always really liked his voice. "A Different Sun" is another delightful song with some big prog sounds and another wonderful guitar solo from Roine. "Ready to Fly" is another song with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. It is a wonderful acoustic piece that is really uplifting and fun. "People Like Us" is also a great song with a bouncy, fun melody. I must admit, it is probably the least memorable song on the album for me. This leads to my favorite song of the album "A Soldier's Tale" that has everything I love in prog rock. There are even some great horns in the mix that really enhance the whole song. It is a powerful song that is beautiful, rocks, and is extremely proggy, often all at the same time. I can't express how much I love this song. I love the lyrics too, about a soldier who feels guilty about killing in war and never gets rid of that guilt no matter how much he is forgiven by God. It is brilliant. "Bomb Inside Her Heart" is another fun, poppier tune that is really catchy with a lot of good acoustic guitar. This leads to the awesome conclusion of the album, "Mercy and Mercury". This song brings the album full circle with some brilliant rocking bits along with call backs to the title track. I really love this track and think it is the perfect ending to a wonderful album.

As you can tell, I'm having a difficult time really putting my feelings for this album into words. I really love the laid back mood of the album, a great soundtrack to spring and summer. There is a lot of great acoustic moments, which makes sense since Roine Stolt originally intended for this album to be an acoustic solo album. But, there are also a lot of great prog moments that really call back Genesis at their best. Nad Sylvan also has managed to really capture the mood of this piece with his vocals. This album gets a good rating merely for the joy it gives me.

Report this review (#226447)
Posted Monday, July 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars When I first noticed the existence of this album (homepage of The Flower Kings) I was very intrigued. So far all solo activities of TFK members as well as sideprojects like Karmakanic had proved to be satisfying to say the least so I knew I had to check out Agents of Mercy as well. After first few listenings I wasn't exited at all but maybe it was a grower, you never know.

We're quite a few spins further now but I still can't detect any real enthusiasm within myself I have to say. I'm afraid this is the first underwhelming project of my Swedish heroes. It's not that I want to be negative about it, on the contrary but it is what it is and I'm afraid there's no second layer in the music, something that I will have to discover by listening many more times.

Initially I wanted to do this album song by song but I decided not to. There's not much to say about them all. So I will review it more in general.

Biggest difference with The Flower Kings is the absence of Tomas Bodin and Hasse Froberg and they are replaced by Biggo Zelfries and Ned Sylvan. And here we have the substance of the problem I'm afraid. Maybe it's not really fair to compare them with TFK but on the other hand half of that band is in Agents of Mercy and they recommended this project on their own website so they had this coming to be fair. Anyway, Ned Sylvan is on itself not a bad vocalist (those who love Gabriel and his clones will love his voice) but all things considered my personal preference is clearly with Froberg and the comparison between Bodin and Zelfries is even more unbalanced. Zelfries is hardly detectable on this album and Bodin is almost the heart of The Flower Kings so there you go: in a nutshell the reason why I'm so unimpressed with AoM.

The songs aren't really to write home about either. There are twelve of them and roughly spoken the second half of the album is really better than the first half. To be more specific: I like no. 4, 7, 9 and 12 and also no.10. The other seven are mediocre for the standard the Swedes have set for themselves over the years. My personal favorite is People like Us which brings at least a sparkle amongst the mostly gloomy and dull mood of the album sound.

All in all a slightly disappointing effort for me but again: that's when I compare it to TFK. And it's hard for me to see it as a stand alone project without reference and then judge. Maybe then I would be less harsh. But as it is I can only come up with this review and judgement. And conclude with a cry from the heart: I want the sabbatical of TFK to be over ! I WANT MY FLOWER KINGS BACK !!!

Report this review (#226579)
Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Prog muzak?

Well, not really, but there are times on this album when this thought comes into my mind. There is a mellowness and softness to a lot of this that seems very muzak like, kind of mushy I guess. Okay, enough with the technical terminology :-)

This album has been a grower I must say. There are things about it I enjoy, like the heavy Genesis vibe on several songs, the more folksy tunes, and of course Roine's guitar. But it does seem to lack the spark of most of his projects. I think a lot of the mellowness is down to the fact that it started as an acoustic folky type project and grew into a more prog one. The inclusion of various big names (Pat Mastelotto, Jimmy Keegan) seems to have little impact on the overall sound. The mysterious Biggo Zelfries strikes me as sounding quite a lot like Tomas Bodin, but there has been no word yet as to who this person really is (internet searches yield absolutely no reference to anyone by this name, except for references to this very album).

Afternoon skies is a good example of what the album may have originally been intended to sound like, and it's a great song with a very Cat Stevens vibe (reinforced by Nad's vocals sounding very much like Cat on this track). The Genesis vibe is strong on the title track, a very nice symphonic number with Nad sounding very much like Peter Gabriel. Heroes & Beacons is a great mini-epic with the Genesis sound in full flight, but of course being a Roine project the Flower Kings vibe is also included in fair measure. A great track. A Different Sun and A Soldiers Tale are, along with the final track, the other proggy numbers. A Soldiers Tale in particular is another great dose of the Genesis vibe with some lovely melodies and guitar from Roine.

The rest of the songs don't really do a lot for me, with The Unwanted Brother being my least favorite on the album and possibly my least favorite thing Roine has ever written, with it's awkward melody and uninteresting progressions. The songs Roine sings actually don't appeal to me much, as he doesn't sound as good as he usually does on them (the intro on Waiting For The Sun being the worst singing I've ever heard him do). This is unusual as I normally love his vocals.

On the whole, this is a pleasant and even at times beautiful album, but fails to really hold up the standard that we usually expect from a Roine Stolt project. I am still looking forward to seeing the live show, but this album will not be in heavy rotation like most FK related projects usually are for me. I'll give it a 3.5, because it is a good album with some lovely songs and I really like Nad's voice and the Genesis vibe that permeates the best tracks. So 3 stars for the archives, a good album and worth checking out if you like Roine's other bands and projects.

Report this review (#226702)
Posted Tuesday, July 14, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
2 stars Being a big fan of The Flower Kings I'm naturally intrigued by any side project featuring Roine Stolt. Agents Of Mercy is largely a collaboration between Stolt and Nad Sylvan of Unifaun though also backed by some heavyweight friends including drummers Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Zoltan Csorsz (ex Flower Kings) and bassist Jonas Reingold (Flower Kings).

With this kind of pedigree I was expecting great things from Agents Of Mercy. After numerous plays I'm still totally underwhelmed by The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight. Naturally the playing is excellent though I'm not mad about Sylvan's vocals whom I would imagine for most people are somewhat of an acquired taste. The music bears all the hallmarks of The Flower Kings symphonic prog, not surprising considering half the band is here but in their less inspired moments. What this music lacks is strong hooks, I was longing to hear something memorable that I could remember after the album had finished playing but even after half a dozen listens or more very little makes a lasting impression.

There are a few moments that rise above the mediocrity like Heroes & Beacons but in the main it's a fairly low key affair, the music plodding along without any spark or excitement to lift it; a real shame considering the capabilities of the players involved. It's quite a frustrating listen like on A Different Sun where the instrumental opening sounds promising only to drop into another uninspiring vocal section. A return instrumental section lifts things a bit but it's too little too late.

Stolt has been involved in much excellent music over the years but Agents Of Mercy is the least satisfying of his projects to date. I for one won't be disappointed if this remains the only album from this collaboration.

Report this review (#226829)
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Prog Specialist
3 stars I have the luck of being a close friend of a guy who loves Prog and buys everything new he sees, and sells the albums he doesn't like very cheap, so when he offered me his recently bought copy of "The Fading Ghosts of Twilight" in 5 bucks, I grabbed it, despite I'm not a fan of THE FLOWER KINGS or UNIFAUN.

My first impression was that the band lacks of personality, but the ideas and sound are far above average, also liked the vocals that sounded like a combination of Pete Gabriel, Phil Collins, Fish and Matthew Parmenter, plus the excellent keyboards by Biggo Zelfries, his approach to the mini-moog and Mellotron is simply impressive as we all know.

The album starts with an excellent song, "The Fading Ghosts of Twilight" it has everything you can expect from a title track, the dramatic keyboards and mysterious vocals combine perfectly, even when the changes are not as radical as I expected from musicians of his level, the structure is quite interesting, the drumming is simply fantastic, a smile could be seen in my face while listing the good opener.

"The Unwanted Brother" is less impressive, the sound is excessively reminiscent of MARILLION, the power explosions of Roine in the guitar are probably what I liked more, too repetitive for my taste.

"Afternoon Skies" makes me think in "A Trick of the Tail", not that is too similar, but has that friendly and warm atmosphere that defined Collins GENESIS debut, the acoustic guitar played in an atmosphere style is pretty nice, not a masterpiece but good enough.

"Heroes & Beacons" is an interesting mini epic, starts soft and melancholic, flowing gently somehow in a transitional style between ATOTT and W&W, but about the third minute the interesting sections start, good interplay between Roine's guitar and Biggo that lead to a new soft passage, and again to an explosive section, following with this changes until the end of the song, again a highlight of the album.

"Jesus in the Barricades" sounds more like three men era GENESIS, if it wasn't for the excellent piano and Mellor would be a good moment to press the skip button, something I recommend to do when you reach "Waiting for the Sun", a track that bored me from the first to the last note.

"A Different Sun" has a very promising start with a great instrumental interplay, but sadly is only a mirage, the vocal section is just boring and uninspired, seems the band is unable to find a defined personality. becoming predictable and boring by moments.

Well. at least in "Ready to fly".the vocals are different, Stolt's voice is a good change, not that Nad sounds bad, but the mood was excessively similar in every track, good change, sadly the good moments are not too long, "People Like Us" is another good moment to press the skip button, sounds like a bunch of GENESIS clones playing some sort of soft Motown, very disappointing.

"A Soldier's Tale" is a hit and miss track, some brilliant moments and others that can only be describe as anodyne, again the instrumental passages in which Roine and Biggo dare to interplay are the ones that save the song.

"Bomb Inside Her Heart" is a good change, he acoustic feeling and jazzy drumming with some Flamenco overtones are very pleasant, which leads us to "Mercy & Mercury", along with the opener the best material AGENTS OF MERCY have recorded, a bright, powerful and imaginative song, strong from star to end.

Never before today I been so afraid to rate an album, because when I'm before a good or bad album, I have no problem to rate it, being that my hands don't shake when I have to give one or five stars, but "The Fading Ghosts of Twilight" is a real problem, sounds brilliant for moments and completely lack of personality on others, all the musicians are extremely talented, but their work as a team is just average, so I will have to go with 3 stars that would be 2.5 if the system of Prog Archives would allow it..

Report this review (#230297)
Posted Thursday, August 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Errors and Omissions Team
3 stars First I was pleased. Then I was disappointed. Finally, I'm somewhere where I wished I will never be. It's like these cycles, I was almost afraid to listen to this album, because what I could hear. First, title track has it. Terrible beginning (which I first liked, or made myself believe that I like), while it gives me creeps when hearing this sharply sung "TIK-TOK" (it doesn't sound like tick-tock), but fortunately, situation will improve later.

Sp phase of blind admiring and unrational hating is gone, I can write these words now. "Unwanted Brother" last lines reminds me one TFK song, where it would continue with ""and holy rolling stone"", really the same situation, same feeling. Acoustic Flowers, example of good track is for example "Afternoon Skies". this light side of prog is intriguing, almost pop like songs, but because of almost acoustic version, you can hear every instrument clearly, so experience is even better. "A Soldier Tale" is another great and also long song. Great probably because it's very in TFK szyle, which I sub-consciously seeks. In fact, you can compare these two bands, only there is different singer as lead vocal force + there is more of piano work.

3(+), but no more. I can't give 4 stars to record I'm afraid of. There are things (believe me, maybe it's voice of Nad Sylvan, maybe recycling of things that make The Flower Kings) that I can't bear and enjoy it fully. I know that this may sounds silly and trust me, it's weird situation for me also, I never did such thing. Because of it and also because I know that a lot of things here are good, I don't dare to give less.

Report this review (#237838)
Posted Sunday, September 6, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars Agents Of Mercy is the latest side project of Flower Kings guitarist Roine Stolt. I am generally a fan of everything he does so I was excited about this latest venture of his. I also consider myself a casual fan of neo-prog (I like plenty of what Marillion and IQ have done). While there are a few glimpses of good music here, the majority falls disappointingly flat. In order to not sound repetitive I'll only review songs I like or was indifferent to. Pretty much everything else drags on far too long, has nothing happening musically (or if it does, the music is pretty much lifted from previous Flower Kings' work), and has atrocious vocals by Nad.

The title track gives you a false hope of a good to great album lying ahead. It starts off with a chilly tone created by a hollow-sounding piano and Nad's vocals. Things are slightly cheered up with the introduction of the guitar and drums at the 1 minute mark but the original mood returns after 30 seconds. A constant shifting between these two moods occurs for the first four minutes but this movement overstays its welcome by about a minute. Next comes a two minute section with subdued playing all around to create a menacing atmosphere which works out well but still overstays its welcome by a bit. Lastly we have a reprisal of the first movement which is the highlight of this song. A bit of trimming to make this around 6 minutes would have been best, but as it stands it's still an enjoyable song.

Afternoon Skies is as peaceful and pleasant as the title suggests. It embraces its simplicity, adds a few vocal harmonies. There isn't a whole lot to talk about here musically speaking and despite my general dislike of Nad, I have to say his vocals work well with the song and make it one of the best songs here.

I'm surprised "People Like Us" wasn't a decent radio hit. It's catchy, has a swingsy feel to it, and has blue collar lyrics. It follows the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumental bridge-chorus formula and has Roine on vocals. Nothing too complex here but it's still my favorite track on here.

"Bomb Inside Her Heart" is OK. It is exciting by adding elements of Egyptian and Mexican music to the mix. Unfortunately it also has the characteristic weaknesses of this album which makes it have the perfect balance of good and bad to make this song completely neutral.

So there it is. A disappointing album with few highlights. I honestly cannot recommend this album to anyone.

Report this review (#244493)
Posted Tuesday, October 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars As Roine Stolt said in TFK's Message Board: "It started out as an acoustic scaled down album - but along the way there were elements of symphonic bombasm creepin' in alongside more acoustic shorter tunes - plenty of vocals - I got f-ckin' hijacked by a Bohemian Rhapsody Squad....... and UPS delivered ALL of Tony Banks vintage 70's keyboards to this address since Tony just discovered there is something called. software "plug ins", so he didn't need them." So you got the idea on how the music would sound like.

First off, I like the artwork where it represents something so called 'neo prog' I believe. Well it's deep rooted in IQ 'The Wake' album actually ... But it also reminds me to Cirque Du Soleil - the circus movie in which the music is really prog and I wonder why Cirque Du Soleil is not included here in progarchives.

On top of the cover, I would expect the project (I consider Agents of Mercy is like a project) something really BIG as it involves big guys from King Crimson as well as The Flower Kings. When I listened to the album for the first time it did impress me especially with the opening track 'The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight' (7:29) especially when Sylvan sings 'tick tock of the cock' ...yeah it reminds me to Mr Peter Gabriel in early Genesis - when he sung The Musical Box. In terms of overall music style this album is more into the kind of music that Genesis played when they were four-piece band with Mr Hackett still the guitar player. Yes, in some tracks Sylvan emulates Gabriel singing but most of the time he sounds like Phil Collins. Sometimes the music reminds me also to Anthony Phillips solo album in his early career.

If you love Genesis, you would definitely tend to compare this album with Genesis because the nuances remind us to Genesis. But be careful .. once you start comparing the music with Genesis you would then find yourself in a trap: any single segment of the music you start comparing it with any composition by Genesis. That's what I experienced because my first spin with the opening track brought me back to the glory days of Genesis. Nothing wrong with it but it made me suffering because in any given segment I try to compare with other tracks of Genesis.

The composition revolves around good melody combined with harmonies created from the instruments or the vocal. The opening track blew me away at the first spin. I got no trouble listening to the Sylvan's voice emulating Peter Gabriel. I truly love the way piano works brilliantly throughout the song and how the bass, guitar and drums find themselves positioned nicely in the music. However this song suffers in its structural integrity as in the middle of the track the style change not smoothly to another style that provides musical break.

The second track "The Unwanted Brother" (5:45) melody line in someway another reminds me to The Beatles "Lucy In The Sky with Diamond" with some bluesy elements. I like the guitar playing here. "Afternoon Skies" (4:01) is an acoustic setting with good combination of acoustic guitar feels and solid bass lines accompanying Collins-like singing. "Heroes & Beacons" (9:06) is a very nice song with great piano touch at the opening part followed with ambient keyboard work letting Sylvan's vocal line. This time he switches between Gabriel on low register notes and Collins on higher register notes. I remember Phil Collins singing for Anthony Phillips solo album "The Geese and The Ghost". I like the chorus line .. it's melodic.

"Jesus On The Barricades" (4:02) sounds like Phil Collins solo album. "Waiting For The Sun" (5:17) brings The Flower Kings style in with Roine Stolt takes the vocal part at the intro part. Yeah, this track sounds like The Flower Kings. "We'll just keep hanging on .." reminds me back to Genesis actually. "A Different Sun" (8:08) tries something different with heavier elements and more accentuated singing style of Sylvan. "Ready To Fly" (4:53) sounds like a ballad with acoustic guitar as rhythm section, lacking melody in its overall music stream in the song. "People Like Us" (4:54) is a poppy stuff that does not create anything great even though the music is more on The Flower Kings than Genesis. "A Soldiers Tale" (11:48) is too long in composition - it could have been done with shorter duration. "Bomb Inside Her Heart" (4:25) is another ballad. "Mercy & Mercury" (7:56) reminds me to Procol Harum especially in the keyboard work at the opening part.

Overall, this is a good music offered by Stolt (The Flower Kings) and Sylvan (Unifaun). Some songs have great melodies but the music lacks the soul. The contribution of big guys from King Crimson and The Flower Kings are not so obvious here, it's because most of the arrangements are mellow. The project actually does not need the contribution from the BIG guys, really. It's a good 'refreshment' for those of you who expect Genesis continues in music making these days ... Keep on proggin' ..!!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

Total Time 77:50

Report this review (#249440)
Posted Monday, November 9, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars In some ways I'm surprised at the other ratings for "The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight", and in some ways I'm not. Some reviews seem to use the unmet expectation of this being another Flower Kings album as a strike against it (and then of course others seem to use any elements of Flower Kings similarity against it as well, but I digress).

To expect NO similarity to The Flower Kings would be unrealistic. Even something as different as Roine Stolt's "Wall Street Voodoo" has his personality indelibly infused within the music ? albeit in much more subtle ways than is on display here.

And that may be part of the problem people are having with this album. It bears enough resemblance to a Flower Kings album to engender disappointment.

Based on Roine's comments from various places on the web it began as more of a singer-songwriter-with-acoustic-guitar type affair and then grew from there. As a result, at it's core it features strong, well-defined melodies. Then, at appropriate times throughout the album, these melodies lead into crescendos and somewhat more bombastic instrumental sections that grow logically and yet emotionally from the more basic and subtle seeds of the quieter sections.

So there are moments that hint at both the melodic and bombastic nature of a Flower Kings album. But it would be a mistake to expect one. This is a much more subtle affair requiring a bit more patience and a resetting of expectations.

Now I've rambled on and on about how this is NOT a Flower Kings album and mentioning the band I did NOT want to mention over and over again. The point is The Fading Ghosts Of Twilight must be taken on it's own terms.

And in my opinion those are great terms: subtle, quiet, melodic, emotional, moody, powerful. Brilliant!

Report this review (#253451)
Posted Sunday, November 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
2 stars I'm not entirely sure what to make of this album, or what to say about it. Judging by its score on here, it's reasonably highly rated ? which leaves me a little confused. Perhaps I have missed the point somewhere?

It's not a bad album, as such. But, perhaps by nature of being something of a prog supergroup, it has something of a 'prog by numbers' feel to it ? there's very little here that really claws its way into either my consciousness or my subconscious, and moves me.

Overall, the album has something of a Gabriel-era Genesis feel to its sound (perhaps unsurprisingly ? singer Nad Sylvan is currently a key contributor to Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited project), but just seems somewhat one-dimensional in contrast to Genesis' depth. Things aren't hugely helped by how strained the vocals sound at times.

The other key issue, for me, is that at almost 1hr 18mins, this is a long album ? and feels about 25 minutes longer than it needs to be.

Despite all this criticism, as I said already, it isn't a bad album ? it just isn't a very good one either. In some ways, for all its variation in sounds, it ends up having something of a feel of prog elevator music. Nothing in it demands my attention.


Report this review (#1312544)
Posted Thursday, November 20, 2014 | Review Permalink

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