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Mantra Vega - The Illusion's Reckoning CD (album) cover


Mantra Vega


Crossover Prog

3.86 | 118 ratings

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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Dave Kerzner AND Heather Findlay? Are you kidding me? Two of the brightest stars in Progland working together is a sublime blessing and a nearly divine revelation. The musicianship here borders on perfection, extremely expressive, technical and so very very cool. What else could one expect from such a dynamic duo, a master musician /producer of the very highest caliber whose recent solo album 'New World' raised the bar very high with a scintillating effort both musically and sonically. Pink Floyd, move over, your time has come and gone! Kerzner's work with Sound of Contact made some serious waves until Simon Collins got arrested that nearly killed his career, but Kerzner had already this project in mind , uniting with lovely and talented Heather Findlay, Mostly Autumn's original vocalist, a gem on those fine first 8 albums, almost marrying Fish and then staying away from the spotlight a tad to plan her next step. She has been touted as prog's finest female voice and a thoroughly enchanting visual presence to boot. The two are dynamite together, Kerzner surely demanding the very highest standards of excellence and Findlay more than able and willing to deliver. Surrounded by the finest UK musicians such as the magical Troy Donockley on Irish pipes, vocals and guitars whose work with Iona, Nightwish, The Enid and countless others, needs no further acclaim. Add the tremendous Dave Kilminster (who blew my mind as Steve Wilson's axeman on his latest tour) is rock solid and deadly precise. The rhythmic tandem is so tight, they may need surgery to separate them, Alex Cromarty is a first rate basher, one of those hard hitters that like to remind music fans that they rock too. Bassist Stu Fletcher is too deep in the mix but occasionally really shines brightly. Chris Johnson is the unknown to me card, knowing him from his stint in Mostly Autumn. Ayreon's Arjen Lucassen guests on the stunning title track, leading the cast of guests who provide cameo spots throughout.

Everything about this release oozes class and distinction, from the splendiferous artwork, the quality packaging and the pristine sound to the sheer excellence of the song writing, a true accomplishment of the highest order. Upon the very first listen, the qualities leap forward immediately and on a multitude of levels. Blended emotions into the poetic words, various human subjects are addressed, such as depression, hope, faith, solitude and forgiveness. Musically, there is a great amount of diversity and stylistic adventurism, each song fitting nicely in the procession, purpose and determination ruling the waves, from the misty piano-fed contemplation of the intro "Every Corner", where Heather narrates dreamily to the epic finale that gives the debut album its name. A suave "Island" is the 'single', though entirely not a commercial song, just a beautiful piece of romantic music that strikes the heart and impresses the soul , both male and female vocals in a sultry duet , shoved gently along by Cromarty's steady pulse that gives the arrangement an almost Fleetwood Mac-like feel. Kerzner provides a shimmering ivory carpet to work on, piano, organ and synths all in harmony, and crowned by a sensual guitar solo from Kilminster Lyrically, uncertainty and doubt find refuge in solitude.

The ambitious "Veil of Ghosts" showcases Heather's emotive singing style, a sincere and devout passion that knows no bounds, flying over a foundation that owes a lot to classic Led Zeppelin mostly due to Cromarty's meaty drumming. Hints of Kashmir swerve uncontrollably, with Kilminster and Donockley both providing swirling guitar pyrotechnics. A thunderous piece of moody music, indeed. Rekindling memories of classic early Mostly Autumn, "Lake Sunday" presents a massive melody expertly marshaled by Heather's seductive voice, allied to some fine guitar work from Johnson, a bluesier, more country-styled technique that fits nicely the mood. A thrillingly laid-back mid-section does wonders to the anticipation, a gentle organ flurry amid the tapping drums is a real highlight as the tune gently fades into the misty, waterlogged horizon.

"Mountain Spring" is another crest that does not fail to impress, an intoxicating slice of inquisitive musical genius, buttressed by spiking keyboards, choppy guitars and Heather's celestial vocals. Urgent, insistent and relentless, the spirit of yearning is expertly addressed and delivered. Kilminster in particular delivers quite a show on lead guitar, as the lovely Heather Findlay bellows mightily in the background. Guest Angela Goldthorpe does wonders on the recorders, edgy and desperate. The pastoral beauty of "In a Dream" is perfectly dosed to prevent any redundancy , a surprisingly fragile loveliness, both with lead voice, choir work, mandolin and the exotic south Asian flute known as bansuri taking the listener into another world, child voices adding to the fantasy.

A hushed voice and a binary beat introduces the glossy "Learning to be Light", a smoother than silk ride that does not fail to surprise and delight, giving guitarist Chris Johnson the platform to squeeze some tight notes from his instrument, a bluesy, dreamy composition that gets the job done big time. Things get really introspective and mellow on the crushingly exquisite "I've Seen Your Star", an acoustic tour de force , a tranquil universe that is simple, gorgeous and addictive, fueled by acoustic guitars, bansuri flute and Kerzner's harmonium leading the way. Sheer magic.

There is a brief reprise of the magical "Island ", in order to prep that table for the album's unmitigated high point, the tremendous 9 minute 53 second epic that gives this work its title. While some pieces here lean more towards classic rock or even classic folk, this monument is outright progressive rock, a slow cooker that is in constant ebb and flow, lyrically very profound and musically exploratory, proving unquestioningly the prowess of Heather Findlay's voice and the rather unpretentious musical foundation provided by Miami-man Dave Kerzner and his cohorts. Chris Johnson provides most of the guitar work but smartly leaves the spotlight to Arjen Lucassen to shred mightily and at length. His shimmering, slippery and jittery solo is perfect timing and delivery, adding to Dave scorching synthesizer additions. Magnificent!

An acoustic version of "Mountain Spring" is added as a bonus track, a slightly different take than previously stated, a gentler version that presents that vocal work in greater light, proving again the diversity and clean handling of quality material in the hands of gifted artists , unafraid to bridge styles and genres and craft something original, buoyant and refreshing.

Perfectly balanced, this album just maybe the revelation of 2016, a thrilling and poetic masterpiece that should conquer the prog charts as well as all the lonely hearts who yearn for sonic beauty and lyrical charm. Heather is back on top of the prog world's list of female voices to reckon with !

5 mirage estimates

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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