If you are of a certain age you may remember those days, before the internet, when waiting for an album from a band/artist you admired could be almost agonising, news reports would be minimal and you just had to wait until a press announcement in the weekly music papers alerted you to a new release. Things have changed a lot since then with every little detail of a band/artists activity both outside and inside the studio being reported on social media sites but that anticipation of hearing new sounds from your favourites never goes away. That anticipation nearly reached fever pitch when a while back Jordan Knorr vocalist with Kansas City groovsters Merlin got in touch with Desert Psychlist to ask our opinion on snippets of tracks his band were working on for their forthcoming album, these snippets showed a band remaining true to their core sound yet experimenting with new instrumentation and a wider field of exciting and dynamic textures and colouring. Our appetites were whetted and after a long and agonising wait we can now finally announce the release of Merlin's new opus "The Wizard"(The Company)
"The Wizard" is a concept album but don't let that scare you as each and every track works both thematically and individually, having said that for full listening enjoyment and to fully embrace the conceptual flow of the album it is best listened to as a whole and in recorded order. Merlin are a band that confuse and delight in equal measure but are also a band capable of moments of spine chilling brilliance and there are many of those moments to be found among the seven songs that make up "The Wizard" . The bands line up has gone through a few changes since the bands previous album "Electric Children" with Chase Thayer replacing Joey Hamm on bass and Stu Kersting joining on saxophone and guitar, the two new recruits combining with original members Knorr (vocals/omnichord)), Carter Lewis (guitar/synth) and Caleb Wyels (drums) to create a fuller more expansive sound. The introduction of Kersting and specifically his sax contributions is a game changer and brings a whole new perspective to Merlin's overall sound , not as you might expect in a jazz orientated context but in a more groove orientated way as on opener "Abyss" where the sax combines with Lewis' guitar to both carry and accentuate the songs main refrain and on "Sage's Crystal Staff" where he brings an extra level of lysergic texturing to the proceedings. Vocalist Knorr is on fine form throughout mixing up his vocals between strong clean melodies and sneered half sang, half spoken narrative, telling his stories of sorcery and dark dealings like some crazed shaman at a tribal gathering, his stories superbly backed up by Thayer and Wyels, the bassist and drummer effortlessly shifting between grooves to accommodate every little nuance of each songs dynamic. The album finishes its diverse and lysergic journey with "The Wizard Suite" an epic tome spanning eleven plus minutes that sees Lewis and Kersting trading off ambient guitar licks and arpeggios over a backdrop of tinkling percussion and liquid bass that slowly grows in intensity until erupting into a fuzz drenched stoner-ish groove with Lewis laying down crunching chords supported by Kersting's sax around which Knorr chants mantra-ish vocals. The song slowly builds in tempo with Lewis' guitar and Kersting's sax going head to head over Thayer and Wyels insistent ever increasing rhythmic grooves before then coming to an abrupt and quite unexpected full stop.
Some things are worth waiting for and although Desert Psychlist was privy to snatches of "The Wizard" before its release those snatches in no way prepared us for the full picture that Merlin have unveiled to us now with this the finished article. Brilliantly written and arranged with a sound and groove unlike anything they have done before Merlin's "The Wizard" is a genuine mini-masterpiece.
Check it out .....
© 2018 Frazer Jones