Mercy Giants: Steel Dungeons, Mighty Foes!

Mercy Giants is a quartet from Utrecht, Arnhem in the Netherlands that formed in 1995, issued its debut album, Hotel Hell - Sports & Relax, four years later and follow-up Running In Slomo on Zabel Muziek in 2006. Seven years later, Jelle Buma, Maarten Scherrenburg, Mark Zuidema, and Bart de Kroon resurface on Tonefloat with a thirty-five-minute collection called Steel Dungeons, Mighty Foes! (available in vinyl and CD formats). The group members bring to Mercy Giants experience drawn from playing in other outfits (The Use Of Ashes, March, Demi Mazurka, Jelle Buma, Homemade Empire) as well as cited influences such as Talk Talk and Mahavishnu Orchestra. Theirs is a sonorous sound that's easy to warm up to, especially when vocal parts give the six tracks an easy-to-digest, song-like form and the instrumental design is purely acoustic—double bass, piano, guitar, drums, and vocals, with percussion (vibes, glockenspiel) added for extra sweetening. The group's sound presents itself as more straight-up rock than shoegaze, prog-rock, or post-rock, even if traces of each do surface.

The aggressive opening song “Truth and Fiction” works up a potent gallop and features a number of effective build-ups, while “Dents in the Hood,” in its incorporation of delicate guitar strums, acoustic bass, and vibes accents, draws upon jazz more by way of instrument association than style—until its closing third, that is, when the group's sound, powered by a bruising bass line and strangulated guitar wail, shifts to blazing prog-rock. In parts, “What Audrey Did” exudes a macabre quality that calls to mind early Pink Floyd (even the title seems like some subtle variation on “See Emily Play”), while “These Words Make a Lie” has bass-heavy skullduggery to spare. The recording's most powerful track, “Time Runs Out” works up a lethal snarl in its volcanic guitar blaze and overall group storm, with the bass and drums especially instrumental in helping unleash the track's freakout-prog potential. That the quartet is a tight and well-seasoned outfit that's refined its playing over many years is evident throughout, and though Steel Dungeons, Mighty Foes! registers as a recording that's less experimental than the Tonefloat norm, it's not unsatisfying for being so.

July 2013