|Review: Mechanical Poet - Woodland Prattlers|
Label: Aural Music
Year released: 2004
Genre: Progressive Metal
Review online: December 30, 2007
Reviewed by: Bruce Dragonchaser
Truthfully, if I could get away with one word reviews - and I'm sure it would come in handy for most major label doss - I'd sum up "Woodland Prattlers" thusly, because there is only one word to describe this masterpiece, and that word is: ingenious. Quite how three hapless young Russians managed to create an album of such dense atmosphere is cerebrally hemorrhaging, because basically, there is very little I have ever heard that sounds remotely like this. Presented in a fabulous sleeve design with all the hallmarks of a theatrical film release, "Woodland Prattlers" is a musical comic book, and its music, provided by Mechanical Poet, is the score. In essence, this is a concept album based around mysterious wanderings through uncharted forestland, where our main character meets a selection of eerie and fantastical creatures. Each track is a different page in the comic book - which appears as the lyric booklet - and every song is 'performed' by a separate creation, with the lyrics being actually spoken by each creature as dialogue. The unique trick to this is handled ably by vocalist Max Samosvat - also resident vocalist of Russian Power Metal outfit Epidemia - who adopts a different style for each character. Again, that word: ingenious. Can anyone else name another act that has even attempted handiwork of this scope and dedication? I didn't think so.
The musical style of "Woodland Prattlers" differs as the genre fluctuates, but generally this has a hugely orchestral foundation, covered in heavy, static guitars and pummeling drums like a blasting snowfall. At times, electronic sentiments erupt, others pure, solid Power Metal; it's hard to tell where Mechanical Poet are going with this, and that all adds to the exciting escapism of their marvelous imagination. The lyrical imagery is reminiscent of the peculiar world of Tim Burton and his ream of unnatural landscapes; if this were a movie, the mise-en-scene would no doubt echo Burton's work and Samosvat's heavenly voice accents this ghostlike presence. His vocals are the most interesting thing about this album, and his shift in mood and character is flawless, with low, groveling notes appearing before high sonorous wails and impassioned manifestos. The production is top notch, too, with the guitars being at just the right volume to lump this into the prog metal category.
But where to begin with the songs themselves? Well for a start, the boisterous crash of drums and fuzzy guitars opening "Stormchild" are certainly not what this album is all about: the fiercest characters make an appearance first, and from then onwards, the music takes a more reflective, almost seasonal approach, much like the work of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, only with more balls and less Broadway tosh. "Bogie in a Coal-Hole" has the best hook on the album, with the most interesting lyrics, and the catchy, almost Nocturnal Rites-esque "Strayed Moppet" - spoken from the mouth of a young zombie - sees Samosvat give his best, most passionate performance. The frightening musical journey of "Natural Quaternion" leads us through shady marshland, guided by four separate entities before laying us down into a cold bedroom one winter night for the whimsical ballad "Shades on a Casement".
"Woodland Prattlers" is one of the best albums I own, and as a result of its seasonal value, I listen to this extensively throughout the winter months - particularly in the run up to Christmas - so if you've got an hour spare to become thoroughly engrossed in a world of Harpies, Earth-folk, Sylphs and Salamanders, this is without contest the best album you'll buy all year. Ingenuity incarnate.
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