The Prayer Chain

Mercury

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AllMusic Review by

Just as they took an axe to the sunny pop of Whirlpool with Shawl, the Prayer Chain here seek distance from their second album by offering their most expertly conceived record. Where Shawl wanted to be an important record, Mercury actually is one, a haunting study in numbness that appropriates planetary imagery as a potent metaphor for human isolation. Eric Campuzano's lyrics, so labored and awkward in the past, are perfectly suited to Mercury's languid, chilly atmosphere. As they did on Shawl, the Prayer Chain slam the door on bandwagoneers with the opening track. "Humb" is a rolling, blown-speaker psalm that buries Tim Taber's voice beneath layers of echo and shoves Campuzano's bass so far forward in the mix it bludgeons all other instruments. Though the band quickly redirects with the scorching "Waterdogs," they have accomplished their purpose of mercilessly unseating the listener within the album's first 30 seconds. The rest of Mercury is characterized by willfully creeping tempos, shadowy, snaking guitar lines, and Tim Taber's drained, emotionless vocals. The record feels like a horror film. There is an intangible menace to songs like "Grylliade" and "Creole" that deepens when Taber sings stark prophecies like, "All the old ghosts will let you know just how far gone you are." As with all masterworks, Mercury was rejected by horrified record executives who could not wrap their heads around what it was the Prayer Chain were trying to do. Its release was delayed for months as the band was forced to remix, remaster, and re-record until the label felt satisfied. Inside reports hold that the initial version of Mercury was even more unnerving than the final one, bordering at times on being thoroughly unlistenable. Pity it will never see the light of day.

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