Published on 27th December 2019
The Blackheart Orchestra – Mesmeranto
Surely one of the busiest gigging outfits on the UK scene, something I can attest to as scarcely a week goes by without me adding to their burgeoning list of shows in the TPA UK Gig Guide. During that time I’ve clicked on various Youtube links and listened, with admiration I have to say, to their music, but for some inexplicable reason never really pursued it any further. Now that could partly be down to me not subscribing to any digital platforms, SpotiTunes, AmaZoogle, et al, but that’s another story. So with the announcement of a new album, a chance to rectify this oversight and a more immersive listen to TBO’s music.
So as the cinematic timbres of Ennikur emerge from the speakers, there’s an anticipatory sense of expectation for what lies ahead. This atmospheric opening, however, is short-lived, segueing into the sparse, reverberated piano and Chrissy Mostyn’s fragile vocal delivery. A delicate and engaging song in itself, the subtle and somewhat unusual sounds employed to embellish the melody are a stroke of genius – an impressive calling card.
Now there’s quite often a misguided assumption that the reader will be familiar with the artist, so to rectify this, The Blackheart’s are not an orchestra, but in fact a multi-instrumental duo with a BIG sound. A sound that encompasses rich textures, layered vocal harmonies, whilst infusing a whole host of influences including a healthy dose of folk, rock, pop and electronica. The upbeat Drown Me Out brings all that electronica to the forefront with a thumping beat, ear-friendly melody, repetitive and highly infectious chorus and, dare I say it, a danceable rhythm. There’s also an ’80s synth pop middle-section, which on paper should have me running to the hills, however it is executed tastefully and with charm.
The songwriting across the album is as versatile as it is inspired, and the two contrasting opening tracks back up this statement. So as we progress through Mesmeranto chronologically, Wolves and All of Me offer more shining examples of this, as TBO return to the more ethereal opener Ennikur. Wolves is a kindred song in many respects, whilst broadening out and opening up the palette. Simply put, a stunning track, whereas All of Me is a wonderful example of how quiet and space are the best tools to create power, the sparsity of the verses offering greater depth for the rising, thunderous choruses.
Variety is the spice of life, so they say, and there’s certainly plenty of it to be found on Mesmeranto. I Am returns us to the synthy anthemic pop/rock with its Kim Wilde déjà vu moment (I’m sure there are more modern examples, but I don’t get out a lot), whereas reversed sounds, accompanied by a Chrissy Mostyn vocal, introduce Back to Earth, before continuing into this sequenced electronic section.
As we reach the halfway point, and as the contagious Good Weather emerges, I’m thinking, gosh these ‘guys’ know how to write a catchy tune. Moreover Messrs Mostyn and Pilkington also know how to arrange those catchy melodies into absorbing songs. The halfway point also marks the inevitable questioning moment as to how “proggy”, if at all, is Mesmeranto. Like so many, I’ve given up trying to fathom this conundrum and would merely say if Ms Bush or Clannad nestled comfortably along with Camel and Yes in the ’70s, then what’s to stop TBO adorning the same shelves as BBT or Riverside now?
I’ve made little or no comment on the lyrical content thus far, one of the pitfalls of working from a download platform, however Chrissy Mostyn has a clear voice and one that shines through the music. The press release suggests Mesmeranto reflects Chrissy Mostyn’s “…journey of fear, anger, loss, grief, joy and triumph…”. Her emotional delivery in the hymnal Ennikur is an early indication of this, whilst a sense of sadness and regret is evident in the deceptively cheery sounding Never Do Do I. A great track initially propelled by sampled ‘Do, Do, Do…’ vocals, which along with the delightfully quirky You and I, are yet another example of TBO’s mixing of quirky sounds that perhaps shouldn’t work, but do, and extremely well.
A busy couple of month’s leading up to the festive season has given me much longer than usual to listen to Mesmeranto. Time well spent as I have gotten to know the material in greater depth. My personal preferences lean more towards the more atmospheric tracks, however the sequencing of the album is spot on, with the more uptempo tracks preventing the album from becoming perhaps too one-paced, but without breaking the spell.
So you’ve probably grasped by now that the album is chock full of memorable and absorbing songs, which despite their relatively short duration still manage to draw you in. So much so, that there’s a tendency for me to want to touch on each piece, however I will perish the thought and conclude by briefly mentioning just two more tracks. The evocative Left to Right, which in many respects shares the same musical DNA as the album’s opener. An epic anthem!
Closing proceedings is the albums longest and arguably most powerful track. The chiming instrumentation hypnotises, intertwined by Rick Pilkington’s melodious bass lines, Chrissy Mostyn’s delicate delivery soothes, caressed by a choir of angelic voices and final released by the orchestral arrangement. Stunning!
With Mesmeranto, The Blackheart Orchestra have released an album that sits very comfortably in that “cross-over” area, which I can hear appealing to a far wider audience. Hopefully, the signing to the Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) label will take them to an expanded audience.
01. Ennikur (3:36)
02. Drown Me Out (3:19)
03. Wolves (4:30)
04. All of Me (5:16)
05. I Am (4:12)
06. Back to Earth (4:10)
07. Good Weather (4:21)
08. You and I (2:55)
09. Left To Right (5:02)
10. More (4:47)
11. Never Do Do I (4:34)
12. Try (3:47)
13. Violet (3:45)
14. Another Lifetime (6:22)
Total Time – 60:36
Chrissy Mostyn – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocal
Rick Pilkington – Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Percussion, Programming, Vocal