Tantric Get Tight and Lean on Mercury Retrograde
Mercury Retrograde is nothing new and nothing particularly profound. But hard rocking and timely? Definitely.
Tantric’s new album Mercury Retrograde sounds like a less angry Godsmack, who in turn sounded like a more metal version of Alice In Chains, whom, also in turn, Tantric sounded like, and was compared to, in their early days. So overall, there’s nothing new about Tantric’s sound, or songwriting structures, on Mercury Retrograde, but sometimes a straightforward rock album that jogs good memories, and allows for the formation of new ones associated with a certain rock sound, can be fun.
I can’t say that Mercury Retrograde will be a candidate for album of the year or anything. Actually, the songs aren’t really that outstanding from any particular standpoint. They don’t have much of a unique sound or particularly poignant set of lyrics. What they do have is a tight, lean, and straightforwardly rocking sound.
Lead singer Hugo Ferreira’s deep and resonant baritone remains Tantric’s defining signature, and the years have been kind to it. The only remaining original member of the band (all of the former Days of The New members that originally composed Tantric are gone), Ferreira is joined by guitarist Sebastian Labar, bassist Jaron Gulino, and drummer Troy Patrick Ferrell. Together they form an extremely tight group of musicians who play, write, and record well together. Clocking in at a punk rock-like short 31 minutes, Mercury Retrograde eschews any of the slightly progressive elements that crept into Tantric’s later albums, and the longest song on the album is only 4 minutes long. At first listen this is a little jarring as there is nary a punk song on the album, and Tantic’s peers and predecessors (to which they are oft compared-as they were at the start of this review) often indulged in lengthy guitar solo ridden mini sagas of songs. For Tantric’s new tight lineup though, this short hard hitting song format works best.
Shorter songs though leave less room for guitar heroics and there aren’t many, if any blistering, solos on the album. Instead Labar focuses on creating a strong, deep, and rich guitar tone that plays well off of Ferreira’s strong, deep, and rich vocal tone. Hard hitting opener “Angry” sounds angry, but is actually an anti-anger song as Ferreira repeatedly advocates against losing ones’ temper in the lyrics. “Tether” keeps up the good vibes lyrically with lines like “Sometimes you gotta let things go/So you can feel much better/Before the things that hold you down/Become the tether.” The urgency of the guitar riffs that prop up Ferreira’s lyrics are appropriate to, and give credence to, Ferreira’s urgent lyrics. Granted, the lyrical content isn’t quite Shakespearean, but it actually does have a resonance in these politically and culturally hectic (and frankly frustrating-for the majority) times.
A Mercury retrograde refers to the astrological event where the planet Mercury appears to track backwards in the night sky due to the orbits of both the Earth and Mercury. In astrology its a a time of frustration where best laid plans often go awry. It’s a great metaphor for the current (and aforementioned) hectic and frustrating times we seem to be experiencing right now on a global scale. Ferreira address this metaphor for frustrating times in one of the album’s standout tracks “Get Em All.” A nervous electric guitar line rides overtop of some of that old trademark Tantric acoustic guitar riffing as Ferreira sings about “trigger effects” and the seemingly simultaneous act of standing up and falling down at once. Pretty apropo. The themes of confusion and unnecessary conflict arise again on the album’s other standout track “Lie Awake.” More melodic than “Get Em All” (and therefore more radio friendly-if that is still a thing), “Lie Awake” is recalls the early days of Tantric’s excursions into “wall of sound” electric guitar heroics that made them sound so fresh in opposition to the former members’ old band.
There’s a few slower tracks that make for a nice change of pace, but don’t really stand out too much from the usual ballad-like rock tracks that dominated the airwaves in the wake of Staind’s slow, sad songs, like the one where Aaron Lewis stared at and sang about pictures of his ex-wife or something. I can’t remember the name of the song. Yeah, I really avoided that stuff like the plague. Cookie cutter, emo influenced, hard-soft whiny rock just wasn’t my thing. “My Forever”, which is basically a piano laced loved song and the much more listenable “Before You Can Crawl” form the double prongs on which the album threatens to impale itself and almost ends up derailing. They aren’t bad songs, but uninspired riffing “Before You Can Crawl” opens with a hair metal-circa mid to late 80s-riff that is totally out of place in the context of the rest of the song), uninspired lyrics, and the only times on the album where it feels like time drags, will have you hitting the fast forward image on your playback device’s touchscreen during repeat album listens.
A few other songs redeem the album with a few more hard rock licks, and the solid album closer “Letting Go” leaves the listener hopeful that future Tantric releases will prove as listenable as the majority of this album is. I once read a review, twenty four odd years ago or so somewhere, that referred to Stone Temple Pilots’ album Purple as great “background music” or something of the sort. I didn’t think that was a fair assessment of Purple, but it almost applies here to Mercury Retrograde. Almost.