The Mercury Tree – Pterodactyls

The Mercury Tree – Pterodactyls



The Mercury Tree – Pterodactyls

Wed, 06 Jun 2012 08:12:49 +0000


When I was first handed this album by the Lady to look over, I did what I always do, cranked it up and hit play. I was immediately impressed with what I heard, the music had me.  Then I went to do a bit of research on the band. A trio out of Portland, that was good, practically local to this San Francisco native, quite a change from the mostly European Bands I hear in the spheres of progressive music.  Other descriptions included progressive metal, obvious; psychedelic, very apparent; math rock, had to look that one up, but it defiantly fit the description.  Then came the last description, “a concept album based loosely on dinosaurs”, that one froze me.  After thirty years of reading sci-fi, intimately knowing every Star Trek episode, and a good stint in Dungeons and Dragons as a teen, I had been out-geeked by an Oregonian prog rock trio.  I had to review this album, no matter what.

The Mercury Tree was founded as a one man project by Ben Spees in 2004, it progressed to a full band in 2006. This was followed by a release of a self titled album and two EPs, Eerie and Descent, with a few lineup changes included.  In 2011, Pterodactyls was released, their first venture into the ambitous realm of concept albums, and what an odd and wonderful one it was.

The musical side of this album is a complete monster, highly technical musicianship with a plethora of influences ranging from prog to space to psychadelic to jam all making an appearance. But what makes it really work is that it all flows so smoothly together within each song. It seems that they are reaching for a specific sound that hasn’t been created yet, and at a few brilliant points, they do reach it. Great rythms abound, especially at the intros to Hatchlings and Time Lapse, nice and catchy, but the real gems are when they reach out, especially in Cephalopod, a broody and dour tune, reminiscent of the lowly creature it is named after.  The title track echoes the free searing of the winged ones it is named after, and even has timely screeches to back it.  The real beauty to me was Bassosaur, opening up with a sloppy beatdown of a chord, then flowing into a near surreal instrumental and vocal, with the hard opening chord as a returning theme throughout.

As a concept album, this one is a doozy. It seems to follow the evolution of the dinosaurs, from the hatchling through different phases of development, including the Velociraptor, Cephalopod, and Pterodacltyls, but to me, there is something much deeper flowing behind the Jurrassic imagery, as hinted by the interstitial songs, they are the ones that give this piece color and shape. There is a deeper story here, as to what it is, I am still not sure, nor do I think I will ever be, but there is a certain human quality given to each ancient beast, something representative of character almost. The other songs show the transitional phases between each character, the Hatchling emerging, the descent and discovery in The Frozen Seas of Europa, and the final bleeding of Octarine.  It is so much more than “a concept  album based loosely on dinosaurs”, and I for one love a humble statement on something so complex. I could listen to this thing for another year and be at an open end as to what is behind the imagery.

If you just love brilliant musicianship with a jam vibe, this work is incredible, and if you feel geeky enough to dig into the story, it goes oh so much deeper.

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