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Merchants Vice - Amber

Merchants Vice - AmberWas it Napoleon who said that England was a nation of shopkeepers?  Well, we have been pretty much involved if not at the forefront of many things over the years and prog rock is no exception. So the name, Merchants Vice, is rather apt (and cool) for an English based prog band that has just released a debut album, Amber.

The current band line up includes founder members Les Wardle (vocals), Mark English (keys), and Chas Allen (drums) plus Nick Martin (guitars) and Paul Brown (bass).  Formed in 1997 by Les, Mark and Chas who had played together in a previous band, it really started to gel a couple of years ago when they released a three track (EP) CD titled A Story To Tell.

The time taken from formation of the band to the release of Amber has been well spent.  The musicianship is tight and well executed.  The musical influences and tastes of the individual members is eclectic ranging from classic prog to artistes who are also popular with many prog fans even though they are largely outside the genre (see the band website for details).  Some of those influences shine through on occasions, for example End Of Story (Kevin Gilbert) the intro of which has a touch of Gentle Giant complexity about it.

I hate to admit it, but old age is creeping up on me to the point where I can barely make out the words to the lyrics printed in the accompanying 12–page booklet without the aid of strong coffee and exceptional lighting.  Fortunately, this is not crucial as Les Wardle’s vocals are well enunciated, his voice being comparable to that of the late Geoff Mann in the main.  The music is in the neo-prog vein in terms of overall sound, slightly heavier than Big Big Train, less ‘tinny’ than early IQ (no offence intended) yet the compositions are quite original – in other words, no direct homage is paid to any other band and Merchants Vice have developed their own distinct sound.

The keyboards are modern but excellent use is made of vintage sounds that undoubtedly help in the creation of the overall deeper and fuller sound often missing in the neo-prog genre.  And with master technician, Rob Aubrey, in charge of the mix and mastering, the quality of the end result is as good as guaranteed. 

To sum up, Amber is a work of quality.  The opening track Reason To Change should capture most prog fans imagination on first listen, but further plays of the album uncover many gems such as some terrific bass and keyboard interplay and snippets of Mike Holmes-like guitar at its best.  Yes, there is more to this album than is immediately apparent making Merchants Vice a welcome addition to the UK and international prog scene.

Jem Jedrzejewski

Merchants Vice


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