M-Opus -
At The Mercy Of Manannan

(CD 2023, 41:31, Rude Chord Recordings)

The tracks:
  1- Setting Off(2:03)
  2- Riverflow(6:45)
  3- Whirlpool(3:14)
  4- To the Other Side(9:03)
  5- Na Bruídaí(7:55)
  6- Valley of Elah(4:07)
  7- Scaling Novas(3:09)
  8- Carnivale(5:15)

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M-Opus is the band around film and TV composer Jonathan Casey (vocals, keyboards, bass, guitar) and Colin Sullivan (guitar) and is based in Ireland. In the meantime they have grown into a quintet with the addition of drummer Mark Grist, bassist James Dunne and guitar virtuoso PJ O'Connell. Throughout the years they have released two albums with a special concept. This concept envisages the band creating a fictitious discography over the years. The band asks the interested listener to imagine that their debut album Triptych (2015, see review) was actually released in 1975 and that their follow up album Origins ( 2019, see review) was released in 1978. Both are excellent progressive rock albums harking back to the golden years of progressive rock made in the seventies. The good news is that we can add another excellent album to their discography. Maybe their best release so far. With their brand new and third album At The Mercy Of Manannán this time implies the sound and approach the production to the hypothetical year 1972.

At The Mercy Of Manannán has become another concept album that tells the perilous nautical adventure of a couple of young sailors in search of the mythological island of Manannán from the Celtic god of the sea and other worlds. The album is most of all inspired by Irish folklore and culture.

You have to know that prior to the making of their third album, Casey met guitarist O'Connell, with whom he has written a lot of material during the Covid period. The fruit of this collaboration can be heard throughout the entire album. All of the included tracks on this release are of a very high level music wise. All of the eight compositions show the influences of the classic seventies prog acts such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant. On those songs the band gives us lush, symphonic rock to flaming, virtuoso instrumental music and exuberant melodic vocal lines in combination with complex arrangements, dynamic rhythms and atmospheric sounds that bring it to a fascinating and compelling whole.

As on many great progressive rock albums it is difficult to mention any musical highlights. Most of all you have here an album which you should listen in one go. Because all of the songs go over into each other without any real breaks. But I will try any way. Maybe the melancholy opening track Setting Off. Or maybe the second piece Riverflow, which has real catchy vocal lines and goes music wise into direction of Gentle Giant and ELP. Or maybe the composition Na Bruídaí (which means The Dreamers) because it is sung entirely in Irish Gaelic and has interesting extended instrumental parts with excellent guitar sounds. Or maybe the Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young-like Valley Of Elah. Maybe it is the two instrumentals Whirlpool and Carnivale that stand out the most positively by combining a cross between Yes and King Crimson. Or maybe Scaling Novas with its fine organ solo and strong bass parts. Or maybe the longest track To The Other Side, which is 9 minutes long and has beautiful symphonic keyboard sounds sometimes reminding me of Genesis but also ELP and Atomic Rooster because of the great organ parts. But to be honest I can't decide which is my favourite because it all sounds fantastic to me.

M-Opus has managed once again to create with At The Mercy Of Manannán an album that should be listened by every lover of progressive rock in general. Most of all if you love bands such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and Gentle Giant. For me personally is this release without any doubts one of the musical highlights of 2023 so far. Therefore highly recommended.

**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)

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