As Mercury Is Close To The Bering Sea

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As Mercury Is Close To The Bering Sea

Twenty-​two years ago, pop­u­lar music was drenched in and defined by alter­na­tive rock. Although grunge was reel­ing from Kurt Cobain’s sui­cide the pre­vi­ous year, artists span­ning the alt world — Live, Ala­nis Mor­risette, The Smash­ing Pump­kins, Alice In Chains — all had num­ber one albums. Even as main­stream artists such as Hootie and the Blow­fish burned brightly and then quickly faded away, it was alt rock that com­manded the lion’s share of media atten­tion and acclaim.

One would think given its life­long pen­chant for aping the reg­u­lar music world, in 1995 the Chris­t­ian music indus­try would have been pump­ing out any­thing in flan­nel with a fuz­ztone as it attempted to cash in … er, reach the world by pro­mot­ing artists attuned to the lat­est style in tunes. There were a few efforts, but to a one they made scarcely a dent in the reg­u­lar music world’s con­scious, let alone among the music-​buying pub­lic (yes, kids, there was a time when peo­ple had to buy the music they wanted to hear instead of turn­ing on Spo­tify and vari­a­tions thereof to get it all for free or near-​free). This left the hand­ful of artists who played Chris­t­ian alter­na­tive rock tucked into a cul-​de-​sac well off pop­u­lar music’s main road. They were cher­ished by the faith­ful few who man­aged to find out said artists existed despite the pro­found absence of pro­mo­tion and air­play within Chris­t­ian music. Sadly, they were com­pletely passed over by the main­stream audi­ence that couldn’t get enough of artists and bands min­ing the same tune­ful veins who oft­times were the artis­tic infe­ri­ors of Chris­t­ian artists, yet received all glory and praise while oth­ers lan­guished in near total obscu­rity for the pri­mary rea­son of those respon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing these deserv­ing artists being either unable to, or unwill­ing to, get the word out. One such band we today acknowl­edge, namely The Prayer Chain. Hav­ing recently put its 1995 and final stu­dio album Mer­cury on its Band­camp page pro­vides the per­fectly oppor­tu­nity for unveil­ing this unknown slice of brilliance.

Rooted in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, The Prayer Chain was on a record label owned by the man­age­ment team that had made Amy Grant into a pop star. Yet even with this, it had not the slight­est idea how to get the word out about this fero­ciously cre­ative band. Appar­ently they were too busy black­balling me from the Chris­t­ian music jour­nal­ism world to under­take such an effort. But, that is a tale told else­where; back to Mer­cury.

The Prayer Chain was at its incep­tion a fairly straight­for­ward Chris­t­ian rock band, albeit one with its sound firmly rooted in alter­na­tive rock’s aggres­sive gui­tar per­sona. The first hint this was not going to be a band prone to invi­ta­tion at your local youth praise and wor­ship ses­sion was 1993’s Shawl, when, on its first song, over a back­ground cho­rus resem­bling an Amer­i­can Indian ghost dance chant fueled by pey­ote vocal­ist Tim Taber intoned ‘Shine is dead.’ For the record, “Shine” was the title of the band’s most upbeat Chris­tianese song from its 1992 debut EP. From there, Shawl repeat­edly bared its fangs, mix­ing songs such as one about a father aban­don­ing his young son amid rich, florid with­out being pre­ten­tious Chris­t­ian imagery. As superb as Shawl was, it only hinted at what was to come.

Mer­cury was orig­i­nally pre­sented to the record label in 1994 under the title Humb, an effort that so freaked out the pow­ers that be they demanded some songs be removed alto­gether, other shuf­fled in play order, many remixed and reworked, and would you boys kindly record some­thing new for the album we can actu­ally release in the Chris­t­ian mar­ket­place. By this time in its brief lifes­pan the band was already falling apart, but it man­aged to put together the requested new track (“Sky High”). Yet even with this, The Prayer Chain main­tained a fair amount of the anar­chis­tic spirit that per­me­ated the work; “Sky High” clocked in at a totally radio friendly exactly nine minutes.

Even in its slightly muted form as com­pared to the orig­i­nal, Mer­cury isn’t so much an album as a col­lec­tion of cohe­sive chaos. A thick layer of effect-​laden gui­tar some­times drones and some­times screams — quite reg­u­larly both simul­ta­ne­ously — as it swirls in and around slith­ery, fre­quently dis­torted bass lines, with drums more akin to an acidic per­cus­sion­ist than stan­dard time­keep­ing com­plet­ing the foun­da­tion for vocals from mid­night in the gar­den where good and evil do bat­tle. Had any of its stand­out tracks — “Water­dogs,” “Cre­ole,” “Gryl­li­ade,” the list goes on — would have turned the main­stream alt rock world on its ear had they ever been brought to the atten­tion of said ear. Which they weren’t. And so Mer­cury, and The Prayer Chain, regret­tably slid out of view.

If you have any taste for raw, real music, don’t let past mis­takes pre­vent you from seiz­ing on this dark mas­ter­piece. Get thee to the band’s Band­camp site and buy Mer­cury today. It will shake you up for all the right reasons.

Twenty-two years ago, popular music was drenched in and defined by alternative rock. Although grunge was reeling from Kurt Cobain’s suicide the previous year, artists spanning the alt world – Live, Alanis Morrisette, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alice In Chains – all had number one albums. Even as mainstream artists such as Hootie and the Blowfish burned brightly and then quickly faded away, it was alt rock that commanded the lion’s share of media attention and acclaim.

One would think given its lifelong penchant for aping the regular music world, in 1995 the Christian music industry would have been pumping out anything in flannel with a fuzztone as it attempted to cash in … er, reach the world by promoting artists attuned to the latest style in tunes. There were a few efforts, but to a one they made scarcely a dent in the regular music world’s conscious, let alone among the music-buying public (yes, kids, there was a time when people had to buy the music they wanted to hear instead of turning on Spotify and variations thereof to get it all for free or near-free). This left the handful of artists who played Christian alternative rock tucked into a cul-de-sac well off popular music’s main road. They were cherished by the faithful few who managed to find out said artists existed despite the profound absence of promotion and airplay within Christian music. Sadly, they were completely passed over by the mainstream audience that couldn’t get enough of artists and bands mining the same tuneful veins who ofttimes were the artistic inferiors of Christian artists, yet received all glory and praise while others languished in near total obscurity for the primary reason of those responsible for promoting these deserving artists being either unable to, or unwilling to, get the word out. One such band we today acknowledge, namely The Prayer Chain. Having recently put its 1995 and final studio album Mercury on its Bandcamp page provides the perfectly opportunity for unveiling this unknown slice of brilliance.

Rooted in Southern California, The Prayer Chain was on a record label owned by the management team that had made Amy Grant into a pop star. Yet even with this, it had not the slightest idea how to get the word out about this ferociously creative band. Apparently they were too busy blackballing me from the Christian music journalism world to undertake such an effort. But, that is a tale told elsewhere; back to Mercury.

The Prayer Chain was at its inception a fairly straightforward Christian rock band, albeit one with its sound firmly rooted in alternative rock’s aggressive guitar persona. The first hint this was not going to be a band prone to invitation at your local youth praise and worship session was 1993’s Shawl, when, on its first song, over a background chorus resembling an American Indian ghost dance chant fueled by peyote vocalist Tim Taber intoned ‘Shine is dead.’ For the record, “Shine” was the title of the band’s most upbeat Christianese song from its 1992 debut EP. From there, Shawl repeatedly bared its fangs, mixing songs such as one about a father abandoning his young son amid rich, florid without being pretentious Christian imagery. As superb as Shawl was, it only hinted at what was to come.

Mercury was originally presented to the record label in 1994 under the title Humb, an effort that so freaked out the powers that be they demanded some songs be removed altogether, other shuffled in play order, many remixed and reworked, and would you boys kindly record something new for the album we can actually release in the Christian marketplace. By this time in its brief lifespan the band was already falling apart, but it managed to put together the requested new track (“Sky High”). Yet even with this, The Prayer Chain maintained a fair amount of the anarchistic spirit that permeated the work; “Sky High” clocked in at a totally radio friendly exactly nine minutes.

Even in its slightly muted form as compared to the original, Mercury isn’t so much an album as a collection of cohesive chaos. A thick layer of effect-laden guitar sometimes drones and sometimes screams – quite regularly both simultaneously – as it swirls in and around slithery, frequently distorted bass lines, with drums more akin to an acidic percussionist than standard timekeeping completing the foundation for vocals from midnight in the garden where good and evil do battle. Had any of its standout tracks – “Waterdogs,” “Creole,” “Grylliade,” the list goes on – would have turned the mainstream alt rock world on its ear had they ever been brought to the attention of said ear. Which they weren’t. And so Mercury, and The Prayer Chain, regrettably slid out of view.

If you have any taste for raw, real music, don’t let past mistakes prevent you from seizing on this dark masterpiece. Get thee to the band’s Bandcamp site and buy Mercury today. It will shake you up for all the right reasons.