Michel St-Père is on a roll. His main band Mystery released one of the best albums of their career last year (the tremendous Lies And Butterflies). The band he plays guitar with, Huis, released their third and best album Abandoned this past spring. From Quebec, Huis are a highly melodic band in the neo-prog style, with a boatload of depth and emotion, who don’t fall prey to some of the trappings of other bands of that genre (lousy vocals/lyrics, thin sound, weak drums, etc.) They are about mood, texture, and those spine-tingling moments that happen when a deep bass note, a guitar solo or a keyboard chord hits at just the right time.
Their first two albums, Despite Guardian Angels and Neither In Heaven, were both strong and well received by fans, and rightly so, but it’s Abandoned where I really feel they’ve hit the bullseye. It seems to have a bit more punch, and a bit more edginess. Straight from the eight minute opening title track, there is an atmosphere created that never gets broken over the course of the nine tracks that comprise the album. When they break off into a lengthy instrumental section, as they do in this track, it is engaging and often captivating stuff.
Caducée and Stolen are back-to-back epics in the twelve minute range. These are both excellent examples of what Huis does best. All of the ingredients are in there, and never does the band reach a point of overplaying. They aren’t about non-stop virtuosity. Melody is king here, and it pays off in spades. The kind of beautiful synth lines or guitar solos that make you just stop and listen. Often there are tradeoffs between the two, and subtleties that reveal themselves with repeated listenings (which were easy to do with this album, I wanted to hear it again and again).
Solitude is a simply gorgeous piece of music, a short instrumental with a crying lead guitar part overtop of electronic-sounding percussion and layers of synths. It trades off again to a lead synth part which is then joined by the guitar for a dual lead melody as the drumming underneath intensifies. It’s not often a three minute track is identified as a highlight, especially with so many strong epics on this album – but this one is just too tasty to not mention in such glowing terms.
Moving from strength to strength, the track Chasing Morning Glory goes through a series of shifting tempos and styles, at one point stripping everything away and settling in on a simple bass and drum pattern that slowly builds as more of the band join in, until eventually the vocals return and the song finishes in majestic fashion.
The second of the two instrumentals, Haunting Days, begins with a hyper-energetic synth line a la early Marillion and unfolds into a more standard piece of music than Solitude is, with the band playing through different sections before the piece unwinds into a sad-sounding piano closing with ethereal, ghostly vocalizations. Yet another in a long line of intriguing moments on this album.
The darkest and heaviest track on the album is the closing piece Oude Kerk III, which at nine minutes leaves lots of space for the keys and guitars to let loose. Starting slowly with a building synth and angelic vocals, the band jumps in and the song alternates between darker, minor verses and lighter, major choruses. Several instrumental sections are answered quickly by vocal sections, leading to the final lyrics on the album: Wisdom has died, and reason failed… and a guitar solo to close out the final minute of the album. A beautiful ending to this outstanding release.
The album achieves a flawless balance between the instruments – the guitar is more prominent when the music calls for it, likewise with the keyboards, with a firm and comforting foundation of the rich bass tone and tasteful drumming. The vocals, too, have a lovely texture within the music (again, usually one of the single biggest problems with modern bands in this genre). Abandoned is a superb album that will especially appeal to fans of bands like IQ, Arena, Knight Area, Mystery, Comedy Of Errors, etc. – but not only those kinds of bands. This music should reach a wider audience. If you like music that makes the hairs on your neck stand up, if you like melodies that can be described as ‘soaring’, if you simply like really high quality music, I highly recommend this one – it needs and deserves to be heard.