The Milwaukee metal scene is one dominated by thrash, death, and metalcore bands and with good reason – these are the styles most preferred by modern American audiences. That’s not to say that there’s no deviation from the common formula. Enter Mercy Isle.
Milwaukee natives Kassy and Chad Novell are no strangers to the ups and downs of the professional music business. Meeting in 2007 when Chad joined Kassy’s band, Orphonic Orchestra, as a keyboardist the two soon became close. Despite the band dissolving just a year later, the two stayed close and eventually married. Chad would go on to join Second Soul as a bassist, while Kassy recommended former Luna Mortis guitarist, Cory Scheider to fill a vacant guitar slot. Cory soon brought in friend and Casket Robbery bandmate, Adam Maltby to fill the vacant drummer position, beginning a friendship that would eventually culminate in three-fifths of Mercy Isle four years later.
As Maltby, Scheider, and Novell grew together as musicians, Kassy caught the break she had been waiting for all her life. As a solo artist and a member of Eve’s Apple, an all female community of metal singers, Kassy travelled Europe from 2012 to 2014 taking part in three performances at Metal Female Voices Fest in Belgium. It was here that she connected with Dutch keyboardist, Joop de Rooji, which would help cement her reputation in the Northern European metal scene.
After three seasons on the European circuit and lending her vocals to Voa VoXyD’s dark opera ‘Demandolx’, which is currently being pitched in France, Kassy returned to the States with an idea to form a band of her own at the insistence of her fans and European colleagues. She soon approached Chad, Adam, and Cory about forming a female fronted band with De Rooji lending his talents on keyboard. Their agreement was instant and the lineup for Mercy Isle was born.
Not even a year after formation and a successful Indiegogo campaign, Mercy Isle is set to release its debut to the world. As expected, when one hears a song by Mercy Isle they’re likely to rationalize that this is a European band, but quite to the contrary, Mercy Isle has just one European member. What might make listeners think this way is that their epic style is far more common across the pond, especially when the singer has such a powerful and wide vocal range as possessed by Kassy Novell. Regardless, the band doesn’t fit into just one subgenre due to a variety of inspirations and expertise among the band.
After a few listens of the three tracks available through the band’s official webpage, the band is most certainly a blend of melodic death, power, and symphonic metal with a little europop influences mixed in. The rhythm section certainly shows their melodic death metal and power metal influences, while Kassy’s powerful voice is more at home in the symphonic and gothic genre. In fact, her voice is very much reminiscent of Floor Jansen (ex-After Forever, Revamp, Nightwish) and Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish, Tarja), which is no surprise, considering Floor and Tarja were named as two of her biggest inspirations. As such, the vocals and instruments blend exceptionally well, especially with the synths of de Rooij making for a highly versatile band that simply cannot be nailed down to one genre.
“Somewhere in the back of my mind, I want to say it’s melodic metal with pop and rock influences and a death metal groove.” says Kassy, while Chad adds, “It’s always hard to say when you’re talking about your own band. I think it’s easier for other people to tell us.”
Fans and curious metal heads will soon have the chance to tell the band personally what they think of their style as the band has set their CD release party for October 30th at the famed Metal Grill in Cudahy, Wisconsin. The release party will signal the beginning of the band’s first tour, which will take them north to Battle Creek, Michigan, then down to Madison, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; and Deland, Florida for two bar shows and a pair of festivals – Valkyries over Atlanta Festival and Deland Rock and Metal Fest.
Due to too many years on the bar scene, family and career commitments, and other concerns and responsibilities, the band is not likely to do much touring. While this may seem strange, a major part of the issue is that much of the band is split up between Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while their keyboardist is in the Netherlands. Nonetheless, the band is doing all it can to get out on the road and visit as many cities as possible, but in a much more European fashion.
“We’ve done it. I mean kudos to guys like Conniption who are out there pounding the pavement. We’ve done that too, but we’re tired of it. We don’t want to set up a show and beg people to come. We want to set up a show and play where people are dying to see us. Of the four shows we mentioned, all of them have built in audiences already,” says Chad, in reference to the bar shows that make up the American metal scene. “Perfect example, look at Sabaton. When they played Milwaukee they put them in the basement. Over in Europe they play Wacken!”
Given Kassy’s extensive experience in the European festival circuit, it’s no surprise that the band is taking a decidedly more European approach to their touring. Some might find their unwillingness to play their hometown to be a little disrespectful, but Kassy sees it more from an artistic and business point of view.
“I know what it’s like to play a local bar. It’s like pulling teeth to get people to come out and play” she says. “I would rather make sure that when we play, we make it as meaningful as possible.”
Of course, when you can choose between playing for one hundred people in a neighborhood bar or 30,000 screaming fans at a popular, guaranteed to be sold out festival like Wacken Open Air or Bang Your Head the choice is obvious, especially when you have the contacts to make it happen. So, here’s to hoping the band takes off in Europe and scores a record deal with a label willing to fund a more extensive North American tour. In the meantime, if you want to see Mercy Isle perform live, you’d best catch their CD release show October 30th as it might be your only chance for some time.
Because seeing is believing –