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(54:16, 'Ethereal Architect')
TRACK LIST: 1. Phrygian 5.58 2. Still Waiting 5.00 3. Slip 4.57 4. Thief 5.38 5. Nevermore 5.31 6. Driven 4.10 7. Undone 5.38 8. Choke 4.15 9. Negative Two-Thirds 11.29 LINEUP: Darby Wen – bass David Glass – guitar Jake Koenig – drums Adam Contreras – vocals With: Raynor Chote – backing vocals Drew Creel – lead guitar (9) Tim Hall – lead guitar (4)
Prolusion. ETHEREAL ARCHITECT is a quartet hailing from Austin, Texas, USA. The band was formed in 2005 by guitarist David Glass and bassist Darby Wen, then vocalist Adam Contreras joined shortly afterwards. The current lineup was completed a year later with the addition of drummer Jake Koenig, a veteran of the Texas music scene. “Dissension”, their debut album, was released in 2007. The band is currently on hiatus.
Analysis. Though the use of the word ‘architect’ in a band’s name – which seems to be relatively popular in progressive metal circles – suggests the building of complex, intriguing musical structures, Ethereal Architect’s debut album, “Dissension”, will hardly strike anyone as particularly innovative, or even genuinely progressive. However, it would be a mistake to write off the band as yet another bunch of purveyors of by-numbers ‘classic’ prog metal, following in the wake of successful, established acts such as Dream Theater or Symphony X. Even if the music showcased by the album can be safely described (or dismissed) as prog-tinged, European-style power metal, it does possess at least a feature that sets it apart from most other bands of the same kind – vocalist Adam Contreras. Actually, Contreras’ voice and style are rather far removed from anything resembling traditional heavy metal singing. His clean, tasteful yet expressive vocals have more in common with the likes of Riverside’s Mariusz Duda, or even Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt when not growling, than with the unabashed histrionics of James LaBrie and his ilk. At times he sounds like a version of Bruce Dickinson without the vocal gymnastics, his smooth, pleasing tenor tones never surrendering to the temptation of piercing falsetto screams or bombastic flights of fancy. Band founder David Glass’ guitar work is of the same kind: firmly set in the neo-classical tradition started by Ritchie Blackmore and pursued by many European (and otherwise) guitar greats, it is never over-the-top, and always within the boundaries of ‘good taste’ (whatever this may mean in this context). On the whole, the nine tracks on “Dissension” come across as strongly infused with melody, and remarkably simpler in structures than the average Dream Theater offering. However, this also means that Ethereal Architect is definitely more about writing songs than displaying their technical skills. The overall impression one gets from the album is that of an outfit keeping a tight rein upon their individual performances, so that each track turns out as a balanced composition rather than as an ultimately empty exercise in instrumental or vocal pyrotechnics. This unusual restraint is probably the most striking feature of “Dissension”, which, coupled with the manageable running time (under 55 minutes), allows it to stand out from the all too frequent excesses of the genre. In spite of all these undeniably positive aspects, only the keenest aficionados of the genre will find any real diversity in the songs featured on the album. Indeed, most of them are mid-tempos characterised by clear-sounding guitar riffs and solos, the inevitable, occasionally heavy-handed double-bass drumming, deft keyboard touches (though no one is credited as a keyboardist on the CD), and Contreras’ commanding vocals above all. They also alternate slower, often grandiose moments with faster, drum-driven sections, as shown right from the start by the one-two punch of Phrygian and Still Waiting. On the other hand, Slip represents Ethereal Architect’s take on the almost-mandatory power ballad, opening with delicate strumming and a very convincing vocal performance, then developing in a more energetic number. Though the progressive quotient remains rather low in the first half of the album, things get somewhat more interesting in Driven (the shortest track on the album), with its choral, almost military vocal opening and intense, jagged closing sequence, and obviously in the obligatory ‘epic’ track that closes the disc, the 11-minute-plus Negative Two-Thirds. Contreras’ impassioned vocals seem to parallel the occasional intensity of the instrumental parts, while the second half of the song is a showcase for David Glass’ skills as a guitarist, featuring acoustic, Spanish-influenced sections as well as aggressive, distorted ones. While not exactly an innovative proposition, “Dissension” is a more than adequate first effort for Ethereal Architect, who unfortunately seem to have dropped off the radar not too long after the album’s release. It is to be hoped they will resurface soon, and possibly exploit their greatest strength – Adam Contreras’ remarkable vocals – in a more original, creative way.
Conclusion. Though by no means ground-breaking or wildly original, “Dissension” is a solid debut album from a band that can boast of one of the most promising vocalists in the business – someone who has all the makings of a star, even on the somewhat overcrowded prog metal scene. While fans of the more experimental fringes of progressive metal may find this album definitely too mainstream and lacking in authentic progressive potential, devotees of symphonic power metal will certainly find “Dissension” very much to their taste.
RB=Raffaella Berry: December 13, 2009
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