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American metal doesn't possess any singular identity, largely because it has no real national identity to speak of, just a smattering of different ones brought over from the rest of the world over the past few centuries. But part of what makes it so interesting is all of the various possibilities that come into play from the resulting diversity, though much of it tends to be wasted on rehashing a lot of watered down ideas from the NYHC scene and the Gothenburg scene of late. North Carolina has become a place of interest recently as there is a band known as Æther Realm that falls into neither of these two categories, though they do naturally possess a strong melodic death metal influence in common with some of the mainstays of the present metalcore scene. My band Frost Giant had the honor of opening up for them a couple months back at the Philadelphia wing of their tour with Wilderun at a small basement bar in Fish Town, and though the venue was about as small as a walk-in closet, the resulting show was quite a treat for the ears.
To put it mildly, this band sounds like they should have hailed from the land of Wintersun, Children Of Bodom and Insomnium just east of Sweden. The keyboard/symphonic aesthetic alone is a dead ringer for the common sound that all of those bands share, alone with a great number of melodic black and power metal bands from the same area. Along for the ride is a tasteful smattering of folksy acoustic guitar passages and technical lead guitar work that straddles the fences between early Ensiferum and Kalmah, complete with a mandatory mixture of clean and harsh vocal work that definitely conjures up images of Jari Mäenpää's signature sound. It's an album that is just shy of being overtly technical, yet so loaded up with brilliantly realized riff work and digitally precise drumming that it points to maybe a slightly influence coming from Arsis at times, though the harsh vocal work is the only really obvious commonality that both bands tend to share. But above all else, this is an album of actual songs that are quite memorable and very easy to follow.
Much like the somewhat conceptually structured but otherwise free flowing albums heard out of a number of European power and melodeath acts from the earlier 2000s, there is a clear sense of introduction and conclusion, as well as a chapter and verse structure to "One Chosen By The Gods". The introductory instrumental "Journey Of Discovery" has a sort of serenade character to it, almost to the point of being a lullaby at first, which develops into an expansive celebration of sound that brings to mind the long forgotten days of Nocturnal Rites' era as a full retro power metal act, particularly their lone ballad "The Legend Lives On", though this particular instrumental takes its epic cues from a more folksy and sea-worthy direction. Similarly, the closing extravaganza of riffs and technical feats "Oak", spearheading one of the most memorable choruses on this album as well, closes on the same principle theme, almost as if an echo of the prologue occurring within the epilogue.
For anyone who has followed this band for the past couple years, one will note that about 1/3 of this album had already been released, in the same studio form no less. While the heavily catchy yet somber character of "Odin Will Provide", the Ensiferum based nimble and atmospheric sound of "Ravensong" and the technically brilliant nod to Kalmah in "Swampwitch" are all highlight songs unto themselves, much of the truly intricate parts of this album are enclosed within the newly released songs here. Particularly the opening speeder "Hourglass" brings out the majestic wonder of this band's sound with a host of thrashing beats and glorious tremolo riffs right out of the Amon Amarth arsenal and, when married to the symphonic keyboard sounds, puts Children Of Bodom on notice along with all the other Finnish outfits that have been in the underachiever category of late. Leave us also not forget the magnificent title song "One Chosen By The Gods", which highlights a brilliant use of clean gang vocals in a manner not heard out of Ensiferum in a few years.
There is very little to complain about her, apart from maybe all the confusion regarding where this band is from given their characteristically Finnish sound, so much so that the band actually has a disclaimer on their home website. That bear-skin that vocalist and bassist Vincent Jones is sporting isn't just for show, but is a clear indicator of a band that lives up to an over-the-top image with a strong stage-presence and an indominable metallic spirit. This is a band to watch in the coming years, especially for those who can't get enough of the ongoing folk metal craze and want something a little bit rawer and colder than Turisas. It was a thrill opening up for these guys, and all with money to burn are encouraged to check them out the next time they roll within driving distance of one's abode.
Æther Realm is a band from Greenville, NC. They have it prominently displayed on their official Facebook page that they "ARE NOT FROM FINLAND". Joke aside, they might as well be, because there are certain Finnish bands that really should be envying what these guys are doing. But first, a little back story. I heard about these guys through the vast seas and reaches of cyberspace a few moons ago, and then I realized they were on tour with Warseid, Wilderun, and Earthen. They came down to the odor-infested town of St. Louis, Missouri, and my band, Eternium, offered to open up for them. Their set consisted of some of the most impressive stage performance, appearance, and gear. Custom lighting and extreme proficiency ablaze, their set completely ruled. I am not, however, here to review their set, no matter how impressive it was...
...However, the full length impressed me even more! The whole thing starts out with a somber keyboard melody that leads into total turmoil and happiness that really borders between pride, sadness, and total power. It's incredibly proficient in taking both passages of folk metal and melodic death metal into one nice wrap that's borderline melodic black metal. Not only that, the musical influences outside of metal are very apparent, yet flow seamlessly like water. The drums, guitars, and voice work together to give a sort of "underwater" feeling. I am unsure what they did with the production to make it like this, but it is one of the best I've ever heard, and I mean that whole-heartily.
The guitars are extremely up my alley. Instead of playing boring power chord after power chord, Æther Realm have a very diverse way of writing melodies. Ranging from the depressing/proud hymn of "One Chosen By The Gods" to the extremely major-scale influenced "Ravensong", the guitarists are proficient in nearly every aspect. They can easily be molded to any emotion or atmosphere they wish to craft. In fact, I think the guitars (and bass) are pretty much perfect here in every aspect, production and creativity. Perfect audio mix and passages for every player to show their proficiency while still providing interest to the listener.
I'd like to take this time to commend the EXTREMELY awesome clean vocals and keyboard duo marriage this band has going. What they did was simple; have the clean vocals and keyboards play the same melody. However, the result seems much more technical than that. It sounds as if a realistic choir and orchestra was in front of you, relaying the tale of whatever bard the songs are about.
The drumming; now this is one that's good, but could be better and perfect. My biggest problem is that it seems like the levels were entirely mucked up. You can hear the drummer play these skilled and unique rhythms, but not as well as you could. For example, when I'm listening to the blast beat sections throughout the album, I can barely tell that it is one. This problem, thankfully, is only apparent on "faster" parts of the drumming.
All in all, I really do believe this is a great album. I would say it matches up to par of Sacrilege's Lost In The Beauty You Slay with some Wintersun-esque keyboards and better production. If it wasn't the present day circumstance, I'd say that this album may get lost in the obscurity like most albums it's style, never getting the attention it really deserves. These guys have a very good grasp of what they're doing, though, and I can easily see them climbing even higher on the ladder of success and talent, and when/if they do, I hope to play a show with them once again!