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When listening to new progressive metal bands one often doesn't know what to expect, especially from bands from America. Are they going to be a Dream Theater or Symphony X clone like many bands are? Are they going to be some weird band that just has strange time signatures and music that is completely devoid of any melody at all? Are they not even going to really be progressive metal at all, but instead some sort of mainstream, radio friendly band that just has a lot of bass and a plethora of songs about angst. This is when we get to the band Ethereal Architect from Austin, Texas and their album Monolith. The first thing one will notice about them is that they are in fact quite different in terms of genres. They definitely are not a clone of any particular band, but more of a hybrid of many different genres throughout the entire album. Many would argue that blending many different genres of metal into one band is a formula for disaster, I definitely don't feel that this is the case with this band. And now to begin a track by track analysis of the album.
We begin with the opening track Kalinago. This is definitely sounds like something that would come from a Damian Wilson fronted Threshold. Not overly high, yet rhythmic and very warm sounding vocals. Lots of guitar squeals, very memorable extended chorus along with good backing vocals. My only personal complaint with this track is that although the guitarist seems very competent he seems to overuse the wah pedal throughout virtually all of the solo, which to me always seemed like more or a trick to mask one's guitar playing ability. Later on in the album I will definitely see that this is not the case at all.
Its not often that the second track of an album appears as though a band is already out of ideas. With Mercury it starts to appear so. Very repetitive riffs, which at times almost seems like an Iced Earth riff mixed with something later era Metallica might do. In my opinion, not really a bad song, but definitely one that stands out the least.
After the slight disappointment of Mercury, I was very surprised by the next track. Obsidian begins to take this band to a whole new level. A very somber intro followed by very thrashy power metal riffs with an overlying ghost sounding keyboard riff. The song then breaks into a very soulful, yet technical guitar lead. This song shows what I like most about progressive metal and that is where a song showcases musically what each member is capable of on their given instrument and is given their own time to shine other than one member carrying the entire band. The guitar solo once again begins with a slight use of the wah pedal and I think that the song is going to start going downhill, but instead heads back into the chorus, which is probably the most memorable on the whole album, and then is taken into an acoustic guitar passage with some wind instruments in the background and sounds quite beautiful. Then comes another solo, which I would have to describe as being completely from the heart. Extremely melodic and leaves you excited to hear where the song is going next. By the final verse there is such a climax to the song as it leads back into the chorus at a more upbeat tempo until the song is finally complete. I honestly found myself repeating this track after it finished the first time listening to it. I was extremely impressed all the way through.
The next track displays yet another genre change. oceans, which begins with a very folk-ish acoustic passage almost comes out sounding like a cross between Skyclad and Elvenking. The electric instruments break in for a passage and this is back to the acoustics and folk vocals. Very uplifting song that by the time I finished listening to it I was beginning to feel much happier than I did when I began listening to the album.
Final Escape almost begins as if its a metalcore song. Some melodic guitar noodling into a breakdown riff. And then out of nowhere, pure thrash riff and drums. Then back to the same noodling from the intro while maintaining the upbeat tempo. This isn't something I really hear that often in music, and I really like it. Its essentially a thrash song with clean vocals, then gang vocals, then into a shredding guitar solo. All the way through very unique, and very well done. It even ends with female vocals and a church organ, which kicks into the next track.
Revolutions picks up with choir vocals which builds up rather epicly into a chugging headbang-able guitar riff. This track musically reminds me of something Pagan's Mind would do. Very progressive, yet heavy. My only complaint is that although not even a five minute song starts to kind of drag on without offering much new to the song only about halfway through.
Many progressive metal bands have a song where their weirdness begins to take over. Obscura is that song for Ethereal Architect. Definitely sounds like a newer Pain of Salvation track. Dark and brooding, yet clean vocals that end up going all over the place, on top of an eerie acoustic guitar effect. Kind of a relaxing song, which also kind of reminds me at times of Opeth's acoustic works.
Bardo Becoming leads back to the heaviness quite nicely. More thrashy, complex riffs and frenzied vocal style. This is where I notice that probably my favorite aspect of this album besides the diversity is the use of backing vocals in virtually every song. They build many layers that I'm not sure that vocalist Adam Contreras could achieve on his own. To me this is an art that I wish more bands would utilize.
Every album has to decide the best way to end an album and leaving the listener wanting more. Submission is definitely a great way to achieve this goal. A song that is essentially about working through the struggles that we all go through on a daily basis. Vocals definitely begin to take over here. All the verses and chorus are extremely rhythmic and memorable. Towards the middle comes a very headbang-able, yet simplistic riff that once again is very reminiscent of Iced Earth. Ending the song comes a very melodic guitar lead, which fades away into an acoustic passage until the listener is finally lulled into a state of relaxation.
I was honestly very surprised by this album. There are no virtuoso musicians in this band that make one element more overpowering than the rest. They come off as a cohesive unit of very talented musicians and songwriters. Many bands start to develop their sound to be more their own after a few albums and I expect Ethereal Architect to do just that. I honestly expect to hear pretty big things out of this band in just a few short years. I would give this album an 8/10 if I had to give it a specific rating, although being a progressive metal album, I would expect it to grow on me even more after a few more listens.