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It took me a while to figure out how I can like Blotted Science, an instrumental group arguably more technical than this one, and yet find so little of interest on Spiral Architect’s sole album. The first time I listened to A Sceptic’s Universe, I figured it would get better upon repeat listens as my brain worked through the material again and made sense of its intricacies. Instead, the opposite is true. With each listen it becomes more obvious that, though the band cycles through a ton of different time signatures and odd rhythms, this album is devoid of any sort of sensible progression that guarantees a satisfying flow or emotive qualities to make listeners care.
First obviously, I have to give a shout out to the band members’ ridiculous skill with their instruments. Most prominently, you have Lars K. Norberg, whose hyperactive basslines form the album’s backbone. Guitars and drums follow similarly complex arrangements but always play support roles to Norberg. On A Sceptic’s Universe, Spiral Architect realizes its goal of creating some absurdly technical metal at the expense of just about anything else you might want in music. The most notable casualties are dynamic writing, memorability, and soul. With none of the songs seeming to ever offer a chorus or even a motif that occurs more than once, this album leaves you with nothing to latch onto. Sure, the intro to ‘Insect’, with its bizarre and intricate keyboard passage, is amazing but once the thrill of hearing that sort of technicality wears off (and it will, fast) what else is there to keep your focus? Nothing. There’s no real excitement or any attempt at connecting to the audience. It’s even hard to imagine people who wank to John Petrucci’s wanking finding a whole lot of pleasure in this because it has no immediacy, personality, or warmth. The album is just a slurry of disorganized bass noodling that passes by without consequence.
The previous paragraph is not to suggest that the album is all about speed. Even at their fastest, the band doesn’t exactly fly past like Dragonforce riding a meteor. Some songs, notably 'Fountainhead' and 'Cloud Constructor' have interminable slower passages that I guess are supposed to inject emotion or depth into them. Unfortunately they never succeed in either. Despite these parts appearing more than you’d expect, the band never sounds committed to them. Strangely enough, the slower parts are arguably less soulful than the convoluted noodly bits that are especially prominent in numbers like 'Insect' and 'Spinning' and are devoid of the complexity that lends some other parts of the album at least a thimbleful of surface-level intrigue.
Though building everything around the bass was a winning formula on Atheist’s Unquestionable Presence, it doesn’t work too well here because the bass is thrown so high in the mix, it often makes the guitar and drums difficult to pick out. Singer/keyboardist Øyvind Hægeland is the only other performer who gets any continuous prominence in the mix, but sadly, even he can't bring any excitement to the proceedings. While he seems to be hitting all the correct notes with his singing, his vocal style is so dry and listless that he utterly fails to be at all captivating. His range is extremely limited and his delivery is so flat it actually sucks vitality out of the music it’s layered on top of. Just listen to him stumble into the ridiculous line “How can anyone with serious integrity abandon all that’s left for me and still be free to seek what’s real?” and tell me that soulless attempt at being Buddy Lackey from Psychotic Waltz kindles some kind of emotion or gut-level reaction in you. Actually don’t, because I know you can’t do so without lying.
This album is so clinical and soulless, so exact in its precision, that it leaves the album as cold as the depths of space. While Ron Jarzombek projects like Blotted Science and Spastic Ink aren’t what anyone would call emotional, they still manage to bring real dynamic depth and purpose to their wankery. The former is imposing with its jarring transitions from softer, atonal passages to sudden explosions of chaos and heaviness. In short, it has real aggression and power. Spastic Ink, meanwhile, has a playful, almost winkingly self-aware personality that makes it unique. On A Sceptic's Universe, the same sort of over-the-top technicality is the only goal Spiral Architect had in mind. These Norwegians simply wanted to show how proficient they were at playing their instruments and didn't care about delivering compelling ideas. If technicality for its own sake is all you want, this may be your idea of a perfect album. The rest of us are going to want to seek out music that has something more worthwhile going on beneath the polished, gilded surface.
What can I say about this masterpiece that can really do it justice? Spiral Architect managed to put out a technical release that is catchy, well structured and loaded with adrenaline and emotion. Still, sixteen years after this monster album first graced my ears, I am excited by each and every listen and amazed at the smile this always puts on my face. To put it succinctly, this represents the high water mark of progressive metal and may never be matched.
The songs on this album range from frenetic and neck twisting (Spinning and Insect) to more mid paced and emotional (Moving Spirit and Excessit). This release has often been criticized for being mechanical sounding and devoid of feeling but my ears hear things quite differently. In fact, Moving Spirit bleeds emotion like few other bands do in the genre. It is an emotional roller coaster ride that calls on the listener to use their own mind and see above the mediocrity of subjectivity and conformity and to strive for individuality and open-mindedness. Insect is simply the best song ever to grace the prog metal world and showcases the fantastic bass playing of Lars Norberg that is ubiquitous on this release. In addition, the second half of Cloud Constructor conjures up pure emotional bliss; like soaring through the clouds.
The second half of the album, while excellent in its own right, does not match the first, but then nothing quite does. Conjuring Collapse is a more straightforward number that gives the listener a taste of a less technical Spiral Architect. Adaptability is a happy little song that showcases their more uplifting side. The only less than stellar song on this is Fountainhead (hence why this gets a 99%), but the opening instrumental section to that song is intense as well as incredibly crafted and reminds me somewhat of The Mahavishnu Orchestra in their heyday.
A Sceptic's Universe is original sounding, but that is not to say that the band does not pay homage to some of the greats. The music is tinged with a bit of Psychotic Waltz, Watchtower, Sieges Even and perhaps Zero Hour. One can also find some influences from jazz fusion greats such as Return to Forever and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. All of this is blended into a masterful and adrenaline filled piece of art that literally takes the listener on a journey to heaven and back and leads one to think what music could be if the masses just opened their minds and really listened.
This album should be found in Webster's dictionary as a definition for perfect. Despite the fact that it is technical, I can hum and sing along to every song and at the same time hear something subtle and new with each listen. It just never grows old. So, if you are into "thinking man's metal" and are looking for something to blow your mind and put a smile on you face than this is it. And, nobody has ever done it better.
This album has recieved a lot of unfair criticism, those typically falling in that is ''too technical", "just wanking", "no structure or whatsoever", .."a show off of technical abilities with no point at all", etc. From my point of view this are the kind of comments you would expect from people not used to this type of music, like the ones you would get if you put your aunts to listen some random thrash/death LP for the first time.
As with other albums in the technical metal field, it is more a matter of an aquired taste than anthing more. If you enjoy highly original, varied and challenging music then this is the type of album for you. If you come to expect some derivations of the standard prog-metal band (e.g. Dream Theater, Fates, and all their 'sons') you have come to the wrong place and will end up unsatisfied as hell. The same if you think this is somehow related to the wankery of Necrophagist and its contemporaries/clones.
The music in here really pays tribute to the title of the album: this is how a sceptic approach to music may sound like. There is a feeling of complete void though the whole album that is filled with music that knows almost no rules and that don't believe in anything. The difference is that in this album this expressions are not given by boring experimentations with some sort of atmospheres or noises, but by an ultra-tight version of late 90's metal made only with guitar, bass, drums and (very rare) keys.
The songs in here HAVE an structure, and HAVE a point, and the beauty of it is that these are not revealed to the casual listener, or to the the un-patient ear. This CD will need a lot of spins and of careful listens in order to get to you. First the more familiar sounding songs like "Ïnsect", "Cloud Constructor" and "Fountainhead" (that hint at some familiar technical metal acrobatics) will get your head for days and weeks. Once there, the rest of the album will catch your attention a lot more, starting from the first three songs "Spinning", "Excessit" (that may recall to Cynic), and Moving Spirit. And finally the least accesible songs "Conjuring Collapse" and "Adaptability" (maybe because they at the end of the album, rather than for being inaccesible per se) will get your head for a couple of months more.
The songs of this album are not similar at all between them, and each one of theme has its ows feel and its own purpouse. I can assure that in order of crafting this masterpiece, the band did a very complete and careful job. Take for example "Excessit" and "Adaptability". The similarities between them are almost non existent. The former has a jazzy/alt rock feel with a somewhat organic feel and the latter feels more like the kind of thing a robot would like. The same type of comment would apply for example when comparing "Moving Spirit" with "Conjuring Collapse". The first is calmer in the sense of the technical details that it carry and is more melodic and straightforward, and the second is exactly the oppossite.
The driving force behind this album is with out no doubt the bass. If you enjoy music in which the bass actually sounds and appears and re-appears with all kind of tricks, speeds, and sounds, then this CD will like you a lot, even if you don't care for the music at all. The bassis, L. Norberg, really makes the point in here, and his playing really give this album a lot of more depth and variation, aspect that is not found a lot in the metal genre, where the bassist usually just copies what the guitar does.
The closest roots I can trace to this kind of music can be heard in Watchtower's Energetic Disassemby, in Focus from Cynic, or in the first two albums of Atheist. These roots range from the stilistical approach to music to how the thoughts and perceptions of the band are expressed though it. While in Warchtower the sound may be thrashy/primitive to some tastes, in Cynic way too thoughful, processed and arranged, or in Atheist too direct/agressive and uncompromised, in here you will find a very good balance between the agressive mode and the thoughful mode, combined with an very own Spiral Architect feel.
To conclude, I would not recommend this album at all to the regular metal/ prog metal listener. I would rather recommend this to the people that enjoy creative music with a heavier edge and that enjoy music that dont believe in anything except from itself. ()If you enjoy classical tech-death, then this album is for you. If you just like the wankery aspect of the technical music, then go somewhere else.
This is a difficult album. Difficult to play, and often difficult to listen to; with such a complex album it would be easy to get bogged down in the details, so in perhaps ironic contrast to the material I am reviewing I will make this concise and get to the point with uncharacteristic brevity. Having read a bit of what the band members have said and enjoying the familiarity with metal that I do, it's fairly clear what Spiral Architect's general intentions were (besides pretentious); namely, to take progressive rock- and jazz fusion-influenced metal to its logical conclusion in terms of virtuosic and compositional complexity, with all the bizarre time signatures, noodly guitar parts, and schizophrenic structures you'd expect. Major influences range from Psychotic Waltz in their more technical moments to Mahavishnu Orchestra at their heaviest. A Sceptic's Universe is relentlessly technical, only giving respite during a few key moments with softer sections or more traditional metal grooves. The compositions are long and "progressive" in nearly every sense of the word, rarely repeating themselves at all, much less stooping to anything as uncouth as a "verse" or "chorus". And, in case there was any doubt, let me put this to rest right now: these guys are incredibly skilled, easily some of the best metal has to offer. The singer especially is at times an absolute dead ringer for Buddy Lackey, at others reminds me of a less nasal John Arch, who are of course two of my all-time favorite singers. The question of course is that with all this complexity and skill, do they come up with some good music? The answer, as with most things, is both yes and no.
A number of metaphors spring to mind when attempting to summarize the album. A giant tower, perhaps the "Spiral Tower" from the Psychotic Waltz song that Black Sabbath's Spiral Architect built; monolithic, infinitely complex, but at places so large and heavy it threatens to collapse under its own weight. A psychedelic experience so fast and intense that you are bewildered and must struggle to make any sense out of what you've seen, and are only partially successful. A collection of verbose short stories written in your second language, only some of which end up being worth the large effort required to read and understand their florid prose.
The last example especially characterizes well why this album can be very frustrating; on some songs it can sound like just a series of unrelated technical exercises, and you just want to yell at the band "GET TO THE POINT!" But there isn't always one there. "Conjuring Collapse" is the only song that is completely pointless, but at the same time only a few are completely free from at least a moment or two of that frustration. However, when the train of thought holds true it can be immensely satisfying, resulting in masterpieces even. The winding, writhing "Insect" springs to mind, especially reminiscent of Psychotic Waltz's debut, if A Social Grace had been updated with the miniaturization and added complexity one would expect after a decade of development. The spacy "Cloud Constructor" on the other hand sounds like a similar treament given to Into the Everflow. Of course as with many modern replacements, some of the character of their predecessors is lost; the emotional impact of Psychotic Waltz is not present in full force, but perhaps I would sing a different tune if A Sceptic's Universe were nearly as consistent as A Social Grace.
Sometimes people who know me ask why I hate all this progressive garbage so much, but they fail to understand my point. I do not hate progressive music per se; I absolutely love Rush, for instance. But I’ve always found the excessive pretentious nature of a lot of this genre’s musicians to be annoying, and Spiral Architect's debut manages to mix this with an abusive dose of wanking, creating one of the most irritating pieces of music ever.
There is no hint of coherence here whatsoever. These guys are solely worried about showing off their skills and that's about it. There are no song structures and there's no sense of organic, flowing music. It’s all a jumbled mess of overwrought riffing, soloing, bells, whistles and whatnot. It seems like they were playing at different places then they sent their individual parts to some technician who was paid to glue it all together like goddamn Frankenstein but did a terrible job at it.
Make no mistake, this is the band Dream Theater would become if they suddenly ditched all their good melodic ideas and their (rather stale) songwriting skills and just did it for the cash. Yes, I consider this a cash grab because of the gimmick overdose. Pretentious prog fans will surely go wild over this because the whole thing is so damn technical and absurd.
It’s a very frustrating album because these guys are clearly talented (their bassist is amazing), but they fail to transform it into good music by employing good songwriting. Øyvind Hægeland sounds completely and utterly lost, but I don’t blame him, as singing along to such clusterfuck must be really hard. As for the riffs, they go from frantic noodling to something genuinely heavy, but there’s simply no time for them to sink in, let alone headbang to them. The same thing can be said about the drummer, who seems to be way too busy filling every space with tempo changes instead of playing some kind of steady or interesting beat. It tires me endlessly.
Ultra technicality does not equal good musicianship, and until they learn this simple lesson, this band will remain a hollow – if promising - entity.
Where to begin with this release? There really is no substance in this album. Mindbending technicality just does not cut it if this is all you have to show for the album's high points. Don't get me wrong, these gentlemen can really play their instruments, but just don't go anywhere with it. I fail to see a point in this album, except to show off its musicians' skills, which there is aplenty. This band, much like some of the previous reviewers, does remind me of Dream Theater. This band is what I like to refer to as a "musician's band". All they do is show off their technical skills without showing any real passion for playing. It seems like they really have no desire to be a "band", per se, but they want to come together and pull off their technical wankery as an outfit in an attempt to sound like a coherent collective entity we all like to call a "band".
The bass appears to be the backbone of this album, surprisingly enough. It is almost always heard and is almost always doing its own thing. It appears that the bass is the lead instrument while everything else takes a back seat to its rhythm and grooves. Sure there are no bass solos, but the bass is still the instrument the others revolve around, as without it, there would be almost no coherence or links between the other instruments.
The guitarist is here solely to show off his technical prowess. He has no essential point for being on this album. Solos aside, the guitarist tends to follow (yes, you heard me, follow) the bass lines on the album. The technical breaks the guitarist randomly throws in do not do anything to make the song more interesting. It actually takes away from the song in my opinion. I do listen to my share of technical bands, but at least they seem to know what they are doing in dealing with coherency and consistency issues, that is. The technical breaks cause most of the songs to lose credibility as they nearly ruin the consistency of the songs, in other words no flow. The acoustic guitars have even less of a point in this album, adding absolutely nothing to the rather crappy atmosphere of this album.
The drums and keyboard both take a back seat in this album. The drums are constantly drowned out by the triple attack of the guitars (acoustic included), bass and vocals, and the keyboard is hardly heard at all. The drums had potential to be good, but with the constant time changes and tech breaks, this also kills the flow of the songs. It just plods on with little to show other than technical knowledge. The keyboard was nearly absent.
The vocals really did nothing to add to the songs either, despite clearly being the best element on this album. They do not fit since there is no possible way that one can put vocals over this overly technical bullshit. He could be the greatest vocalist in the world, but would still go to naught since not even the best vocals can save this ruined project called an album.
To conclude, I have to say that this album really did nothing to open my eyes wider to look for other releases from this band. Thankfully, they do not have any other full-length releases, however. They are wasting their time, as well as mine. To waste precious time of others does not prove to be a good money-making tool. I cannot recommend this to anybody, unless you like Dream Theater, which I do not. This was a profound waste of time that I can only stress to other people not to listen to it.
Boy, this is complex. Actually, spastic is a better word. Rapid fire bursts of notes come one after another, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The vocals sing, and not too bad or good, just average, but are seemingly not in concert with the rest of the band, although in the end, it all seems to fall together in place. However, it can be a grating listen at times, because the chaos seems to be almost overtaking.
One thing that must be noted is Norberg, the bassist. He certainly marches to his own tune, and while at most times, it's an asset, there are a few moments (and it's in every song except the instrumental Occam's Razor) where he simply is not playing along to the rest of the band. However, that is easily ignorable, as his talent is immense and his phrasing is exquisite. The guitars follow similar patterns, although I feel the bass, for the most part, is the lead instrument, not the guitars. That is not to say the guitars aren't super technical. They are, and they fly at you like razors launched at you through a titanium fan. Likewise, the drums, performed by Borknagar drummer Asgeir Mickelson, are spastic and all over the place.
If you couldn't tell, this album goes all over the place. I have never heard anything quite so ADHD, and as a result, the first few listens were a mixture of shock and the feeling of my insides liquifying due to the absolutely chaotic nature of the music. Repeated listens were hard at first, though, because like the title of this review says, this is almost TOO technical. I can guarantee this will fly over the heads of 90% of the people who listen to it at first. It's a purely cerebral excercise, and very few will "get" it, as if there's anything to get.
Another problem, oddly enough, is the repetitivity. There's a theory called the chaos theory, which, through all its impressive mathematics, states that pure chaos is so chaotic that it eventually follows perfect order. And herein lies this album; it's a musical representation of the chaos theory. And however chaotic it can get, it is regularly chaotic (with the exception of cloud constructor) and after a while all the chaos seems to blend together, and it's hard to distinguish several songs apart as a result.
An album with many great strengths and a few glaring weaknesses, I can't recommend this to everybody, but it's certainly a good listen when you want music that outruns the hamster on a wheel in your brain. Otherwise, you will most likely find this dense and unapproachable. It's a trade-off, for sure, but if you genuinely get this, you will love it.
I've sometimes caught myself wondering what it would sound like if someone took highly technical instrumental prog-metal (the kind that the members of Dream Theater release when they aren't playing as a band, the kind that never has a chorus part in it) and sang over it. Most of the time, I convince myself that it would sound completely hideous, because there wouldn't be a singer up to the task, much less a lyricist. As it turns out, I was entirely wrong.
Spiral Architect have done precisely what I've always wondered about, and the net result is that it works wonderfully. They've recorded an album full of instrumental virtuosity, open-ended song structures and time-signature changes that will give you whiplash just listening to them, and then added lyrics and vocals, and blow me down if it's not something I can really sink my teeth into.
Musically, the album is also a standout from the virtuosic-prog legions by featuring a very prominent bass. How prominent? Well, it's quite clear that Lars Norberg as a bassist is capable of performing the role of a lead instrument. While most prog acts can boast a highly talented bassist, Norberg nearly eclipses the lead guitar when he plays, with his melodic runs often the standout on most tracks.
Naturally, the addition of vocals has meant that the long solos we might have expected from a purely instrumental act have had to be junked. After all, this is an album where the longest track clocks in at the 6:30 mark, so brevity is the name of the game here. Still, somewhere in the middle of "Moving Spirit" we are treated to a rather unexpected guitar solo, and there are a few others around. We're not talking about a John Petrucci live special by any means, but in context they work out quite nicely.
And so to the vocals. Øyvind Hægeland takes double duty as vocalist and keyboard player, and delivers some astonishing performances. He's not the kind of vocalist who's immediately recognisable, but his voice is always clear enough to be heard above the chaos of the rest of the band. It often seems to take the role of an extra instrument, adding yet another layer of density to the already complex music assaulting the listener. In this respect, I'd almost be tempted to compare Spiral Architect to the old prog-rock act Yes, whose lead singer (Jon Anderson) sang entirely meaningless lyrics on some tracks just purely to add atmosphere to the music around him.
Words really can't do an album like this justice. From the first to the last note, it's an entirely uncompromising slab of genius. It's very much not for everyone, though. Anyone who thinks of prog-metal as being the place where a-musical wankery is to be found is going to hate this release with a passion, as it's entirely composed of technicality for the sake of technicality. Anyone who expects the approachability of a Dream Theater or a Symphony X - two bands which may not be stunningly approachable, until you hear this - will also be in for a rude shock. This is progressive metal which demands to be heard on its own terms, but those who can approach it in that manner are in for a real treat.
Please disregard whatever score I choose to give this album. This album transcends ratings, rankings and other mundane human concepts.
Do you like prog? Do you like Demilich? Do you have the courage to try something so bizarre, you just might lose your mind? If you said yes to the first two, then this is not the album for you. If you said yes to the last one, then read on.
There should be a health warning on this album something along the lines of, "Abandon all hope, ye who listen to this." This album is so very out there in ways you cannot even imagine! Spiral Architect are either geniuses or madmen, there is no way a sane man can write or even play music like this!
I have no idea how to review this. The album is so criminally underproduced, yet somehow it sounds perfectly fine. The songs are also unconventionally structured, one second they play in 23/16, the next they play in 4/4. The music will make you GO INSANE! This band somehow manage to make this kind of aural mindfuck and play it with such ease.
Let's start with the production. This is a horrible production job, the drums lack 'power,' the guitar tone sucks and the guitars are mixed quite low, the vocals are alternate between loud and quiet in the same song, the keyboards are very prominent here. But the BASS! The BASS! This guy puts almost every bassist to shame, I mean it. The bass is mixed louder than everything else for no reason whatsoever. It is just engineered to fuck with your mind and drive you to the very edge of sanity.
Then comes the songs. The songs are not actual 'songs' mind you, I have absolutely no idea when one song starts or ends unless I see my CD/mp3 player. In a song there could be acoustic parts (very hard acoustic parts mind you, not just strumming the strings but actually SHREDDING on an acoustic guitar,) and keyboard parts that comes from nowhere and disappear just as suddenly. The drums do their thing while the bassist shreds his balls off. Meanwhile, the vocalist will come in sing in tounges and leave, only to come back with even more Glossolalia.
As you can see, this is not your average metal album. Hell, it's not even your average prog metal album. This out weirds Demilich's Nespithe and that is not something that ANYONE can accomplish.
If you value your mental health, then don't buy/download this album. If, however, you feel the need to explore the realms beyond, then by all means track this album down.
Note: This review was based on the one I wrote for epinions.com. I am not ripping someone off.
Despite the spelling error in this album's title, this is the quintessential album for fans of the heavier side of progressive metal. The odd times never cease; I don't think 4/4 is ever used at all by this band. All members of the band are excellent musicians, with the bassist being the driving member that goes beyond just simply playing a foundation but instead creates this band's sound. There are no real shredding guitar solos, but rather jazzier ones with feeling. Electronic and keyboard effects give this a semi-industrial flavor at times. There are no real "melodies" per se, so the vocalist's part is more of another instrument that is used to allow the intelligent, thinking man lyrics to be part of the music. The music is also atonal, sort of like if Arnold Schoenberg started a metal band. The songs don't really vary much in style; they are all just different interpretations on how to write crazy progressive metal.
The first track, "Spinning" is appropriately titled. It does exactly what spinning suggests, going around in circles and never seeming to stop. Most parts of this album have this kind of groove: the guitarists are constantly playing different things while the bassist complements everything in his own matter. The drummer tastefully adds fills in odd times.
The use of the clean guitars in the beginning of "Excessit" very closely resemble the one-time band, Cynic. In fact, this band highly resembles Cynic with a clean vocalist, and Cynic's bassist, Sean Malone is featured in the track, "Occam's Razor" playing one of my favorite instruments, the Chapman Stick.
The fifth track, "Insect" is the first one I heard from this band and is the most diverse piece on the album. It starts with an interesting keyboard ostinato with electronic clicks, sort of like industrial music, then the guitars take over. This song actually has lots of contrast in it; the electronic keyboard, a more driving heavy verse, and even sections with clean/acoustic guitars. A lot of this piece reminds me of Dream Theater when they do their instrumental breakdown in tracks like "Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper" and the instrumental genius, "The Dance of Eternity."
On the downside, this album gets to be a little overdone at times. Constant odd times and crazy atonal guitar and bass runs can make people get lost. It definitely builds on you though; once you start to understand what they are doing it all comes together. It is musician's music. I don't really think anyone with no musical training will appreciate this; they will just hear a jumble of notes and not "get it." To me, that makes it all the better.
I recommend this for fans of Cynic, Dream Theater, Watchtower, Death, and even Symphony X.