Review Summary: An album that builds the case that metal is among the most tolerant genres extant. This Venezuelan collective conjures an impressive combination of original sounds from around music and around the world for a refreshing prog metal experience.
What does it take to be a completely original band in 2010? This is the sort of question that cannot be accurately answered until such band reaches one’s ears. Very few such artists exist, and they will always be a shrinking pool until something groundbreaking is achieved. The sonic explorations of Venezuelan prog metal band Echoes, on their debut album Nature|Existence
, transcend easy definition because the combinations of sounds are wholly original.
Intended as one continuous piece, Nature|Existence
conceptually explores cycles, the main themes being love found and lost and the changing of seasons from spring to winter. The way the concept is executed is where much of Echoes’ originality shines: the prologue is at the end, while the epilogue is at the beginning. The epilogue is not just the end of one event, but the beginning of another, and vice versa. This form of cyclical writing makes this music feed off itself more naturally. Only five tracks have vocals, although all twelve have lyrics written to them, so the music plays a vital role in telling the storyline along with its themes.
Echoes has three guitarists - Rafael Sequera, Antonio Silva and Javier Landeata - who are not limited to electric and acoustic guitars, but also play nylon strings and 12-strings; Miguel Angel Moline often pulls out some tribal-style beats (Isis
is a favorite band of Echoes) and adds some small little cymbals in from time to time to supplement the eclectic nature of the music. The powerful tone of his kit definitely adds a certain swagger to Echoes, unusual for a band so diverse and friendly. Alfredo Ovalles on keyboards adds the requisite prog stylings, but classical music has always been his forte while pop, electronica and jazz ideas also converge into his style, often demonstrated all in the same track; check out the sinister organ leads at the beginning of the album’s dramatic turning point entitled Unfair
. The bass from Jorge Rojas is always audible and, as he has done everything “from death metal to pop music” according to Señor Ovalles, is free to play some original counterpoints and grooves. The beauteous fifth track, Bonfires
, really showcases how Jorge can take the lead at the right moments and impress with many different sides of his playing.
The music on Nature|Existence
, with all its unusual, fresh ingredients, is very dense and difficult to grasp despite its initially accessible nature. The production is incredible, incorporating all these ingredients and capturing their natural tones, and yet its low-end sound absolutely crushes: Rafael handles a 7-string guitar and comes up with some amazingly deep, nearly brutal grooves, while Miguel’s snare tone is punchy and drives the music along with compelling authority. The songs are not lengthy, with the biggest track only 6:32 long and the obligatory short storytelling interludes, but so many ideas are used in each track all at once that it nevertheless remains a truly progressive album. There is so much density that perhaps Echoes could have pulled back in some spots for a greater impact rather than let many ideas run wild at once; this is the chief flaw, but a very minor one, as the songwriting is still impressively tight and keeps control over the band’s experimental tendencies, which produce sounds never heard before for an original, progressive experience.
The brief Epilogue goes through a beautiful birth process, from an acoustic introduction to tribal tom beats, electronic and symphonic backdrops, and then merging into ascending riff strokes and emotionally stirring lead guitar work. The leads on this album are highly distinctive, lyrical and often sound as if they are singing to the listener; during the album’s more upbeat, pleasing moments, such as track five Bonfires
, the solos are the type of music that cannot be described adequately in words. This is easily one of the finest non-prog pieces I’ve heard from a prog band! Echoes clearly are very educated musicians, appreciating everything for its value and giving everything its place. The band’s name Echoes
is quite well-chosen, as many layers of keyboard electronics are hidden behind the back of many tracks, with little set structure in the way they are played. The sense of abstractness that pervades their sense of melody assists their conceptual execution, as the dense backdrop sounds incredibly realistic, embracing and reflects the natural atmosphere Nature|Existence
intends to create. Many melodies contain Latin overtones and enhance the album’s natural, eclectic atmosphere, while also being meticulously calculated using the best music theory.
When guest vocals appear on five of the tracks, they each contain different tones, with only one singer featured on multiple tracks; the carefree, still immature tenor of Nick Storr seems far younger than his years as his voice flutters through the exceptional, classically influenced Leaf Motif
, while the dramatic Rude Awakening
harnesses the powerful, high-range drawling vocal style of Carl Webb. The desperation as Carl belts out the chorus “You are changing away from me…”
alongside the song’s first heavy riffs make this another easy masterpiece. A strong metal flavor is still utilized, making its biggest appearance on its own during the first half of Lullaby
(containing a two-second blast beat), but is most impressive when it contrasts with the rest of the musical ingredients. The aforementioned Rude Awakening
contains an even more powerful musical moment: after another of the abstract electronica breaks past the 4:30 mark, one guitar plays a deep riff while a second plays another of the finest guitar melodies on the whole CD! Initially, it only contains three notes
and is actually located somewhat behind the mix, but main lead guitarist Rafael Sequera squeezes every single piece of emotion out of those strings to reflect the main character’s self-imposed isolation. When combined with the interchange against the deep chord and the shifting time signatures underneath, it’s a shame this moment lasts only about 15 seconds.
Other album highlights not to be missed are numerous. The groove-chugs before the verses of Far From Coincidence
, which are some of the album’s heaviest moments, make for a venomously catchy track; the effect-drenched voice on the last track with vocals, Winds of Dread
, is haunting as the main character laments over his missed chance at real love, immediately followed by a piano and chamber string quartet piece entitled Farewell
. (Classical music fans are not to miss this one.) The Prologue that ends the album is a heartfelt way to bring the CD to a close, with mellow guitar strumming of many different types and a bittersweet acoustic outro; it knows that it is not merely the end of one adventure, but the beginning of a new one.
One can only hope that this fantastic, highly original band can embark on further adventures and create a true classic. Much of this release is there already, but some parts here and there could still use some refinement. Centerpiece Unfair
loses its way somewhat in a bit too much noodling during the bridge and lacks the exquisite perfection of shifting moods found in the other songs, and the weakest track is clearly number nine, Despair
. The chaotic, musically nonsensical key changes throughout this track depict the main character’s loss of hope after his perfect relationship ended, despair at the unfairness of the world and questioning the creator that made this “wretched masterpiece;” appropriately, it begins with a tense minor-key intro with somewhat contradictory time signatures played by each member and develops the main theme adequately, but then runs low on gas about halfway through and never regains the promise or impact it began with. Though these are chief enough reasons to drop the album rating somewhat, they remain minor missteps on one of the finest releases of 2010, with the odd years most famous for success in progressive music (2009 being one of the greatest in recent memory). Caracas, Venezuela is now solidly on the metal map, with its newest representative both a paragon of the local music scene and a vehicle for radical change there and abroad. A definite essential release!