Review Summary: If you're looking to spend 46 minutes being awake, this EP is not for you.
Amidst the never-ending sea of ‘atmospheric’ one-man black metal bands emerges a project called Echtra, led by J. Joshua Phillips, who handles all of the instruments on this album. There are only so many bands that can play this type of metal before it becomes bland, boring and totally unoriginal. Three words which define 2009 EP ‘A War for Wonder’ in a nutshell.
The album starts off unsurprisingly enough with a simple acoustic melody before the electric guitars and drums inevitably come crashing in. While black metal is indeed renowned for its repetitive nature, there is only so much repetition that the listener can succumb to before getting an overwhelming urge to stop the music, delete the album off the computer and never listen to it again, such is the case with A War for Wonder. The first track consists of 23 minutes of about three riffs being repeated over and over again, with only slight-differences between each of the riffs.
Structurally, the second track (also 23 minutes long) is a little more interesting and has a lot more going on, and is overall less monotonous as the first, which saves the EP from having no credibility at all. However, although not as much as in the first track, the emptiness and pure lack of conviction is still present in the second track, and thus it seems to be a relief when the EP is over.
Maybe if Echtra had got the production or the choice to include/exclude vocals right, the EP would have been somewhat decent. However, this is not the case. Again, black metal isn’t exactly renowned for having great production, but usually this gives these bands the cold, atmospheric edge that they are trying to achieve. Not Echtra – the production on A War for Wonder just leaves a lot to be desired. An example of the poor quality production is the fact that, in parts of the first track, the noises made when sliding to different frets on the guitar are actually louder than the guitars themselves.
As for the vocals, or lack of thereof, (bar the quietly sung melodies near the end of the second track) the choice to exclude them was a poor one, as this EP really needed something to make it at least a little bit interesting, and some decent vocals would have done just that. Instead, the lack of vocals just adds to the emptiness of the EP.
To summarise, Echtra is just a small fish in a big pond; J. Joshua Phillips has managed to make an EP where the only thing that separates it from its other modern day contemporaries is the fact that it fails to be of decent quality, and somehow manages to not have a single interesting aspect to it. If it had not been for the slightly more adventurous song-structure in the second track, and the fact that music doesn’t sound ‘awful’, A War for Wonder would have been a complete waste of an EP. Don’t let the enticing album cover fool you; this is really not original, exciting or even slightly interesting to listen to.