Review Summary: The blueprint to how to play modern progressive metal.
If I had to describe the new Arch/Matheos album is just one word, that would be “unconventional”. From the timing of its release and the combination of the cover art/title, to its demanding content which, nonetheless, hits you on a deep emotional level, Winter Ethereal
is not your typical progressive metal record. And how could it have been conventional when Jim Matheos is so far from your typical prog metal guitarist？Despite his impeccable technique, his (reminiscent of the great David Gilmour) less-is-more approach, is one of the reasons that has made Fates Warning’s output so special. John Arch, on the other hand, can be an acquired taste for some. Being one of the first power/prog metal vocalists and a blueprint of sorts for all subsequent singers, has a style that can either tire or make a listener love him. Listening to Winter Ethereal
, it’s not hard to understand why. The man uses his voice as an additional instrument and has been given the freedom to make specific parts of a song longer, in order to fully express himself. As such, his voice is ever present and lifts the songs in a way that eventually make his performance one of the highlights of the album.
Nonetheless, it’s not the individual performances that make Winter Ethereal
such a special offering; it’s the sheer level of emotion throughout the LP. Maybe the most representative sample of that is “Kindred Spirits”, which refers to rescue animals and animal abuse. The album closer is a behemoth of a track with many movements and several twists and turns. However, at the same time, it carries a level of emotional heaviness which brings to my mind My Dying Bride’s “For My Fallen Angel”. Moving on, "Pitch Black Prism" refers to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster through the eyes of a survivor and by now you must have fully grasped that this is not your usual progressive metal album. That is not to say, of course, that the instrumentation isn’t top notch, but that was expected with an impressive array of participants such as Steve Di Giorgio and Joey Vera on bass, or Bobby Jarzombek and Mark Zonder on drums. As a result, they have achieved a great sense of melody and clever use on dynamics, while some of the highlights of the album are when the two guitarists trade solos such as on “Never in Your Hands”. In addition, there is a nice mix of heavier moments, that might bring Dream Theater to your mind, and soft passages, and there is even a ballad (“Tethered”) where we can experience the constrained side of this band.
It is too early to say whether John Arch and Jim Matheos have managed to top Sympathetic Resonance
, or if we have a progressive metal classic in our hands. Nonetheless, Winter Ethereal
is an ode to modern progressive metal, with incredible depth that is due to all the minor details and its lyrical content. At the end of the day, Jim Matheos has once again shown the world how modern prog should be played, if that wasn’t clear on Fates Warning’s latest affair. And it might be time to accept that the legendary guitarist can do no wrong…