Review Summary: Aspherium returns with another solid outing, improving upon their past works to craft a more than excellent progressive-metal record.
The Norway Progressive melodic death-metal quartet has returned in 2019 to bring us their third studio outing, five years after the release of their excellent sophomore effort The Fall of Therenia, which was preceded by their already solid debut The Veil of Serenity. Which raises the question whether Aspherium can attain or even surpass the level of musical output they’ve shown they can bring to the table. To answer that question somewhat prematurely: I think they may well have not only attained the same quality of musical output as on Therenia, but musically surpassed that record in rather impressive fashion.
Firstly, I would be remiss if I didn’t quickly touch upon the conceptual particularities found on this record, for in true Prog fashion, The Embers of Eternity is another concept album. Whatever the exact narrative focuses on, is rather difficult to tell, because the lyrical content on this album is quite difficult to accurately decipher, especially for someone unaware of the intentions behind the lyrics. Luckily the band does offer some clarity themselves: “[The album is] … about the future of our own planet earth. The world has become a desolate wasteland, and the album is about what happened and why humanity did nothing to save our planet.” However, to paraphrase Foucault: “the meaning of any given text cannot be reduced to the intention of the author”. So, if you’re willing to take the time to sift through the album’s lyrical content I’m sure you could cultivate your own interpretations. All of this notwithstanding, the conceptual intricacies of this record are not its most attractive elements.
For this is prog we are talking about and this album certainly falls perfectly into that category. The Embers.. is ripe with interesting and varied instrumentation, individual dexterity, transdisciplinary tendencies, comprehensive and atypical compositional structures and above all a remarkable amount of dynamism. That last aspect being already noticeable on the first track, which starts off with these ominous guitars before precipitously transitioning into a flurry of double-base drumming and varied riffing, which quickly segues into a soaring melodic guitar part. It is these dynamic song structures, characterized by stark contrasts in tempo, instrumental usage and vocal style, which allow the relatively long songs on this record (4 of the 9 songs are 8+ minutes in length) to capture the listeners attention throughout. Some of these transitional moments even reminded me of pre-heritage era Opeth, contrasting death-metal guitar riffing accompanied by harsh vocals with soothing (sometimes acoustic) interludes often containing more clean vocal usage. This is showcased clearly on the 5th track Shadows of Creation, among many others.
Speaking of those clean vocals, they’re used far more often than on their previous records, although I find that they’re implemented adequately, never detracting from the overall heaviness of the record, both musically and conceptually. Instead they help balance the album’s overall mood and serve as tools of transition between certain segments of songs, merely adding to this albums formidable dynamics and artistic divergence. Furthermore, the harsh vocals on this album, performed by Marius Skarsem Pedersen, are extremely well-executed and remarkably heterogeneous, ranging from nasty lows and mids to the occasional deafening shriek, which, along with the sporadic blastbeats and tremolo picking, clearly showcase Aspherium’s black metal influences (see track 7). The vocals elicit a sensation comparable to being bellowed at by a rather vociferous Viking, although the fact the Marius is from Norway and sort of looks like a Viking might also play a part in that sentiment. Nevertheless, Aspherium always manage to apply their different vocal styles appropriately, always allowing the vocals to perfectly accommodate the music’s temperament. In addition, these dynamic and varied instrumental and vocal tendencies never feel awkward or discombobulating, as they always appear smoothly executed and meticulously timed. You can tell Apsherium carefully and precisely construed their compositions on this album, adding to its overall cohesiveness. The transitions on this album could only be described as silky smooth.
In addition the riffs on this album are, to put it bluntly, bloody amazing. Ranging from crushingly heavy, to highly varied and technical, to beautifully melodic; the riff palate which Aspherium have prepared for the listener of this album presses all of the right buttons in all of the right ways, from the portentous opening riffs to the title track to the thrashy, galloping and tremolo-picky madness at the start of The Beckoning Spire. It’s all there and it’s present in spades. As far as the bass goes, it’s certainly not the star of the show. However, it remains moderately audible and at times provides some nice, groovy undertones. The drums on the other hand, are far more present in the music, offering tasty drum-fills, blazing fast double-bass whirls, infectious thrash beats and of course the occasional blastbeat. The pair of 7-string guitars alongside the excellent vocals do remain the stars of the show though, not only bringing the riffs, but also some extremely tasty solos and duel-guitar work, with the second track of the album serving as a prime example of this. The album also features the desultory tribal drumming in the penultimate track as well as what must be a synthesizer interlude on the epic closing piece, serving as a felicitous apotheosis to an already great record.
In the end Aspherium have comprised another laudable addition to their discography, surpassing previous efforts with stellar instrumental dexterity and focus, a seemingly endless array of quality guitar riffs and solo’s, thunderous percussion, fantastic vocal performances and creative yet intricately cohesive compositions. Ultimately the only major point of critique worthy of mentioning might be that Aspherium have not necessarily deviated too much from their artistic formula, displaying the same musical and conceptual tendencies as on their previous records and remaining true to their original style. As far as I’m concerned however, this is quite acceptable at current, just 3 albums into their career. The hope is that Aspherium will continue to expand on this success in the future and start to differentiate their musical output even more, lest it becomes stale and uninspired. For now though, all I can say is that I’m thoroughly impressed with this new release - props to you Aspherium!