Review Summary: Literally drifting through space, watching the world burn, awaiting your demise. One can either seek bliss or turn to madness.
What first drew my attention to this debut album, besides its sleek 1990s anime style cover art, was the fact that The Lylat Continuum contains musicians from well-known bands in the prog metal scene. Members such as Jordan Eberhardt, the current bassist of The Contortionist, and Mike Caramazza, the drummer of Last Chance to Reason. This supergroup-esque assembly of musicians is what had gotten many of their new listeners interested, but from what I can tell from looking at analytics on Last.fm and Spotify, much of their popularity was short-lived as their listening frequency has died down a bit. However, I would like those of you who have seen this album in passing or have listened to it once or twice to offer some reconsideration.
Cut to the chase, what one will find on this album is a very complex blend of technical progressive death metal with some metalcore influence (not metalcore enough for RYM but too metalcore for MA) very reminiscent of Between the Buried and Me and early The Contortionist. This is combined tastefully with elements of ambient and psychedelic space-rock which give this album a fairly unique atmosphere. This dynamic duo of genres does well to provide a balanced album by contrasting its very heavy, and technical moments with its drifting atmospheric spacey moments. Aside from a few problems, which I will delve more into later, this album really sticks out this year for creating something unique, unconventional, and well produced.
Maybe it is just me, but it seems like every science fiction metal album that involves space, must also involve death. As the concept of this album involves a fighter pilot who has been fatally injured during a large interplanetary battle and is drifting through space on a failing ship. He bears witness to the destruction and debris of the conflict and contemplates his nearly approaching demise. The primal feelings of a nearly approaching death will naturally make one frantic, even in the face of conscious peace. This erratic emotional journey is a charitable way one can interpret the fact that this album, though generally becomes more atmospheric as the album goes on, has no clear structure to follow.
The thing about this album is that its complexity is simultaneously one of its strengths and one of its biggest weaknesses. The way the album is structured with two gargantuan songs at the near beginning and other more moderate-length songs later is a weird way to structure it all. Additionally, the cut-off from one song to another can feel daunting at times. It seems like the members of The Lylat Continuum will intentionally not place the song endings where they would make the album flow the most intuitively. On the contrary, they choose their cut-offs seemingly more with the intention to try and be overly innovative which sacrifices the smoothness of the album. Just for example, from “Into the Vast” to “Zero” feels like it could have transitioned earlier in “Into the Vast” as it built up with a beautiful psychedelic introduction then it blasts you with very BTBAM-esque riffs and growls before the intro song ends, where it sharply cuts to the next song back to a momentary pause.
Additionally, the compositions within each of the songs focus a ton on the technicality of their musicianship, rather than on memorable riffs and melodies. Though from time to time there are some really great riffs like on 1:03 of “Epyon”, but riffs like these are admittedly few and far between. Much of the heavy moments of the song are djent-like mathcore breakdowns, alongside its more tech-death Between the Buried and Me style riffs. A lot of the time it feels like there is no meaningful direction the music builds up to in much of Ephemeral. In most songs on this album, there are many technical and innovative twists and turns, but the song always suddenly ends without much of a direct payoff. In essence, the chaos of this album makes it very hard to follow and it takes many listens for one to start being able to remember a lot of its composition. This can make the album forgettable and unenjoyable on the first few listens because of the lack of its accessibility.
However, I will say that this album starts to come around more once the listener devotes time to it. It is a very complex album and it should be treated as such. It has a lot to offer once one has gotten over its unconventional songwriting. The album is produced pretty well, it conveys exceptional musicianship, and has a lot of rhythm and atmosphere. There is also a good bit of variety on the album. For instance, the synths provide a gorgeous background to a lot of the ambient sections and help create its more open, introspective moments. There also are a good bit of jazzy sections on the album in its psychedelic interludes. Additionally, besides the many guitar solos throughout the album, there is an enjoyable saxophone section on “Level 5” done by Patrick Corona who does the saxophone for Rivers of Nihil live.
Overall, this album has a lot going for it, but because of the way it is constructed, the whole may not equal the sum of its parts. But maybe that was part of the artist’s intention, we can only speculate. If you are someone who can take the more chaotic side of technical death metal/-core, and if you are interested in a very high paced and musically dynamic adventure, then Ephemeral might just be for you.