After nearly eight years since their first record under the Arch/Matheos banner, vocalist John Arch and guitarist Jim Matheos have completed Winter Ethereal. Compared to its predecessor, it packs a bigger punch and delivers an altogether more refined sound.
Both Matheos and Arch have been involved in the long-running prog outfit Fates Warning, with the former being their only remaining original member and the latter parting ways with the band in the early ’90s.
The two are held in high esteem by both old and new prog fans alike, so it’s needless to say just how talented they are. Behind this dynamic duo are other present and former Fates Warning members, such as Bobby Jarzombek and Mark Zonder on drums and bassists Joey Vera and Joe Dibiase, as well as other guest musicians.
With such a beefed up lineup, Winter Ethereal has more than enough fuel to burn furiously (which it does, by the way). The huge riffs and soaring vocals are awesome, but the detail in the drumming is often what elevates the music (like in “Wrath of the Universe” where the drumming is seriously out of hand). Furthermore, the band allowed themselves a long, relaxed writing process for this album and it’s all the better for it. The entire record is sincere, with “Tethered”‘s light, steady emotion being the most apparent example of this, and there are no jumbled ideas that so often drag prog albums to the depths of the musical abyss.
Despite the ease with which this album flows, it explores a ton of different places. The album opens with a relatively dark feel in “Vermilion Moons,” but later shoots into the upbeat “Straight and Narrow”. There’s no shortage of heavy tunes and every song is very dynamic (which they should be, because they average at eight minutes apiece).
There are only two real issues in Winter Ethereal, and the biggest of the two doesn’t even have anything to do with the music. The first problem is the bass mix. Underneath the huge riffs and sharp vocals, the bass already has its work cut out for it, but this effort is mostly wasted because it’s all but absent in the mix. However, this shortcoming doesn’t hold a candle to the album artwork. It’s atrocious, dreary, and way too simple for an album that overflows with complexity and life.
I’m definitely not finished with this album and, chances are, I won’t be for a while. It has more than enough variety and the musicianship is, to say it modestly, superb. Arch/Matheos have once again produced an exceptional album that manages to stay away from being a Fates Warning 2.0. Clocking in at over an hour, Winter Ethereal will have you satisfied by the time it ends.
(released May 10, 2019 on Metal Blade Records)
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Watch Arch/Matheos – “Straight And Narrow” Video