Arch/Matheos - Winter Ethereal
Metal Blade
Progressive Metal
9 songs (1:07:59)
Release year: 2019
Metal Blade
Reviewed by Goat

A collaboration between the founding members of Fates Warning, comprising of original vocalist John Arch(ambault) and current guitarist Jim Matheos, this is a project that will of course appeal primarily to fans of the first couple of Fates Warning albums but shouldn't be overlooked by any devotee of prog metal. For one, it's a slightly less intense and technical workout than the first album from the duo, 2011's Sympathetic Resonance - a great album but something of a single-faceted listen dominated as it is by three ten-minute plus tracks. Winter Ethereal adds variety with more traditional heavy metal in the mix, even with the expected epics that open and close the album, and it's notable that Arch's voice is simply better here, less nasal than on that album's acquired taste making it easier to enjoy the album as it comes. That's already a fair prospect, the riff-driven prog that opens the album in the form of nine-minute stomper Vermillion Moons easy to appreciate whether you're a complete newcomer to the hefty Fates Warning back catalogue or not. Arch will obviously dominate your attention but Matheos is a truly fantastic guitarist, capable of soulful melodic passages or classic heavy soloing as well as possessing riffs by the bucketload, and when ably backed by such a wealth of talented bassists and drummers as the duo are across the album (Vermillion Moons alone boasts Steve DiGiorgio and Thomas Lang!) it adds up to a compelling album for fans of prog metal, and it's definitely not one to put on for background music.

Sure, the songs can be hard to distinguish from each other on initial listens and it's easy to get lost in the maelstrom as Arch moves from melancholic wailing to almost playful yowls (as on Wanderlust) like some bizarre amalgamation of James LaBrie and Geoff Tate. Yet given time the distinctions become clearer and each listen reveals a little more. So Solitary Man sees Arch's slightly off-kilter and almost rambling at points approach (in fairness, each song has a lot of lyrics packed in) over a complex yet tuneful backing that isn't a million miles away from Iron Maiden territory, particularly the chorus, while the following Wrath of the Universe pumps up the aggression and heaviness with a more galloping power metal feel with some suitably pumped-up drumming from Bobby Jarzombek. Mandatory ballad Tethered works surprisingly well with Arch relatively restrained but still sounding powerful and engaged atop a mostly acoustic backing, and shortest track present Straight and Narrow has a hard rocking groove to it that's very effective, almost biker metal compared to the rest of the album!

There's not a track that really counts as filler, even towards the end of the album, although some will definitely require a little more patience from the listener than others. Pitch Black Prism has an intriguing touch of melodic doom to it, complete with some lovely basswork from Cynic's Sean Malone, while the eight-minute Never in Your Hands is an extended proggy meanderer that took the longest to grow on me as good as the instrumentation is, including drumming from Leprous' Baard Kolstad. And thirteen-minute finale Kindred Spirits is a real test for those unused to this sort of thing, ending the album with less of a bang that it could have; a good song, of course, but not one filled with hooks, prog metal to sit and sip a drink to rather than rocking out. Yet it fits the album's style and will please those who have given this nearly an hour of their time already! Going back and refreshing my memory of early Fates Warning, it's wonderful to hear how little Arch's voice has changed despite his now being 60 years old. And even if you do simply find his voice irritating, Winter Ethereal is still an instrumentally impressive and ambitious project from these underrated legends of the prog scene, filled with technical and gorgeous guitarwork from a masterful player who doesn't get nearly enough kudos for his contributions to metal history. Perhaps not quite up to the rigorous standard set by Sympathetic Resonance, but definitely not far behind; those in the know will love this.

Killing Songs :
Vermillion Moons, Solitary Man, Wrath of the Universe, Pitch Black Prism
Goat quoted 82 / 100
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