Label: Metal Blade Records
I’m going to be honest. It’s one of those times that I actually don’t know how to start my review. Yes, I refer to the album at hand.
This particular album has been stuck with me for some weeks now, its music has started growing on me, I have been in total connection with it, however, the process of transferring my thoughts and feelings about it on a piece of paper creates some kind of awkwardness. Maybe because its one of those few times when my personal wishes as a listener are satisfied completely with this record. Anyway…
Based on the sonic result that reaches in a crystal clear way my ears, “Winter Ethereal” is the final result of three constituents. Its source of inspiration, maturity and the need for creation.
As a listener, I realize a liberated Jim Matheos composing his material while taking a walk through all the Fates material and his personal periods – I’m also including the previous “Sympathetic Resonance”- . He palpates and explores. He will set up conscious bridges with the sonic stigma and the synthetic mindset of the finest Metal record of all time -Awaken The Guardian-. Yes, in general, the first Fates period awaits you to discover it in several parts of “Winter’s” tracks, but not as a repressed return to the past – due to the cooperation – but as a health element in a breathable mosaic.
But there is room – and reason for being – for influences outside of the Fates Universe as well. Either they result in an almost narrative prog rock introvertness, or they play with the modern and cold futurism of some low-tuned themes that have been planted for good in Jim’s DNA, or simply serve the creator’s need to get involved with straight ahead patterns.
But because we’ll be going back to the Fates references as expected, we can, without any difficulty, find out elements from each period separately. From the “No Exit” link to the bright Alder era and of course the gray period that stops where the two last Warning albums begin, anxious, claustrophobic and postmodern, but not unnoticed – not even here. So, everything is present. In small individual pieces – elements, small sound crumbs, so balanced in each piece of “Winter Ethereal”; a perfect “everything on the right place” album.
And on top of all of them, John Maurice Archambault. He leaves his signature here, composing and interpreting. I can imagine him. Closing his eyes and just leaving the river of inspiration free to roll. Like the times when we were holding the cassette player in hand, the Fates riffs in his ears, pouring his musicality in our soul. I’m sure that nothing has changed since then. It sounds like nothing has changed since then. I can hear him transforming every single point, each song into a little mystery. With a voice that climbs up, that it’s elusive, it goes under the music cracks and pierces between notes by conquering warmly the pieces of the mosaic I mentioned before, pieces made to welcome it anyway.
As far as execution of the tracks goes, we have – as we were expecting – members of the greater Fates family, along with selected guests to bring out the masterpieces of the album. The old acquaintance Frank Aresti plays solo guitar at “Never In Your Hands” and “Kindred Spirits”. The huge Joey Vera assumes bassist duties in “Wanderlust” and “Never In Your Hands”, while Joe Dibiase grabs the bass guitars in “Solitary Man”. The octopus Bobby Jarzombek plays drums in “Wrath Of The Universe” and “Straight And Narrow,” while the ubiquitous Mark Zonder pummels the drums in “Wanderlust” and “Tethered”, in which (the latter) we will meet George Hiddeous (flashback to “Parallels” / “Inside Out” season?), playing bass.
From then on, the list of guests involved is great and exquisite with loud papers: Thomas Lang (Paul Gilbert’s drummer and at some point accompanied John Wetton) plays drums in “Vermilion Moons”, “Solitary Man” and “Straight And Narrow “, Matt Lynch from Cynic, starred in “Kindred Spirits”, while Baard Kolstad from Leprous builds with his drums “Never In Your Hands”.
Steve DiGiorgio – need I mention his bands? – plays bass at “Vermilion Moons”, “Wrath Of The Universe” and “Straight And Narrow”, while Sean Malone (second Cynic participation – with a bonus Aghora experience) is hidden behind the bass lines in “Pitch Black Prism” and “Kindred Spirits”.
“And where we end up, dear?” We conclude that we are dealing with a masterpiece album. Inspired, diverse, mature and well executed. I won’t go into the process of referring to separate tracks, since in my humble opinion the album is heard and is being experienced at its entirety.
The album of the year for me.
If albums like these are released, there is hope.