As writers, we love progressive rock's sub-genres. No, we
aren't hell-bent on pigeon holing every CD that comes our way. It just helps us
describe the music. If a review says, for example, that a CD is
progressive death metal, then you wouldn't expect to hear any '70s era flonkus.
But some CDs just won't fit comfortably into any of the usual categories. All
credit to those artists for thinking outside the box, but how the heck do you
explain the record's contents to a reader who hasn't yet been lucky enough to
hear it? It's like trying to describe color to the blind!
The Broken Door is The debut full length CD from
progressive band Ephemeral Sun, and it defies easy categorization. Perhaps the
simplest description would be "imaginative, hard-edged progressive rock, with
female vocals". There - did we just invent a new sub-genre? Another band that
might fall into the same sub-genre is Rain Fell Within. That would be cheating,
though, because Ephemeral Sun was formed by ex-members of Rain Fell Within.
On first spin you'll hear hints of The Gathering - and
you're ready to write this up as another female-fronted goth metal band. Listen
to that strong bass line and the (occasional) distorted riffs, look at the
gloomy cover art - yup, goth metal. Listen again, though, and nothing
could be further from the truth. Laurie Ann Haus's voice has a similar style and
timbre to The Gathering's Anneke van Giersbergen but that's where the
similarity ends. And don't let anyone fool you - The Broken Door is
not metal. It's hard-edged prog, and there's an important difference.
Ephemeral Sun takes its cues first from from rock,
and then from metal, electronica, various forms of world music, and
there's a hint of fusion. No two songs are the same, and un-like The
Gathering, the vocals do not dominate every song - allowing the interesting
bass-heavy, keyboard-rich elements into the spotlight. In fact between them,
"Approaching Acheron" and "...Winter Has No Mercy" are 15 minutes of purely
instrumental music rich in moog and 'tron sounds and notwithstanding Laurie
Ann's wonderful singing, these tracks are probably the highlights on the album.
The guitar passages are elegant - listen for the bass / drum / Hammond
combo that provide an ominously deep rhythmic thumping accompaniment to a
wonderful flamenco-styled guitar piece on "...Winter Has No Mercy". After a
minute or so we're into Hammonds and 'trons and that very deep bass is still
testing your sub-woofer. Then it morphs into a synth solo, then a guitar solo -
and that's less that a third of the track. The tempo shifts are frequent, and
they're usually fairly well managed although some are rather abrupt and awkward.
"Rats" has its vocals played through a voice-distortion box while the underlying
instrumentation again meanders through constant flow of mood shifts. Another
highlight is the 17-minute closing track "A Song for Twilight", which showcases
the vocals particularly well.
This music won't stand still for more than a few moments at
a time. The song structures are constantly shifting. There are occasional
electronic effects, but not enough to bore you after several spins. Brian
(ex-Land Of Chocolate) O'Neill's guitars are a strong point, and John Battema's
keyboards will recall classic prog in both sound and playing style.
With a little more polish, some attention to
production and vocal technique, this would be a 5-star review. But hey, 4.5 / 5 is still an A, and
remember that this is a debut release! You can play this record many
times over without it boring you. Well recommended.
Now if we could just find that missing sub-genre!
01 - Discovery
02 - Hands of Fire
03 - A Blanket of Darkness
04 - Fall Betrays the Earth...
05 - ... Winter has no Mercy
06 - Broken Door
07 - Walking with Frightened Angels
08 - The Dance
09 - Interlude
10 - Rats
11 - Approaching Acheron
12 - A Song for Twilight