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Ethos: Shade And Soil

Shade And Soil is the second album from Georgia natives Ethos, the band gaining many admiring glances for their Vessels debut way back in 2012. You may wonder what they've been doing since that lauded first outing, the answer being, since a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014, writing and recording. Admittedly this album was released in 2017, but that's still a long gestation between funding and release… no pressure then guys…

The music here is credited en masse to Ethos, but with Austen Earp singing, producing, co-arranging, co-mixing, playing piano, synths and some guitars, as well as composing the lyrics, would it be unkind to suggest he's this band's driving force? Maybe it would, Kuyper Cummings and Nick Riggs also having their fingers in many an Ethos pie. However whether he's the 'main man' or not, Earp may well be the dividing factor on Shade & Soil. Picking out the positives, his synth work on this mighty mix of progressive rock and metal is stunning indeed, adding nuances and body to an album positively dripping with hard hitting intricacy. It also sounds like a million dollars, so his production and mixing ear is also bang on the money. However, it's vocally that things come, well, not undone, let's just say they're a little looser than you might like. Reminding of Michael Voss (Mad Max/Michael Schenker) is no bad thing but the nasally and sometimes overly rounded approach while never bad, sometimes feels out of place. Then you have to factor in that his scream-growls sound more like a petulant child asking for more than they do an insistent scene changer. Given time I have found these aspects to soften and ease off, but they are there no matter how hard I try to ignore them.

Focusing on purely the negatives would be unkind indeed, for Ethos are a consummate collective that prove masters of a story telling style of prog. Arguably it's the three part "The Archetype Suite" which the album revolves around, the ability of Ethos to tell their tales in all manner of styles clear to hear. Never afraid to ease right back and bring a plaintive piano to the fore, so too do biting guitar riffs and cacophonous drums often beat a new path. "Blinded" is a perfect example of a mid-paced excursion that could have easily outstayed its eight minute-plus duration but turns out to be an ever evolving experience which twists and turns but never loses its way. The bass work here is masterful and the attack and retreat of guitars impressive and these are aspects that shine through right across this album, "Spectre" opening as though it might be a Genesis pastiche, but instead of worshipping Gabriel and Hackett, things immediately rush off into territory that Vanden Plas might lay claim to; technicality expertly combined with bullishness. "Wood For The Fire" decides to be a much more straight ahead foray of riff and roll – although one with dashing piano and dextrous drums, while "Frozen Memory" chooses an unexpectedly Symphonic-Prog with screams attack and positively thrives as it does so.

As you can tell the positives massively outweigh any negatives on Shade & Soil and yet it would be wrong of me not to suggest they are here. What with his multi-tasking maybe Earp could relinquish some of his time behind the mic for someone with a more readily agreeable tone, but in truth that would be compromise and Ethos ultimately come out as winners due to doing things their way and no one else's. Who I am to suggest they shouldn't keep doing exactly that?

Track Listing
1. Shade & Soil
2. Spectre
3. Wood for the Fire
4. Tragedy
5. Frozen Memory
6. The Archetype Suite: I. Strange Atlas
7. The Archetype Suite: II. The Lonely King
8. The Archetype Suite: III. Apotheosis
9. Coup D'etat
10. Evergreen
11. Agnosia
12. Blinded

Added: January 28th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Shade & Soul at bandcamp
Hits: 1519
Language: english

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