Spiral Architect: A Skeptic's Universe (Sensory/Laser's Edge, 2000)
Spiral Architect shook the underground progressive metal scene with their 1995 two-song demo from the A Gathering compilation sessions. This Norwegian five piece played crunchy power metal with amazingly technical yet melodic syncopations underneath lush, Yes-style vocal harmonies. The music went beyond all the major label, so-called "prog metal" bands ripping through their poorly written songs with cold technicality, even suggesting a new genre for ultra-progressive metal like Spiral Architect: "technical metal."
After long delays and flirtations with major labels unwilling to back such a creative, uncommercial band, the full-length Spiral Architect CD A Skeptic's Universe emerged in early 2000. On Sensory/Laser's Edge, A Skeptic's Universe was recorded, mixed, and produced by veteran soundman Neil Kernon, (Queensryche, Nevermore).
The impressive music on A Skeptic's Universe is an almost non-stop technical barrage of twisted yet melodic and accessible riffing. All the musicians execute this vision with skill, but the bass guitar work of Lars K. Norberg particularly excels. The mix is ideal for this style, heavy in the mid-range, keeping the low end of the guitars in the background and allowing Norberg's fluid, upper-fret bass work to shine.
Although A Skeptic's Universe contains less than 40 minutes of new music, since "Fountainhead" is a re-recorded version of one of the 1995 demo songs, the songs are so densely crafted and the quality so high throughout that the short running time is not noticeable. Unlike most "prog metal," the songwriting retains primary importance over individual soloing, and the individual passages on A Skeptic's Universe are thoughtfully and tastefully applied and executed. The flange effect applied to the entire band in places like the outro of "Insect" recalls Neil Kernon-produced Dokken records. This dated and rather non-progressive sound effect undercuts the serious, technical attitude of the music.
The songs blends the styles of several founding bands of technical metal, including Watchtower and Cynic. However, segments of the music betray excessive influences of Watchtower, Cynic, and Psychotic Waltz. A Skeptic's Universe steps backward from the brilliance of the A Gathering sessions demo in that these influences are cobbled together in awkward chunks that seem derivative of the other bands, rather than smoothly amalgamated into an original vision like the 1995 songs.
The songwriting on Spiral Architect's A Skeptic's Universe places them firmly atop progressive metal, with writing and playing superior to all other non-instrumental progressive metal bands. However, a less direct quoting of their musical influences in favor of a more original style and sound would have made A Skeptic's Universe even greater.
Reviewed by Scott Andrews [sha3u@Virginia.edu].
Spiral Architect: A Gathering Sessions, Two-Song Demo (1995)
Spiral Architect is a five member progressive metal band from Norway. They recorded two songs in 1995 for a compilation of Norwegian bands called A Gathering. Spiral Architect also released their songs, "The Fountainhead" and "Purpose," as a two song demo tape, available by mail order from the band.
The sound is a mixture of guitar-based melodic, technical metal and classic prog vocals. The riffs are intricate and layered, often with guitar harmonies, and they are well developed within the song structure without being overly repeated. The lead guitar is very fluid and smooth, which adds a soaring quality to the solo sections. The bass playing is solid, and featured in one lead break, and the drumming crisply holds everything together with great cymbal work. The guitars have a great crunchy midrange sound that fits perfectly with the harmonized, melodic style of riffing - picture a Van Halen I brown sound playing arpeggiated chords like the melodic parts of Cynic.
The vocals are densely layered and harmonized in the style of Yes. The layering is enhanced by the full range and clear sound of the singer, a session vocalist friend of the band. He has since replaced by a full time vocalist.
Overall, the music is very original and captivating - Spiral Architect does not sound like any prog metal band out there today because they combine influences and ideas in an original style. They avoid the cheesy pop choruses of mainstream "prog metal" bands like Dream Theater, and they sound very technical and sophisticated while retaining very accessible melodies. This band truly could go a very long way because of the combined appeal of their fusion of melody and intricacy.
Reviewed by Scott Andrews [sha3u@Virginia.edu].
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