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Broken Door CD Cover
Image © Ephemeral Sun 2004

Laurie Ann Haus
Laurie Ann Haus (lead vocals)
Image © Ephemeral Sun 2004
used with permission
 

(10 July 2005) Ephemeral Sun are an extraordinary five piece rock band from the North Virginia area of the USA. Their music is very hard to categorise--a complex and compelling mixture of progressive rock and pitch-black metal laced with hints of world music and electronica. Despite its length, clocking in at over 70 theatrical minutes, Broken Door (Ephemeral Sun (USA) ESCD 200401, 2004) hangs together brilliantly as a piece of work much greater than the sum of its parts. It demands listening to in one sitting, immersing the listener in its Gothic world of pain and decay without ever failing to entertain, alternating moments of dark beauty with those of brooding, aggressive intensity. Indeed the sound effects alone are worth the price of admission, as chillingly atmospheric as a David Lynch film. And then there is the music.

Each member of the band has a chance to shine, particularly as there are so many shifts in style and tempo, handling both crunching metal and up tempo progressive moments with confidence. Guitarist Brian O'Neill should be praised, in particular, for his versatility. Though his playing is not especially distinctive, he deftly masters metal, melodic and ambient progressive lead lines, not to mention jazzy acoustic soloing, with effortless skill.

With excellent female vocals from Laurie Ann Haus, parallels with Within Temptation and Nightwish are inevitable, though her soprano is less operatic, and overall the bands sound is pitched midway between the melancholy of Norwegian prog band White Willow, and the Gothic metal of British band Season's End. However, the star of the album, undoubtedly, is keyboardist John Battema. From gentle and beautifully recorded piano and rasping organ, to ambient synth excursions and hard edged moog flourishes, his playing dominates the album. His solos are strongly influenced by Rick Wakeman, even down to the Yes man's trademark mid-solo key changes, but his ambient synth playing is equally impressive.

"Discovery" sets the tone for the whole album--an electronic whirl polarises into more ambient swirls of sound, before the song proper kicks in--a dramatic gothic metal workout with some typically melodic guitar figures. Its end section features some inventive Eastern-sounding vocals. "Hands of Fire" begins with a dark vocal and keyboard interlude, before the song itself continues the Eastern-tinged theme, by way of some stunning multi-tracked vocals.

"A Blanket of Darkness" is a disturbing mix of sound effects, electronics and treated vocals, which gives way to the delicate piano and solo vocal of "Fall Betrays the Earth." Next up is the crunching prog metal instrumental "Winter Has No Mercy," which features the first of Battema’s amazing synth lines, a huge Hammond organ solo and a jazzy Spanish guitar interlude, before a huge metallic climax.

After this breathtaking piece, the next section of the album commences with the title track, a sinister combination of sound effects, segueing into "Walking with Frightened Angels,"another huge metallic instrumental with eerie, wordless vocals and a truly throbbing bass line. "The Dance" commences with another big metal riff, giving way the main song, dominated by whirling keyboards and multi-tracked vocals. "Interlude" is the briefest of piano pieces, before the crunching "Rats," with its heavily treated lead vocal and stabbing guitar and keyboards. The song has a gentler mid section, with dreamy keyboards and another melodic guitar solo, and the rat noises at the end of the song are remarkably chilling.

"Approaching Acheron" is a delightfully surreal and dreamy ambient instrumental, led by choral keyboards, delightfully restrained guitar and some inspired drumming from Tim Miller. A final burst of metal at the end of this piece spoils the mood rather, but sets the scene for the band's twelve-minute tour de force, "A Song for Twilight." This commences with some brooding bass from Charles Gore before a lovely vocal section, leading into a mid section which has a faint reggae feel to it. The song then shoots off into an extended instrumental passage with metal guitars and some more great lead synth, before a pounding end section and a reprise of the instrumental mid section. A few minutes of disturbing sound effects complete the album.

There are faults amidst all the brilliance, changes in mood and effects. Occasionally some of the actual song writing seems underdeveloped, and one of the things that of readers of Musical Discoveries most dislike--that the vocals are mixed a touch too low amongst the instrumental pyrotechnics--slightly tarnishes an otherwise astonishing debut. However, these are minor considerations. Disturbing, beautiful and full of invention, this is must-have for all fans of dark, female fronted rock music.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England

 
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