Every once in a while I’ll run into a band that contains an element that I usually refer to as the “love it or hate it factor”. This is the one element that can potentially be the “make it or break it” tipping point that dictates, often unfairly, whether a listener will give a piece of music a chance. Being a progressive music fan, I feel that my tolerance level is set higher than the casual listener by default, and it usually takes something egregious in the mix to turn me off of music that I would normally enjoy. For Ethos, that love it or hate it factor for many people will be the vocals, although I would implore those initially off put to give “Shade & Soil” a chance.
Much like other contemporaries who choose to pursue this type of vocal style, the aforementioned love it or hate it factor has absolutely nothing to do with the performance, production, or execution of the vocal parts, which largely drive the album. The performance in my opinion is stellar throughout. However, the tone of the vocals largely subscribes to a higher, somewhat nasal-style delivery not unlike the Coheed’s and Thank You Scientist’s of the world. Whereas this style has never been an issue for me personally, I know more than a few individuals who simply can’t or won’t get past this style in order to reap the musical rewards within (TYS being a 50% love it/hate it amongst my personal recommendations). That attitude is fair enough I suppose, but one that is worth at least being cognizant of.
With that out of the way, Ethos play in a thoroughly modern style of alt-tinged progressive hard rock that flirts with occasional heaviness and large scale melody courtesy of an omnipresent piano and orchestral arrangements. In fact, to draw an aforementioned comparison a bit further, the overall sound reminded me at times of a less jazz inflected and more mellow Thank You Scientist, sans horns. I say that as a compliment, as that band is one of the best things going in modern prog. The compositions are lean and tight rhythmically, and the clean sounding production really accentuates what is going on structurally, at the expense of a certain grit.
Early album highlights include “Wood for the Fire”, which has a killer verse and chorus and driving main rhythm. “Tragedy” similarly has a huge and anthemic vocal and some really tasty guitar lines hovering over the proceedings. Really great stuff. Elsewhere on the record, the three part “Archetype Suite” ebbs and flows in pretty epic fashion, at times recalling a Heliocentric/Anthropocentric era The Ocean. I really enjoyed this attempt at a prog epic, and the scale and use of piano and orchestral elements is tastefully done and not overplayed.
Overall “Shade and Soil” is a solid effort that really plays to Ethos’ strengths and doesn’t overreach while still aiming to be musically expansive. This record is a great example of the style of blurred line genre blending that has become synonymous with modern prog, and it is done in a way that utilizes most of the styles strengths and few of its weaknesses. Although I would have liked a little more diversity and variation on some of the record’s other tracks, the listen is brisk and satisfying overall. The tightness and direct nature of the compositions and the conviction in which they are performed really comes through, and if one can look past the vocals (again style, not performance), a solid and well done effort will reveal itself.
- Shade and Soil
- Wood for the Fire
- Frozen Memory
- The Archetype Suite I. Strangle Atlas
- The Archetype Suite II. The Lonely King
- The Archetype Suite III. Apotheosis
- Coup D’ Etat