Arch/Matheos – Winter Ethereal (Metal Blade)Wednesday, 15th May 2019
Welcome to the reunion of John Arch and Jim Matheos – the early spark that captivates many progressive metal followers from the first Fates Warning era of Night on Brocken, The Spectre Within, and Awaken the Guardian. John would leave the scene for most of the later 80’s and 1990’s – reappearing with the Twist of Fate EP and first Arch/Matheos outing in 2011 with Sympathetic Resonance. Many years later we have the follow-up – naturally taking a little time due to Jim’s Fates Warning duties. Winter Ethereal is well worth the wait (and weight): a nine-track, 68-minute plus tour de force in the talent, performances, and songwriting expertise necessary to maintain interest not just on the initial pass – but for a lifetime.
Opener “Vermilion Moons” traverses past and present Fates Warning atmosphere as it rises and falls, taking the listener on a nine-minute plus epic journey through heavier parts, quieter interludes, tasteful lead breaks, all the while allowing John Arch to challenge the aural landscape through his layers of emotional connectiveness, hitting high notes and lower capacities of a man normally half his age convincingly. When you need something more pounding and straightforward, “Straight and Narrow” delivers that “Painkiller”-ish punch – while the throwback progressive time signature juggling and transformative clean to heavy guitar passages takes “Wanderlust” to alluring heights, Arch becoming very forceful during many of the verses while majestic in the chorus. Guest support includes a who’s who in the progressive realm: bassists Joey Vera, Joe DiBiase, Steve DiGiorgio, and Sean Malone, drummers Mark Zonder, Bobby Jarzombek, Baard Kolstad, Matt Lynch, and Thomas Lang, plus an extra solo assist from Frank Aresti on “Never in Your Hands” plus “Kindred Spirits”. Favorites change by the day – the pounding riffs and heaviness during “Wrath of the Universe” works well to get the adrenaline pumping, while the 13-minute closer “Kindred Spirits” probably will move many to tears – poignant, magnificent, touching, tender, and thought-provoking, the music matches the diverse words and melodies pouring out of Arch, ebbing and flowing to crescendos, then backing away to build things back up again – sometimes engaging in simpler refrains before the next progressive chunk blows you away.
Art like this doesn’t come around the bend every month, every year – or even every decade. Winter Ethereal proves there’s no shelf life on quality heavy metal – especially progressive music that elevates and obliterates already high expectations placed upon the musicians themselves.