Released: 2000, Sensory
Reviewer: Nathan Robinson
After months and months of anxiety, I have finally laid my hands on this beast. Over the past year I have heard nothing but praise for this band, even well before the release of A Sceptic’s Universe, their debut album. Being hailed as a technical metal masterpiece, I never even gave the band a listen before buying the CD. Just seeing the ad in Metal Maniacs magazine, with the names of other technical metal bands like Atheist, Cynic, and Watchtower in the background, was enough to convince me that the album was going to be good.
And good it is! Imagine what Dream Theater may have sounded like between When Dream and Day Unite and Images and Words after listening to days and days of Watchtower and a little Cynic. That was my initial reaction. My other initial reaction was “holy fuck, does this stuff rule or what?!?!”. After several spins, my thoughts are that Spiral Architect is basically the answer to everyone’s cries for more Watchtower. These guys are technical as hell! Insane musicianship within insane arrangements. The songs are constantly changing and ever-evolving, running circles around your brain as you try to figure out just what the hell is going on! Guitarists Steinar Gundersen and Kaj Gornitzka make a killer tandem, providing some truly innovative playing amongst a myriad of melodies, harmonies, leads, and crushing heaviness. I am glad two guitarists are in this band and not just one. It gives the guitars a full sound. Bassist extraordinaire Lars K. Norberg makes his presence well known, and rightfully so! Lars is the thread that weaves itself around and through the guitars. The bass is high in the mix, and with a bassist this talented, the instrument adds another dimensions to the music (and also adds to the complexity…yes!). Drummer Asgeir Mickelson is extremely fluent in his playing, perfectly keeping the odd timing, and tastefully complementing the complex song arrangements with intricate drumming. Now, I expected the music to be technical as fuck, and my expectations were met more than adequately. But I had no idea what to expect from the vocalist. Death metal? Power metal? Neither! Oyvind Haegeland is your “typical” progressive metal vocalist, like Dream Theater or Fifth Reason. He’s not as high register as Watchtower though! Oyvind also adds keyboards to the music, but thankfully their presence is minor. This allows the guitars, bass, and drums to shine through! Let me tell you, there’s a lot to listen to on this album, and thus a lot to digest. The album was produced by the master Neil Kernon, known for his work with Nevermore and Flotsam & Jetsam, among others. He has given the album a heavy, yet clean sound, with every instrument shining through spectacular.
Ahhhhhhh….I am drooling! I can never have enough technical music! Watchtower fans must pick up this album! Cynic fans should also find Spiral Architect of interest. And those of you like me who think Dream Theater is way past their peak will find this album very refreshing. Even if you love Scenes from a Memory, Spiral Architect will totally kick your ass! The Japanese version of A Sceptic’s Universe contains a bonus track (of course): a cover of Fates Warning’s “Prelude to Rain”. But this song also appears on the Fates Warning tribute Through Different Eyes. I have no idea what the original sounds like, but the cover song is absolutely killer (and even includes a blast beat for a twist!). But whatever you do, buy A Sceptic’s Universe! It is one fucking mind-boggling masterful collection of songs! Visit the band’s web site here: http://www.spiralarchitect.com