Ethereal - _Towers of Isolation_
(Recital, 2006)
by: Pedro Azevedo (8.5 out of 10)
(A word of warning: in deciding to review this album I had to make a rare exception, because I have met most members of the band and my name appears in their thank you list. However I was confident that I could write an impartial review of the record, so I hope you will read this review as you would any other of mine.)

Creating the follow-up to a promising debut album is not a trivial task. While in some cases memorable results have been produced under those circumstances, for the most part it appears to be a tough challenge that even becomes the bane of numerous bands. Regardless of how frequently such thoughts really crossed their minds (if they did at all) during the writing and recording of _Towers of Isolation_, Ethereal have certainly managed to create an album that safely stands as a thorough improvement on its predecessor. Conversely, there are also occasions where the music is somewhat overwrought and could have been simpler or more to the point, which may also have stemmed from an understandable desire to outdo their previous effort.

On _Towers of Isolation_ Ethereal continue to develop a style that is both varied and difficult to categorize precisely. They combine a pleasantly metallic backbone with symphonic synth elements, melodic guitar work and a prominent layer of dual vocals. Therein lies an important novelty: Ethereal now include a full-time operatic female singer in their ranks. Clearly a lot of effort has been made in order to maximize the results of her singing together with either the male lead vocals and the synths, which results in considerable variety. The clean sung male vocals can just as easily come across as powerful, emotional or indeed both, while the synth work has a similarly wide range. The talented vocal duets sometimes bring back fond memories of In the Woods..., but there is no doubt Ethereal are clearly doing their own thing here. All this is based upon a similarly skilled instrumental performance, including a lot of remarkable guitar leads, in a balanced group effort that has plenty of impressively crafted touches while still dispensing the need to show off.

The compositions are generally long, which can be a risky option, but in this case bears mostly good results. Ethereal can go from instrumental breakdown to impeccable melodic metal or Therion-like symphonic intensity with effortless elegance, and that is saying something. The various moods that they weave into their music are well realized and integrated with each other, and help keep this rather long album consistently interesting -- something that the various catchy choruses and melodies enhance considerably. Having said that, while several extras included in the form of intros and interludes are generally nice to hear once or twice, in the long run they tend to come across as superfluous. That this is my main criticism of the album could be seen as a positive unto itself however. I could say there is one brief passage where I am reminded of Opeth and another brief one that brings something Katatonia once did to my mind, but that would be nitpicking rather than bringing something relevant to the review. More importantly, some passages could have been trimmed for the overall benefit of the album; but considering the risks that they take with their songwriting, the results are remarkably good and the weak links are relatively few and far between.

Driven by a well balanced and clear production, Ethereal deliver a level of talent, musicianship and songwriting that turns _Towers of Isolation_ into not only one of the best albums to come out of Portugal in recent years, but also one that is able to hold its own against international competition as one of the melodic metal highlights of the year.


(article published 20/7/2006)

5/29/2003 P Azevedo 8 Ethereal - The Dreams of Yearning
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