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Ebony Ark - Decoder

Ebony Ark -  CD Review

CD Info
Label: Independent
11 Tracks
Language: English

The metal fans of Spain must be congratulated for having good taste. Or at least those who read Los Mejores magazine, whose readership voted Ebony Ark the best new metal band of 2004. Now those are some intelligent music fans who know what they like -- and what I like, for that matter. If there’s a better contender for that title, I sure wish someone would let me know, because it’s hard to imagine a more promising new band recently entering the metal scene than Ebony Ark, nor a more impressive debut than Decoder.

This is not such a surprise, though, when you consider the band isn’t exactly starting “from scratch.” Each of these musicians has credentials as a member, ex-member, or guest member of some of the top Spanish metal outfits (I’m talking about bands like Dark Moor, Dreamaker, and Arwen among others). So they’re already ahead of the game when compared with other “new” bands, and it shows. No breaking-in period is needed for this band; they know exactly what they’re doing and they’ve set a very high standard right from the start.

It’s easy enough to describe Ebony Ark’s style by staking out three points of reference. First, think of some fairly heavy and crunchy prog metal along the lines of Dream Theater or Evergrey. Second, think of the fast and high-spirited power metal of bands like Dark Moor. Third, think of the symphonic beauty and grand melodic style of bands like Epica and After Forever. If those three references are the points on a triangle, Ebony Ark sits very comfortably somewhere in the middle of that triangle. Symphonic progressive power metal, that’s what we have here, and let me assure you, it‘s damn good! The symphonic element adds just the right touch of beauty and softness without overdoing it. The progressive element is tightly focused and stays on target, never allowed to stray into the kind of pointless noodling that ruins so much prog metal. The power element is… well, powerful! This album really is a model of how to merge heaviness and beauty together into one organic whole. Power and sophistication are the two sides of the Ebony Ark coin, and this coin is solid gold. This music has a big, vibrant, full of life sound that utterly demands you rock along with it (and you will, oh yes, you will). Guitar lovers will fall in love; potent riffs and rousing solos abound, and they sound full and alive with no distortion or attempt to sound all dark and gloomy. The drumming is superb, with plenty of power but also with the kind of complexity I really appreciate. Keyboards and synths also play an integral role and fill that role extremely well. I especially love the beautiful piano lines woven into the heavy fabric of many of the songs. And let’s not forget that haunting, gothic piano melody that starts off the album in such a lovely manner.

Vocals are both male and female, but primarily the latter. Going along with this impressive music you’d hope for impressive vocals, and you would not be disappointed by the highly talented Beatriz Albert, who gives the music exactly what it needs, deserves, and demands. Her singing ranges from a deep throatiness to a quasi-operatic style, but mostly she stays around the middle of the female vocal range. Beatriz knows her limits and never tries to overreach. And another quality of her singing that I really appreciate is the fact that she’s so “into” what she’s doing. Natural vocal talent is important, but it makes all the difference when a singer is emotionally committed to the music, and you know he or she is actually feeling the emotions being projected. Four other band members perform the male (mostly backing) vocals, which are pretty good in their own right. The guys harmonize very well with Beatriz and provide a good balance for her sonic femininity. Their styles vary from song to song, from whispering to normal clean singing to a nu-metal-sounding semi-screaming. There is perhaps a bit too much of that last category, but it’s all done well, so I can’t really complain.

This is the part where I usually mention the standout songs, but that’s pretty hard since most of them fall into that category. Still, a few details never hurt. Thorn of Ice exemplifies all I’ve said above, but the particular thing I like above all is the part in the breakdown where guitar and piano “jam” together. My pick for best track has to be a tie between Night’s Cold Symphony, with its slightly eastern flavor, and Desire, which has one of the most passionate and delicious choruses I’ve ever heard. Searching for an Answer also rates very high, and has the kind of catchy melody that’ll leave you wondering where you’ve heard it before. Farewell has that kind of catchiness also; and there’s something about the male vocals and keyboarding that gives off an 80’s AOR vibe, making me think of something like Kansas (only heavier of course). Dreaming Silence is one of the more progressive tracks, with dues paid to both Dream Theater and Yes. In Our Memories, Dead Men’s Lives, and Damned By the Past are all great songs as well. If there are any songs that aren’t quite up to the same quality as the rest, they are Humans or Beasts, and Ball and Chain, the requisite ballad (every metal album’s gotta have a ballad). It’s not a bad song, it’s just that I’ve heard better metal ballads before, and it’s quite a bit different from the other songs stylistically and seems out of place. And even though I could wish for those two songs to be a little better, they’re still not enough to drag down the album’s overall quality by much.

You shouldn’t have to “decode” my feelings about Decoder. You -- whoever you are -- need to get this album!