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Aethellis - Northumbria CD (album) cover




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5 stars Like some other reviewers I feel that one of the major improvements of this album from the first are the vocals. They were fine on the eponymously titled album, but on Northumbria they are powerful and multi-tracked to Heaven! Soaring, choral harmonies predominate on several tracks, particularly "Northumbria" and "The Peace Path." The vocals are all Ellsworth Hall with the exception of Mark Van Natta's impassioned lead on the second part of "The Peace Path." But it sounds as if female backing vocalists were employed to fill out the sound. Other reviewers have compared Ellsworth's vocals to Chris Rainbow and John Wetton and I would agree.

In fact, "Northumbria" and "The Peace Path" are the longest tracks on the album with varying moods and sections and with some pyrotechnical keyboard and guitar playing. Angry and aggressive, the organ on "Northumbria" delves into polytriad dissonance at times; a welcome change from the more diatonic and modal harmonies from the first album. (To be fair polytriads and jazz harmonies also appeared in the first album but were often more subtly interwoven and less aggressively displayed.) And there are thematic elements and leitmotifs that are stated, recapitulated and transmogrified within intelligent song structures on both tracks.

Other tracks such as "The Awakening" and "Exchequer Prague" are progressive riffs on electronica or synth pop, taking the basic earmarks of the genre but infusing them with harmonic and melodic sophistication beyond what their inspirations contained.

I find the funk and jazz influences ("Celui Qui Soit La Bosse" and "Sounds Good") refreshing. Did not progressive rock in its earlier incarnation take from various forms of music and combine them into something new? Classical, folk and jazz were all fertile ground for planting new seeds of artistic directions. So why not now funk and electronica? Eclecticism is a virtue in prog.

Report this review (#771031)
Posted Thursday, June 14, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Aethellis is a band that's kind of everywhere in their approach to symphonic rock, but there's always the constant of great songwriting. "Northumbria" is an album full of great melody and atmosphere with production that pleases the ear. The organs sound absolutely fantastic, as do all other synths. The drums sound very live, and although not mind blowing, everything just sounds pleasing all around. Not just pleasing, but memorable. The beginning of "Awakening" starts with some really sick arpeggiator and electronic drumkit with a synth bass that just rocks my world. "Dire Need" made me smile with some great 80's synth trumpet that was actually used in a really good way. About four minutes into "The Penal Colony" my mind got blown with the heavy synth percussion full of little blips and ringing and the like, and then sent me through a trip as it suddenly gots impossibly dark. From rockin' Hammond riffs to gospel choirs and synth driven prog, "Northumbria" had my attention from beginning to end.
Report this review (#1287515)
Posted Saturday, October 4, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars Northumbria is the second album by Aethellis, an American band based in Baltimore, Maryland and it was released in 2011 with a line up featuring Ellsworth Hall (keyboards, vocals, guitar) along with Mark Van Natta (guitars, vocals), Erik Marks (bass), Chris Marks (guitar), Joseph Dwyer (sax) and Mike Harrington (drums). Well, you can find here some good ideas while the band try to blend catchy pop melodies with prog influences and funk but in my opinion the final result is in some way poisoned by an excess of sleek, synthetic sounds and irritating drum machines that risks to spoil the pleasure of listening... In fact, although on their website they mention among their influences bands such as Yes, Genesis, Alan Parsons or Camel, on this album the overall sound draws more on the eighties works of the aforementioned bands than on the vibes from the halcyon days of prog.

The opener title track is emblematic. According to the liner notes it's an epic piece inspired by the battle of Heavenfield, fought in 634 between a Northumbrian army led by Oswald of Bernicia and a Welsh army under the command of Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd. It starts in a very promising way: harmony vocals a cappella, roaring keyboards surges alternating with calm, dreamy passages... Then, after six minutes, surprise! The music incredibly veers to cheesy synth pop for other five minutes. The other tracks flow away without infamy and without praise, jumping and turning around echoes of Genesis pop period and sweet melodies. It's a pity, because I feel that this band have a good potential and unexpressed talent to showcase... Anyway, if you like bands such as Toto or Asia have a try! You can listen to the complete album on bandcamp...

Report this review (#1471262)
Posted Thursday, October 1, 2015 | Review Permalink

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