SPIRAL ARCHITECT — A Sceptic's Universe (review)

SPIRAL ARCHITECT — A Sceptic's Universe album cover Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
The third Watchtower album! Except by a completely unrelated band!

While progressive metal had its origins in the 80s with bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater bringing the fledgling metal style a greater audience, the true honor goes to the Texas based Watchtower who with their “King Crimson effect” pioneered a release that many consider the very first progressive metal album “Energetic Disassembly” all the way back in 1985. Although very few were listening, they would skip a few grades in the world of complexity just when metal was just becoming popular in the mainstream. While the style would evolve and splinter as new metal sub-genera were springing forth, very few if any bands would emulate the unique technically demanding assault of sizzling metal freneticism geeked out in more jazz infused compositional constructs at least when accompanied by high pitched vocals.

While Watchtower would release two amazingly brilliant albums during the brief run in the 80s, unfortunately very few were listening since they were well ahead of the pack and the overall public was just getting accustomed to the nascent thrash, death and black metal genres, however the techniques involved didn’t go unnoticed by musicians themselves. As the 90s saw a huge evolutionary development in the metal universe, the technical aspects that had debuted with Watchtower ended up being used in the newer styles especially in the rich fertile fields of death metal which would soon develop its own technical strain of complexity. While bands like Dream Theater were more akin to symphonic prog of the 70s with more metal aspects, bands like Cynic, Voivod, Atheist, Pestilence and Death would adopt many of these jazzified technical aspects of Watchtower and run away with it.

Far away in Norway, a band called SPIRAL ARCHITECT was born when guitarist Steiner Gundersen hooked up with the remains of the band Anesthesia which included the members Kaj Gornitzka (guitar), Lars K. Norberg (bass) and Asgeir Mickelson (drums). This team of seasoned veterans had a mission and that was to recreate the progressive metal magic that occurred with a very few bands that exercised technical chops in the more traditional 80s metal style in the vein of not only Watchtower but Fates Warning and Psychotic Waltz without resorting to adopting the snarling death growls that the technical metal universe had been gravitating towards since the early 90s. While formed in 1995, it would take the band five whole years to craft their one and only album A SCEPTIC’S UNIVERSE which married the technical finger busting wizardry with the passionately delivered emotional intensity of the classics of 80s metal.

A SCEPTIC’S UNIVERSE offers both a sense of familiarity as well as stunning new mind-blowing displays of technical metal profusion where no compromise is the name of the game however the band’s primary focus isn’t to blow away the audience (although that does occur) but rather craft cleverly complexly constructed compositions that revolve around rather accessible melodic developments. Much like Cynic and Death, SPIRAL ARCHITECT finds the right melodic grooves to riff around and then simply offers a multitude of progressive variations that include everything from tempo shifts and bizarre dynamic changes to time signature rich angularities. With a firm grasp on not only metal sensibilities, the band incorporate the wide array of jazz influences into the mix with allows an amazing dexterity in polyrhythms and contrapuntal gymnastics that leave the listener bedazzled in disbelief.

With a keen sense of guitar riffage that would prove to be influential for death metal hybrids like Necrophagist and a keen sense of traditional power metal from the likes of Crimson Glory, SPIRAL ARCHITECT is like the ultimate tech infused tribute band that not only nails all the head-spinning technical workouts like pros but also seamlessly evoke many of the greats that led up the turn of the millennium when this was released. A SCEPTIC’S UNIVERSE is one of those albums that is literally flawless but yet seems a little too derivative in its blatant rampage through the Watchtower meets Psychotic Waltz meets Fates Warning worship. While the impeccable juggling act of emotional fortitude, instrumental prowess and atmospheric embellishments warrant a 5 star rating, the fact is that this band merely took what was already presented by their influence and exaggerated everything substantially and while a completely satisfying listen in the end, still leaves a slightly bad taste in my mouth because i really want this to be a new Watchtower album which is what it sounds like.

While technically this technical band from Montreal, Quebec is still in existence, the reality is that in their two decade plus existence, they have only released this sole album and most members are involved in completely non-related projects mostly existing in the black metal realm, however for those who completely despise death growls for vocals and in the process are completely shut out of the magnificent wealth of technical death metal bands that exist in the 21st century, this will be an album that satisfies on many, many levels and if it weren’t for the exaggerated Starcastle effect (the band that cloned progressive rock Yes’ early works), i’d be on board for declaring this a bona fide masterpiece and if it actually were the third Watchtower release or the next chapter of Psychotic Waltz or even a blip on the Fates Warning canon, i would indeed but i do subtract points for being too blatantly inspired. Still though, impressive album that must be heard by any fan of progressive metal’s top tier albums.
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siLLy puPPy wrote:
10 days ago
Yeah, Twisted Into Form has a connection as well. Vocalist Leif Knashaug was the first singer for Spiral Architect in 1995 and YES this is a mandatory listen. I'd give it five stars if it were more original sounding.
UMUR wrote:
10 days ago
I like this one and find it a mandatory listen to fans of the most technically focused progressive metal. Obviously Watchtower is a bit influence and Psychotic Waltz too, but as those two are some of my favorite progressive metal artists, I´m not complaining :-). To those who enjoy this album, they should make sure to also seek out another Norwegian Pearl of a tech/prog metal act in Twisted Into Form (no not the Forbidden album, it´s a band).

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