1. Springsong (12.56)
2. Prism (9.38)
3. Memoirs (4.52)
4. Harvest Aorta (41.55)
John Battema – keyboards
Charlie Gore – bass
Jeff Malone – drums
Brian O’Neill – guitar
Instrumental four-piece Ephemeral Sun, who are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, are based in Northern Virginia, in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Formed after the demise of doom/symphonic metal outfit Rain Fell Within, they started out as a female-fronted Gothic/progressive metal band, releasing their debut album, Broken Door, in 2004. Harvest Aorta, their sophomore effort, was released in early 2010 after five years of work and lineup changes that led the remaining band members to choose a completely instrumental direction. Ephemeral Sun have a number of live appearances under their belt, including the 2006 edition of ROSfest and ProgDay 2012.
Often miscategorized as progressive metal, Ephemeral Sun in the second decade of the 21st century are one of those bands that defy the labels so cherished by the prog fandom. The metal component, indeed, is mainly represented by Brian O’Neill’s bouts of sharp, dense riffing, which merge seamlessly with John Battema’s dramatic keyboard textures to create an intensely cinematic atmosphere. While the band’s earlier experience in the symphonic/Gothic metal field occasionally surfaces on Harvest Aorta, the instrumental dimension enhances the expressive potential of the music without the distraction factor sometimes contributed by vocals. The music surges along powerfully, supported by Jeff Malone’s imperious drumming and Charles Gore’s impeccable bottom end – a rhythm section that can display a sense of delicacy when needed, as well as power. The frequent, ambient-like pauses of respite, imbued with the autumnal feel of Battema’s meditative piano, possess a gentle melancholy that would provide a perfect soundtrack for the twilight hour. And, indeed, “soundtrack” seems to be the operative word when referring to Ephemeral Sun’s sound – it is not hard to imagine the music on Harvest Aorta employed as the score for a science fiction movie, or a documentary on space travel.
Almost two-thirds of the album (which clocks in at nearly 70 minutes) is taken up by the title-track, a massive, 42-minute tour-de-force that has made quite a few of those “long songs” lists so popular with staunch prog fans. The first half of Harvest Aorta comprises three shorter numbers, with the gorgeous mood piece of the aptly-titled “Memoirs” – with its crystalline guitar and rippling piano tinged by solemn Mellotron washes – preparing the listener for the album’s pièce de resistance. As unbalanced and pretentious as this may seem, there is a sense of cohesion to Ephemeral Sun’s music that rarely gives the impression of sprawling excess that often mars comparably ambitious endeavours. Most importantly, the music – hovering between vivid flares of emotion and soothing, evocative melody – is always eminently listenable, and even the hard edges are never abrasive. Pink Floyd and their modern-day heirs, Porcupine Tree, are occasionally referenced, as are Genesis and a few other bands, but the album thankfully eschews any overt sense of derivativeness.
Opener “Springsong”, probably the heaviest offering on the album, allows O’Neill to let loose with the riffage when a contrast is needed with Battema’s airy mellotron washes. On the other hand, the astonishingly lovely, clear-voiced guitar solos are reminiscent of David Gilmour’s signature style, and the spacey synth sweeps add a sense of urgency. In a similar fashion, “Prism” juxtaposes the intensity of the guitar riffs and martial drumming with vaguely spooky electronic effects, and a delightful, classical-tinged guitar-piano interlude that showcases the band’s keen sense of melody. After the relatively short breathing space provided by “Memoirs”, the title-track kicks in with dramatic flair, subsuming all of the features already displayed by the previous numbers, and adding some more touches – like an extended atmospheric section that owes a lot to Tangerine Dream, a slightly chaotic guitar jam and a roaring Hammond organ passage in true Deep Purple style. Quite oddly for such a long piece of music, “Harvest Aorta” does not give that cobbled-together impression that is all too common in tracks of that scope; however, it cannot be denied that after a while the listener’s attention starts to wander, and some repetition of themes and styles becomes inevitable.
On any account, even if the title-track might have benefited from some editing, Harvest Aorta is a finely-crafted album by a group of very talented musicians that deserves all the positive feedback earned since its release. What impresses most is their tight synergy as a group, which does not allow for any self-gratifying displays of technical fireworks, but allows the each of the members’s individual skill to contribute to the musical construction. While waiting for Ephemeral Sun to release their third album, a listen (or preferably more than one) to Harvest Aorta is highly recommended, especially to fans of music with a high cinematic quotient.