14 October 2008

REVIEW: Ephrat - No One's Words

I like mood.

Oh, sure…there’s nothing wrong with straight-ahead, in your face, pedal to the floor metal. But give me a band that knows how to mix it up…a band that can add light and shade, shifting moods, going from aggressive heaviness to moody, semi-electronic feels from song to song (or even within a song), and you’ll have me hooked from the get go.

Ephrat is just that kind of band.

And they are from Israel.

Unlike their country-mates Amaseffer, Ephrat’s brand of progressive metal is far moodier and perhaps a bit more diverse, exploring regions populated by electronics, some loops, and telephoned in vocals. I am certain some of this is the result of Steven Wilson, whose gentle hand mixing No One’s Words (the group’s debut release) is felt throughout. Songs rise and fall, sounds ooze out of the darkness and then submerge once again. Heavy parts sound suitably heavy, while quieter sections generate as much unease as they do a relaxation of tension. Additionally, Ephrat’s material includes elements that one could only describe as ethnic…modes and scales help add a tonal colour that is generally absent from progressive metal, or at the very least played without the emotional honesty that Ephrat brings to bear due to their personal histories and backgrounds.

Looped-sounding percussion opens the album and “The Show,” leading into buzzy guitars. I pick up a touch of Bob Mound-like ‘hive of bees’ sound in the guitar here, and the slowed down section leading into the first verse sounds almost sludgy by comparison. Layered vocals switch off with Wilson-trademark ‘vocals over the phone wire’ effects, and the switching off between the two styles works well. The shift from “The Show” into “Haze” is handled very well, and it reminds me of the transition from “Burden” into “Porcelain Heart” off Opeth’s latest Watershed. It’s not that the two are at all similar (downtuning guitar line versus a simple repeated loop/ostinato), yet the result is similar; the transition eases the listener into the next track while maintaining (or creating) an eerie, unsettling mood. I also quite enjoy the ‘gentler’ “Better than Anything,” which features some fantastic flute work courtesy of band founder Omar Ephrat. Well, the opening is gentler, at least. Otherwise, this is perhaps the heaviest piece on the album, and again I return to comparisons to the more exploratory, progressive side of Opeth as evidenced on their most recent efforts.

Two guests also add their distinctive voices to the album: Petronella Nettermalm of Swedish band Paatos adds her melancholy vocals to the somber “Haze” (she also contributes to album closer “Real”), while Daniel Gildenlow of Pain of Salvation contributes to “The Sum of Damage Done.” I absolutely adore “Haze;” I could easily see this song added to Paatos’ most recent album, and it is incredibly powerful in mood. I’ve been pretty constant in my opinion of Gildenlow over the years (personally, I find him to be somewhat over-rated in the scene), but even here I’ll say that I enjoyed the song he sings on. His vocals are distinctive, and it’s good to hear him singing rather than ranting.

“Real” closes out the album, showing the band in almost all their guises. Portions sound almost Beatles-esque from time to time (I can’t think of any better description), acoustic sections break up tension and intensity, and heavier moments sound genuinely heavy by comparison. While perhaps the mix could have been a touch heavier, I can’t argue that Wilson’s mix decisions lead to a sound that sets Ephrat apart from a good portion of the progressive metal fraternity.

I think a lot of people may end up comparing Ephrat and Amaseffer simply because both groups are Israeli. It’s not really a fair comparison; both bands tread different, if somewhat related, paths. I enjoy both bands equally and for different reasons, and find No One’s Words to be an impressive debut release, exhibiting diversity, strong song writing and instrumental playing.

Omar Ephrat – guitars, flutes, keyboards

Gili Rosenberg – bass

Lior Seker – vocals

Tomer Z – drums

01. The Show

02. Haze
(feat. Petronella Nettermalm/Paatos)
03. Better Than Anything

04. Blocked

05. The Sum Of Damage Done
(feat. Daniel Gildenlow/Pain of Salvation)
06. Real

1 comment:

Aaron Gorham said...

I know it's been a couple of years here but how is it possible that "No One's Words" isn't in a top ten list of newer progressive albums. It's moody and shifty but it isn't just random crap. There's a thread there. Haze is one of those songs that is jolting in a good way. It's so unconventional and off-key that it's brilliant. In my mind, The Sum of Damage Done is a masterpiece. I really hope that Ephrat decides to take another run at it.