Artist: Arch Echo
Album Title: Arch Echo
Label: Independent Release
Date Of Release: 24 November 2017
I am late to this particular party and I hang my head in shame. It wasn’t until I saw the heading of ‘Arch Echo – wow’ on a personal favourite progressive music forum that I even registered the existence of Arch Echo. A week or so on from becoming acquainted however, and my head is no longer hanging in shame. Instead, it is spinning and reeling as it tries to get to grips with the music that confronts me on this rather remarkable release.
All of the elements that usually make me slightly reticent and apathetic to an album are present and correct on this self-titled debut. ‘Arch Echo’ is an instrumental album first off. It is also best described as a hugely technical fusion of prog, jazz, funk, classical and metal. The latter revelation is unsurprising once you discover that the quintet comprised of Joey Izzo (Keyboards), Adam Rafowitz (Guitar), Adam Bentley (Guitar), Joe Calderone (Bass), and Richie Martinez (Drums)are graduates of the prestigious Berklee College of music, the same institution that helped to spawn Dream Theater and more recently, Native Construct to name just two.
And yet, for all of the mind-bending technicality and preposterous levels of skill, dexterity and nausea-inducing talent on display, Arch Echo have won me over completely.
The reasons for this are simple. Firstly, there is a barely contained energy and enthusiasm to ‘Arch Echo’. It is the musical equivalent of my two under-sixes on Christmas morning and as such, it is infectious and also joyous. That feeling of joyful exuberance filters through the music, as does a sense of wondrous exploration and wide-eyed experimentation as Arch Echo never sit still and never stop searching for new ideas or new ways to express themselves musically.
And then, on top of all that, the quintet from Nashville, Tennessee doesn’t forget the importance of keeping the listener’s attention. It is all very well producing technically challenging, cerebral music but that will only sate the appetite of a select audience. Arch Echo understand this and as such, each track is bursting full of warmth and melody, style and substance, all underpinned by a crystal clear production that supports their vast endeavours perfectly. Some of the melody is very fleeting, whilst some of it lingers for longer, making a bigger impact. But it is always there and the more I listen, the more I become hooked and the more I discover buried deep within the music.
The other accusation that I have levelled at this kind of music in the past is that it can sometimes lack atmosphere and human emotion. As such, I have found instrumental fusion can often come across as being cold and unwelcoming, deliberately elitist and ‘snobby’. Not so here. Not only am I pulled along by the five-piece’s energy, I also find myself connecting with the music on an emotional level.
For example, there are moments within the gloriously uplifting and effervescent ‘Color Wheel’ that send warmth cascading through me, making me feel indescribably elated and happy to be alive. It’s properly life-affirming.
Then, on the flipside, there’s the conclusion of ‘My Head Sometimes’ that’s delicate and surprisingly melancholy in tone thanks to the exquisite and gentle lone piano melody. As the notes drift away, the track serenely segues into ‘My Heart Sometimes’. At this point, the poignancy is palpable thanks to the deftness of touch from all corners of the band, proving that for all of their prowess, the guys understand that occasionally less is more. As the song develops, the poignancy returns, ramped up a notch thanks to the soundscapes that gently, almost imperceptibly build up around the core of the song. Simple notes sing and resonate beautifully whilst more technical material underpins and enhances the atmosphere.
Also worthy of special attention is the opening track ‘Earthshine’. It is a gloriously bright and breezy track that packs in a huge amount of variety and experimentation, flitting from idea to idea with gay abandon and plastering a huge smile on my face as it does so. I’m particularly impressed with the way in which the lead guitar and keyboard work manages to tread that fine line between necessity and over-the-top self-indulgence. The rhythms from the bass and drums are equally complex and compelling. Together, the five musicians come together to create some musical magic whilst setting the bar exceptionally high.
It’s not all fun and frolics though, as there is a steely, heavy side to Arch Echo too. ‘Afterburger’ features some huge down-tuned djent-esque riffs that stomp, groove and pummel with equal measure. In fact, nearly every composition delivers greater or lesser moments of crushing heaviness to counteract the subtlety elsewhere and in so doing, add to the rich tapestry that Arch Echo so effortlessly create.
And just when you think that you’ve heard everything there is to hear, along comes the funky ‘Hip Dipper’ which throws in some thoroughly modern electronic sounds verging on mainstream pop territory before the song then indulges in some fleet-footed solo flamboyance before the funkiest, cheekiest of slap bass concludes matters.
By now, you can probably tell that I have been completely blown away by this record. I missed it completely when it was released and for that I can only apologise. However, I hope to make up for this faux pas by spreading my thoughts about ‘Arch Echo’ far and wide. It’s incredible to think that this is a debut album because had I heard it in 2017 when it was released, I have no qualms in saying that it would easily find a place in my end-of-year top 30, probably in the upper echelons too. I can honestly say that instrumental prog fusion does not get any better than this.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here: