A Sceptic's Universe(2000). Spiral Architect's first (and so far) only studio album.
"WARNING! Spiral Architect goes beyond progressive, exploring the realms of complexity and intensity that pushes the nature of technical metal further. 'A Sceptic's Universe' is not for the fainthearted! It may cause serious damage to your mental health."
This excerpt was taken from the sleeve that wraps around the album package. I almost laughed when I first read it because I've seen many warnings for strong language and cursing before on music albums, but never ever one that said that the music would be too complex for the human brain. It's probably a reasonable warning for those who never listen to this type of heavy metal at all. In fact, all you need to do is listen to the 30 second amazon clips to decide whether this is too complex for you or not. I on the other hand, didn't freak out on my first listen, due to the fact that I've previously listened to a lot of progressive rock and metal like Rush, Dream Theater, and such, so I guess it somewhat prepared me for Spiral Architect. But the music will most likely fly over most people's heads. I'd just like to see someone who only listens to either AC/DC or Top 40 radio try to sit here and stomache this. It simply wouldn't happen.
So what is Spiral Architect all about? Well, they derive their main influences from the 80s technical metal band Watchtower, who in turn sounds like an incredibly complex version of Queensryche. They show off other proggy jazz influences as well. Imagine the complex instrumental section of the Dream Theater track "Metropolis Pt. 1" as an entire song, then multiply that by a factor of 10, and you'll have some idea of what Spiral Architect sounds like. Originally I was only going to give this album 4 stars because its inaccessibility isn't for everyone. But I soon discovered that it wasn't meant to be for everyone. I could try to make an explanation for the band, but they describe themselves best on their website:
"Spiral Architect is about continual development, idealism, and intensity. Spiral Architect is controlled anarchy. The aim is to make music that challenges the listener, as well as pushes the abilities of the musicians and man."
So as far as their goal is concerned, they've succeeded at what they set out to accomplish. To create stunningly technical heavy metal music which grabs you by the brain and forces you to pay attention. With nine tracks (one instrumental), clocking in at a total of 44 minutes, the listener is in for one hellova rollercoaster ride.
I'm not going to describe each track individually here like I normally would, as it's quite impossible to do. The playing has so much going on at once, with literally tons of random time-change signatures, plus remembering that there's no "verse-chorus" approach to be found anywhere. Upon the first few listens, all eight songs will sound very similar to one another. There's so much depth to the playing that you're never going to be able to memorize the songs. You'll eventually catch on to small parts of them, but never the songs as a whole. I've been listening to this album for nearly a month now, and it still twists my brain into a knot. I still admire it though. If you come here expecting catchy hooks, you may be a bit disappointed. If you were to look up Spiral Architect in a thesaurus book, it's musical antonymn would be AC/DC. In other words, it's anything but predictable.
All technicality of the music aside, these are some AMAZING musicians, among the elite in refined musicianship. You've got vocalist/keyboardist Oyvind Haegeland who carries the music with Geoff Tate-esque singing. The keyboarding provides atmospheric, futuristic textures which play a key role in most of the tracks. Steinar Gundersen and Kaj Gornitzka provide the rhythm, lead, and accoustic guitars. Both play with a clean, complex style, with Steinar really showing off in the solos. Asgeir Mickelson works the drumming with great dexterity and precision. If one important thing is to be said, it's that Lars K. Norberg is THE BEST BASS PLAYER I'VE EVER HEARD. Seriously. I haven't heard any bass playing come close to the level that this guy displays. Most bands reduce the bass player to the roll of simply providing a simple low-key texture, but in Spiral Architect, Norberg's bass playing absolutely DOMINATES the music.
So now that they've released one carefully planned album, is Spiral Architect ever going to follow up? They lay down the truth on their website:
"...we have received lots of mail lately asking if we have broken up or are not going to release a new album. The answer to that is that we are very much alive and will definitely record a new album. However, we still haven't started rehearsing the new material so you'll probably have to wait some more years (you might say we're in no rush...)."
Hmm... they're in no rush, oh well. Maybe someday. Overall, if you're really looking for a complex metal album that will challenge you, you know what you're getting yourself into, and you want to be enthralled by stunning musicianship, then A Sceptic's Universe will not disappoint you. Otherwise, the vast array of technicalities that this album displays clearly shows that this is not for everyone, so it's your call. Afterall, the box _did_ warn you.
Other albums similar to A Sceptic's Universe:
-'Control & Resistance" by Watchtower
-'Focus' by Cynic
-'Awakening The Guardian' by Fates Warning
-'Operation Mindcrime' by Queensryche