on January 10, 2004
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
on July 7, 2001
I'm surprised at some of the reviews I have read for this CD. Some reviewers say this album is unmelodic. Others say this album was made as an excuse for these musicicians to show off their technical ability without any true regard for songwriting. And a few others only mention Lars Norberg.
First of all, this album is extremely melodic. The only thing is that the melodies are unorthodox and more complex than what is usually considered melodic. These are melodies that have to be listened for, not the type that punch you in the face upon the first listening. Once you are able to discern and appreciate the melodies, you will truly realize how profoundly talented Spiral Architect is.
Secondly, their awesome musicianship displays are not meant to hide a lack of songwriting (both lyrical and musical) ability. While I do not agree with the atheistic nature of some of their lyrics, they are highly intellectual and thought-provoking. And I admit, there are so many crazy time changes that it is difficult to tell one song from the other if you've only listened to the album a few times. The differences will only become evident after multiple listenings.
And finally, some of the positive reviews only mention Lars Norberg. Granted, he is an exceptional bassist. But what are the other four guys, chopped liver? All five members are incredible musicians. What I'm trying to figure out is how no one mentioned Asgeir Mickelson's drumming. Or the excellent guitar playing of Steinar Gundersen and Kaj Gornitzka. There were a few mixed reviews for vocalist Oyvind Haegeland. I for one think he rules.
Before I sign off I must remind you buy this album before it is downgraded from being merely difficult to find to being impossible.
on July 24, 2003
This is an extremely complex album, probably the most musically demanding progressive/prog metal album aside from Garden Wall's _Forget the Colours_. Spiral Architect's profound technical excursions are voxtex-generating maelstroms of staggered, sycnopated razors rhythms interacting in an abstruse, hyper-complex manner both intensely Dionysian and Apollonian. Polymeter and displacement, odd articulation, and very unusual structures (much more challenging to play than to hear) are the tip of the iceberg for this band's unbelievably insane music. The vocals are high-pitched prog metal style vocals which sound a little off at times, but the way he sings really fits so it's all good. Check it out or shame on you. And hey, anything where Sean Malone contributes is automatically amazing (even if it's only on a brief instrumental interlude). _A Sceptic's Universe_ [sic] is essential.
on August 10, 2008
Admittedly, I'm a bit of a junkie for progressive music/odd-time signatures.
You will notice (immediately), if you've listened to any of the bands, a tremendous Watchtower and Cynic influence underlying A Sceptic's Universe. If you want to hear something Cynic-esque, listen to the end of Fountainhead: Clean, Jazzy textures and a lead guitar reminiscent of Masvidal's tone/solos.
Despite their influences, you can rest assured that absolutely nothing out there sounds exactly like Spiral Architect. Riffs are often composed of superimposed fourths/fifths modulated by half steps. The bass is also very high in the mix, so you hear prominent bass lines, often which are being played in counterpoint with the guitar rather than matching.
As far as a jazz/fusion influence goes, it is virtually nonexistent.
This album sets the bar almost impossibly high for technical metal. Not the kind of Dream Theater instrumental technicality that boggles you, though the musicians are very skilled in their own right, but rather a tremendous complexity of song structure and use of odd-time signatures. The riffs are tremendously difficult to play not necessarily because of speed, but because of their unorthodox construction.
I think, mercifully, that the impetus in Spiral Architect is on musical complexity rather than instrumental proficiency.
The general riffing is very unorthodox and creative, but most of the solos are essentially generic harmonic minor wanking. Not terrible to listen to , but nothing special.
Lots of philosophical themes. Two Ayn Rand references: "Fountainhead" and "Moving Spirit". The lyrics are neither emotionally moving nor particularly stimulating intellectually.
The vocals. While the vocalist himself is not terrible, the lines are awkward and rarely add anything memorable to the music.
I've heard a lot of criticism of the drumming as being "lazy", and I'm somewhat inclined to agree. While no slouch, there are certainly more interesting patterns that the drummer could have played, rather than playing rhythmically similar figures. Not a big drawback in my opinion.
The biggest drawback lies in the fact that the music is nearly ALL about technicality. There is a distinct lack of expressiveness, emotion, and any kind of message within the music. And that's a major portion of the music.
If you are a big tech/prog fan, I would listen to a couple of the songs and see whether it's your cup of tea. There are some interesting concepts in there, and I've certainly derived enjoyment from the technical side of SA. But, on a whole, I wouldn't recommend a buy.
on August 5, 2000
This has to be the craziest, most unstructured metal I've ever heard - and probably the best bass playing I've ever heard, as well. It is completely unlike anything I've ever listened to before. Time changes abound, constantly changing, music that seems to relentlessly start and stop just to toy with the listener. I'm not sure there is a single toe-tapping moment on this entire cd! The bass work is furious and distinctly audible, accompanied by matching guitar work and unconventional vocal arrangements (that remind me of John Arch's style from early Fates Warning but with a less unique, more pleasant timbre). I've seen people describe this music as "sick", which I think sums things up very well. It's just twisted. It's all over the map, it's chaotic, and yet it still holds on to a thread of traditional, organized song-writing. And somehow it works. Think Fates Warning with even less structure, or Watchtower with cleaner vocals. The cd is only about 45 minutes long, with nine short (3 - 6 min) tracks, which I think was smart on their part. There's no way I would have liked this album as much if it were 70+ minutes in length and filled with 8 and 9 minute songs - it would have just been too much. It's great enough the way it is. Now, I wouldn't want every cd in my collection to be so limitless and insane as this, but it is very refreshing and done very, very well. I can't see any fan of technical metal being without this disc. Kudos to the good folks at the Sensory label, first Clockwork's "Surface Tension", now this!
I found myself both amazed and disappointed by Spiral Architect's album A Skeptic's Universe.
It's hard not to be amazed by the musicianship on display here. This is a band full of virtuosos, creating highly complex progressive metal with such mathematical precision that one can't help but be impressed. The band clearly follows the path established by Cynic, Atheist, Watchtower, and to a lesser extent Dream Theater and Fates Warning, and then takes the technicality and complexity one step further!
Unfortunately it's not that much fun to listen to. Again, my hat is off to the band's technical prowess, but there's more to good music than ability. Spiral Architect bills themselves as "thinking man's metal", and that may be true. But metal also has a lot to do with emotion and power, and that is sadly lacking here. Some of the blame lies with the vocalist, whose delivery is so jagged and unmelodic that it does nothing to draw the listener in. A Skeptic's Universe might have worked better as an instrumental effort like Liquid Tension Experiment or Gordian Knot. Another flaw is that the tracks on this album don't seem like songs at all, but rather resemble complicated math problems. They're brilliantly executed, but cold and emotionless just the same.
Cynic and Atheist proved that you can make highly technical metal without sacrificing emotion, and Dream Theater and Fates Warning proved that you can have technical prowess and still write good songs. Images and Words was a very technical album at a time when that was still a rare occurrence, but a large part of its power is the feeling you get when the instruments, vocals, melodies, lyrics - the SONGS - come together to mesmerize the listener. It's been 12 years and I still get chills listening to that album!
I am totally in awe of what the musicians in Spiral Architect are able to accomplish technically, but given the choice I'll take something less technical and more emotional (see Evergrey) every time.
on June 23, 2002
This band has quite a bit in common with Watchtower in terms of the guitar and bass 'sound' and arrangements. These guys are probably not as consistently over-the-top as Watchtower, however the opening track and tack five, "Insect" are probably more technical sounding than anything on Watchtower's Control and Resistance. Technicality aside, Spiral Architect's compositions probably have more light and shade than Watchtower.
Vocally it is somewhat different story. This vocalist has an ***excellent*** vocal timbre. Again, the influences are obvious; imagine a hybrid between a young Ray Alder and John Arch (both of Fates Warning). ***Despite the excellent vocal quality*** there are big problems here. The vocalist's note selection is lazy and frankly unprogressive. Throughout the album it sounds as though he is mostly singing the root, fifth and occasionally the third. This is very inside the harmony, and gets very monotonous after a while. This sort of thing can also make the songs sound unemotional. Considering the effort the other musicians have put into creating these, at times, intricate arrangements, it just sounds like the vocals have been thrown over the top.
The other difficulty I have is with the lyrics and the vocal treatment of them. The lyrics are nothing but pseudo-intellectual garbage about faux-esoteric subject matter. What makes it worse is the clumsy and childish use of the English Language. The way the vocalist treats the lyrics is to use them as an opportunity to sing long sustained notes over the last word of most phrases. Just count the number of times he sings mI-ee-I-ee-Ind or similar. This sort of thing has zero impact on the listener when you do it ad nauseam.
I can't wait for the follow up. Hopefully this band will find it own musical voice and progress beyond there obvious influences. The biggest areas requiring improvement are the lyrics and the vocalists phrasing and note selection. Just having an exceptionally good voice is not enough when attempting this sort of music. It is what you do with it that is most important.
on January 7, 2002
I bought this CD with excitement and apprehension. After all, I had read so many things about what good musicians this band contained, but also that it was rather shapeless and forgettable. As I placed the CD in my stereo and pressed "play", I crossed my fingers. When the music hit, my initial reaction was something like, "Holy crap." It was utterly insane. As I continued listening to the rest of the disc, scratching my head quite often, I was unable to decide what I thought about it. Then the final song, Fountainhead, came on. I was floored. From there, my liking of Spiral Architect grew with each listen. It is very technical, yes, and very "all-over-the-map", yes, but I also found it very emotional. Sound strange? Well, in a way, it is. Ungodly amounts of time must have been spent by each member to get their chops to this level, but excessive technicality does not drown out the soul in this music. There were some very beautiful (as well as "tame", for lack of a better word) moments on this album, which I was initially surprised to hear.
I won't give a review of each band member, since that can be found almost anywhere, but I will comment on the lyrics. They are very well-written and intelligent. But then again, don't those two words encompass *every* aspect of Spiral Architect?
on September 26, 2000
It's hard to say anything about this CD that hasn't already been said. It's definitely not for everybody. But fans of Cynic will hate themselves for not hearing about these guys sooner. Basically, to try to sum the album up (for those into this genre of music): The music sounds like Focus, with a MUCH better production, and not as new-age. Obviously, non-repetitive, odd times everywhere, and occasional jazzy-DiMeola parts. The lyrics (if it really matters) remind me of Fate's Warning, very intelligent, and so does the singing. The phrasing is somewhere between a pleasant sounding John Arch and Perfect Symmetry. Very eccentric and very choppy. But the best thing about Spiral Architect, is the bass player, Nordberg. Probably the best bass player ever (if Sean Malone and Steve DiGiorgio were just one guy). Again, this CD is not for everyone. It's for those who like really technical music. Even old school Prog-rockers probably won't like it. But if you like either overwhelmingly technical heavy music, or the aforementioned bass players, and are looking for something a little more modern sounding, then buy it TODAY. (You won't regret it.)
on July 26, 2006
[Dry and overlong review ahead.]
Criminy, this album is nuts. Amazes me that this is just a debut--this Norwegian outfit is already ridiculously tight, with chops pouring from every orifice, and the songwriting is better than you might expect. However, A Sceptic's Universe isn't without flaws.
For one, the vocalist. Ovyvind Haageland (sic?) takes the power metal Geoff Tate-esque route--nothing inherently wrong with that, and his *tone* isn't objectionable. But his phrasing seems to be really awkward, stretching words at the end of verses ("miiiiiind!" etc.) and stumbling through the others in a very odd fashion. There are plenty of vocalists who can sing in odd times and make it work (Jens Kidman and Maynard James Keenan being two) but Haageland's style needs some refining and he's probably the weakest link of this band.
For another, the guitar tone is very light for a nominally metal album. Granted, it's very clear, and you can easily tell what both Steinar Gunderson and Kaj Gornitzka are doing, but it could use a bit more punch (this might be due to the nature of the music they're playing which doesn't rely on fixed riffs very often more than the production itself).
Finally, the lyrics are rather pseudointellectual Randian/objectivist gibberish that I don't really care for, but that's a minor point.
The music itself is utterly insane and takes many listens to grasp let alone enjoy. A little sterile perhaps, but there ARE hooks, and melodies, and even some really awesome polyrhythmic grooves that pop up every now and again (the end of Spinning and the Shuffled section of the epic Cloud Constructor, especially) that remind me of a less brutal Meshuggah. There are also some more atmospheric bits (the breakdown in Adaptability, the jazzy acoustic shredding in the middle of Insect) thrown in to give your brain some rest. The guitar solos are your basic shredfests, but fortunately they're short and each track isn't just a bunch of solos thrown on top of each other (and the keyboard solos are kept to a minimum, thank God).
And Lars K. Norberg... holy shoes, this man can play bass like you wouldn't believe. Few tech-metal bands allow their bassist this much freedom or space in the mix, and Norberg takes advantage on every track with some amazing jazzy runs on his four-string (without hogging the limelight). Asgeir Mickelson (Borknagar) plays drums with surprising restraint given the rest of the band, but anyone who can keep this pack of maniacal virtuosos tethered to the ground deserves kudos.
I was torn between giving A Sceptic's Universe a 3.5 or a 4-star rating, given its rather glaring faults but I can't dismiss the potential and phenomenal playing of this band. With better songwriting and a new vocalist (Vintersorg or Garm, perhaps?) Spiral Architect could be the prog-metal outfit to beat. Not bad for a band that already makes Dream Theater look like AC/DC. Fans of Cynic, Athiest, Dillinger Escape Plan, Queensryche etc. would like this one.