My Last Whisper - Embers Of Eden - (8.5/10)
Published on June 11, 2019
With more than 3 decades of history behind it and in spite of the implication in its namesake, progressive metal has largely become an exercise in competing orthodoxies where surprises have become few and far between. Between the mainline approach that has been stylized and popularized by Dream Theater and seen a wide array of affiliates cropping up in Germany, Sweden and beyond since the mid-1990s, and the various hybrid variants that have made waves in the years since, a seasoned metal connoisseur will likely struggle to find something truly groundbreaking following the mid-2000s. But mold-breaking albums have a habit of coming from out of nowhere, and usually escape the notice of the recording industry, especially in this day of ubiquitous access to professional studio equipment. This is the disposition that My Last Whisper, a two-man project from Sweden, found themselves in upon the release of the 2017 power/prog magnum opus of a debut offering Embers Of Eden.
As with any ambitious band, this one lives and dies by two principles that have been essential for an evolutionary leap in the progressive style, namely virtuoso musicianship and a wide boundary of experimentation within their adopted niche. Although carrying the same name as a highly acclaimed keyboard virtuoso known the world over in power metal circles, this band’s Jens Johannson is a technical wizard of the human voice, delivering a massive array of vocalizations that defy range classification while still being broadly tonal. When in a middle register, he shows some affinity with the husky baritone of Evergrey’s Tom Englund, but with a far more nimble demeanor that runs the gambit between an emotional metalcore wail, a straight-line progressive croon, and a glass-shattering exaggeration of Rob Halford that occasional borders upon that almost feminine whistle voice that Labyrinth’s Roberto Tiranti often features. His de facto partner in crime multi-instrumentalist Kristoffer Granskog proves to be no slouch either, surging through an array of jazz, blues, neo-classical and shred-happy guitar gymnastics alongside a versatile presentation of rhythm guitar and bass motives displaying a wide array of influences.
Naturally technical prowess is only half the battle, and this fantasy-based excursion into melodic melancholy with a more measured, mid-paced demeanor spares no expense in delivering a magical and exceedingly broad spectrum of songwriting possibilities. There are few moments that can be regarded as conventional, yet as a whole this album has a sort of accessible charm to it from more serene, jazzy balladry with a Swedish metalcore melodic strain that is “When Waters Cross” and its somewhat more dramatic cousin “Challenge The Heavens For Love”. Likewise, the chunky progressive groove romp that bridges the gap between Pyramaze and Ghost Ship Octavius “Shadows Of The Dark” presents a fitting epic picture for the subject matter, all the while avoiding the excesses that often accompany power metal and prog for a more nuanced musical presentation while Johansson’s vocals prove to be anything but. Arguably the closest thing to a conventional musical affair on here, and also the brightest highlight of a evenly distributed album of standout performances is the infectious title song “Embers Of Eden” that showcases a truly captivating guest vocal slot by Jonas Lindgren, who belts out high notes like Michael Kiske on steroids.
The greatest strength, and perhaps in a sense its greatest weakness, is that it is so out of left field that it’s a difficult album to fully process after a single listen, even for one who has been chasing after the latest thing in the progressive metal world for several years. It has many commonalities with the more mainline disciples of Dream Theater, most particularly the variant put forth by Threshold and Vanden Plas, but there are enough radical left-hand turns into territory more readily associated with more Avant-garde bands that freely throw in off-the-cuff shifts in musical genre like Haken and Akphaezya, not to mention the somewhat jarring references to melodic groove and metalcore ideas that could point to a latent influence from a handful of New England outfits from the mid-2000s. It’s definitely a grower as far as power/prog offerings go, all the while still managing to instill that sort of lofty, larger-than-life musical character that draws in all of the nerds craving their high fantasy exploits of orcs and wizards. The songwriting is a bit convoluted, the extravagant vocal style is something of an acquired taste, but the end product is definitely something that any progressive or power metal fan should hear at least once or twice.