North Sea Echoes – Really Good Terrible Things (Review)

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There have been a slew of intriguing announcements in the past few years regarding new projects from Metal veterans, and both Ray Alder and Jim Matheos have been at the center of a few of those. Both long term members of Progressive Metal band Fates Warning, Alder has announced the new project A-Z with Mark Zonder, and Matheos, was also announced as part of the new band Kings of Mercia.

Their latest new direction is the collaboration North Sea Echoes, inspired by a sonic hint they noticed while working on the finely polished Fates Warning record, Long Day Good Night. Their debut album, Really Good Terrible Things, arrives on February 23, 2024, via Metal Blade Records.

Though it may seem like creating a dream-like atmosphere with an internal and questioning feeling might be absolutely appropriate for a Prog Metal band, Alder and Matheos decided to develop those musical traits even further, taking them into unexplored territory even for them. You might even say these tracks are a little psychedelic with their echoey soundscapes and uncertain, shifting terrain, but that does not do justice to their somber quality or frequent tone of world-weary acceptance. What may be the most rewarding for audiences is their cathartic quality and unvarnished honesty in expressing elements of the modern human experience.

The album’s opening track, aptly titled “Open Book,” introduces key imagery and themes for the album, including the opportunities to make of our life what we will, the inevitable responsibility we have to take for our choices, and also a sense of loss when that book is, basically, closed to further changes. Powerful vocals from Alder suggest both ominousness and the dramatic highs and lows of this idea and a driving subtle rhythm feels like cosmic time counting down until ‘winter has come.’

One of the more surprising songs on the album Empty” which features drums from Puscifer’s Gunnar Olsen. At times veering into dark Electronic Pop territory, it is a love song of sorts. The love song is certainly a dark one, though, as the speaker appeals to empathy with their current state. If you are wondering just how experimental Alder & Matheos get on this album, “Empty” is a great place to start.

An enthralling track, and reputedly one of Matheos’ favorites, is “No Maps.” It is a romantic and gentle song that opens with echoey minimalist piano and confessional, observational lyrics. The song’s perspective becomes clearer as it progresses, that of a ‘wanderer’ who is happiest alone. There is a glitchy, but soft and disrupting layer of electronic elements that creates subtle edges to the song and a rising sense of warmth as the wanderer confirms ‘This road is home.’

Among many worthy songs on the album, an unmissable one is a recent single accompanied by an official video, “Unmoved.” Alder has shared that the track’s lyrics reflect on depression and present a ‘façade of happiness’ that is far from the truth. The vocals on the song are shatteringly direct and the delivery of the instrumentation is carefully stripped back. Layered choral-style vocals also bring a gravitas to the song and increase in intensity throughout, culminating in an almost Gospel accent for the track. The accompanying video expands on the mood of the song, presenting Alder and Matheos at times in sharp-focus and at times in blurred semi-presence, suggesting both companionship and separation.

North Sea Echoes, as a concept, already had plenty working in its favor including decades of musical experience as composers, recording artists, and performers from both Ray Alder and Jim Matheos, but where they have taken the project with Really Good Terrible Things goes far beyond proof-of-concept. It is an album that rewards multiple listens and opens up new sonic moods and territories. For that reason, Cryptic Rock gives Really Good Terrible Things 5 out of 5 stars.

north sea echoes really good terrible things
North Sea Echoes- Really Good Terrible Things / Metal Blade Records (2024)



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