Wintersun has long been a favorite of mine. Sure, it’s a band with a whole bunch of frustrations, but Jari Mänepää is a strong composer, and he’s got a cool sound that I can’t help but like. His wild blend of melodeath, power metal, black-tinged folk, and symphonic over-the-top wizardry appeals to me. It’s always a good Time T(w)o listen to well-composed symphonic heavy metal, and this is where the Polish group Aether come in. Their debut full-length, In Embers, ticks all of the above boxes with the kind of expertise I expect solely from veteran bands, with an enthusiasm and power that only the young can truly wield. The result is easily one of my top albums this year.
We begin with frantic, in-your-face riffing and electric leads that tower above this year’s best power metal outputs. Guitarists Krzysztof Grochowski and Michał Miluśki are an absolute force, their melodies and riffs infectious in every way. I defy any of you to free yourselves from the hooks of “Wildfire Within” or “Tale of Fire” after your first listen. If you’re having trouble, I might direct you to “Forest.” Don’t get me wrong, the riffing—and the solo—are terrific, but keyboardist Krzysztof Wiedeński gets serious props for that one. Throughout In Embers, he is the not-so-secret weapon of Aether, his subtle, lush orchestrations and beautifully clear piano lines bringing an Amorphis-like and, frankly, magical quality to the music.
Miluśki also handles vocal duties, a perfect fit for the music; his cleans are reminiscent of Mänepää (Wintersun), while his more dominant harsh vocals remind me a great deal of Vincent Jones1 (Æther Realm, whose influence can be felt somewhat in the music as well). The bass and drums are a bit buried in the mix (its only flaw), but Michał Górski and Maksym Steć do an awesome job (respectively) at keeping the energy alive throughout this record—and In Embers is a very energetic record.
Opener “Golden-Eyed Fox” is the perfect summation of the record as a whole; it begins with simple, hooky piano playing before merging into an explosion of energetic melodeath that uses everything: beautiful orchestrations, powerful screams, and catchy leads. And this pattern persists for the full 40 minutes of In Embers, never becoming tired, repetitive, or stale. Aether bring enough to the table that every song can sound fresh and different without straying from the band’s adventurous roots. Are you feeling power metal-y? “Wildfire Within,” friend. Wishing Wintersun would just release that album they keep talking about already? “Golden Eyed Fox” isn’t a fifteen-minute epic, but it should do the trick. Or maybe you just want a little more pep in your melodic death adventures; the “Elements” and “Tale of Fire” duo will make you happy.
In a year where it’s looking like a lot of my top picks are going to be morose, angry, or just plain depressing metal albums, a journey like this one is more than welcome. In Embers is a gorgeous debut, a powerful statement by a band who has taken a sound that so easily slips into cliché and made it their own. Aether have skipped over embers and gone straight to the fire. Long may it burn.
Tracks to Check Out: “Golden-Eyed Fox,” “Wildfire Within,” and “Last Battle.”