I have a love-hate relationship with progressive metal, particularly power prog. Several of my all-time favorite acts are prog as fuck, or at least dip their toe in those waters. However, not many musicians know how to actually write progressively, bloating the scene with bland mediocrity. This is true of most music of course, but it’s particularly heartbreaking to see in genres with so much potential. So where do Ethernity, our new1 Belgian acquaintances, fit into this?
Theoretically, a review for this prestigious publication should begin with positive aspects, but there’s not much here. The primary stylistic template in use on The Human Race Extinction is that of Dream Theater, right down to the editing problems and excessive noodling. There’s hints that recall ReVamp or Symphony X, namely Julie Colin’s smoky alto and (usually) wonderful fry screams, or slices of riffing on “Artificial Souls,” which particularly recalls the mid-section of Wild Card.2 The vocal harmonies present in the first half of “Warmth of Hope” are also solid, despite the back half of the song feeling a bit stitched on. Colins is by far the highlight of Extinction and exhibits a degree of versatility that the album frankly doesn’t deserve.
Extinction is full of mild-to-moderate missteps. For a start, it commits the cardinal sin of progressive music in combining brand, soulless, repetitive riffing3 with bland, soulless, extravagant digressions without actual direction. Oh wait, I already cited Dream Theater as an influence. This is best exhibited on “Beyond Dread;” its sequence of melodic progressions is all B-side DT, but much of the rest of the album is similar. Extinction, other than Colin’s performance, generally fails to balance serenity and aggression in an organic manner, and suffers from a severe dearth of anything in even the same ballpark as editing. With a runtime of seventy minutes and so much bland material, the album is a major chore to work through, despite the occasional island of a decent idea to rest on, like the aforementioned vocal harmonies or “Souls’” hammering drum and guitar intro. Further contributing to the blandness, nearly every track is five to six minutes long, with almost none having enough ideas to support that length. You can’t pad out a verse-chorus song with a bunch of solos and call it a day every time, folks. And seemingly to mock the very idea of restraint, the one short segment, the two-and-a-half minute of “Mark of the Enemy” is a big bowl of guitar noodles.
The real crime, however, lies in the production. This mix is an atrocity, with the guitar frequently overtaking the vocals entirely, a buried bass, and a hideously plasticky drum right at the top. The guitar tones are just off, sounding like they belong on a djent album, not milquetoast power prog, and again, the drum trigger sounds like smacking a slab of ABS. It’s not St. Anger-bad, but it’s pretty close. Clocking in at DR 5-6, depending on the song, the master naturally contributes to this; neither would be especially egregious on its own, but together they make the whole album unbearably grating.
If you like Dream Theater, you’re wrong, but you might like this at least in principle. The horrendous production and bland songwriting, however, make this album a hard pass for me, despite liking most of Julie Colin’s work on it. I wish Ethernity creativity (not luck) in the future, for both better songwriting and possibly a better name. I do wish Julie Colin luck on her recent exit from the band, however, and look forward to any other projects she might engage with.