Eternal Essence is an American prog/symphonic metal band hailing from Atlantic City, New Jersey. Originally formed in 2004 as an all-instrumental act, "A Light In the Distance" is actually EE's fifth album release - but the first to feature vocals. Other than a few old live clips on YouTube I must admit I am completely unfamiliar with the band's earlier, instrumental albums - so this review is based solely on my impressions from this most recent 2012 release. For this CD the band's line-up consisted of Maria Vastano (lead vocals), Gary Hoffman (guitar, flute, backing vocals), Greg Rosenblit (piano and synths), Matthew Rib (bass), and EJ Luna (drums). While preparing to write this review I learned that Vastano has since left the Eternal Essence fold, but the band will continue on with a new singer.
To my ears, much of the music found here on "A Light In the Distance" sounds like an American companion to the female-fronted symphonic metal movement that currently enjoys popularity in Europe. Anyone familiar with bands like Within Temptation, Nightwish or Epica will have a good idea what I'm talking about. For those unfamiliar with that genre, I would describe it as a more lush, orchestral and often 'theatrical' variation on prog-metal - music where you're just as likely to hear a classical piano as a chunky guitar riff. The emphasis is definitely more on melody and song-structure than speed or aggression. And white Eternal Essence never goes quite as elaborate as Within Temptation does with their monk choirs and string sections, they do create a very full, symphonic sound within their five-piece format. Much of the credit for this must go to keyboard man Greg Rosenblit. His wide pallet of sounds provides a rich, orchestral backdrop (and often foreground) throughout much of the album.
There are several standout tracks on this album, and enough variation of sound and style to keep things interesting for it's hour-long duration.
Beginning with the sound of lone piano, "Within a Dream" quickly builds into a lush, medium-tempoed sympo-rocker boasting a forceful and effective chorus. Some trippy percussion effects and a soaring melodic guitar solo provide some tasty icing on the cake. "From Green to Grey" follows in a similar mold, with think layers of guitars, keyboards & slamming drums underpinning Vastano's smooth vocals. Again the chorus has a strong anthemic quality that brings to mind some of Within Temptation's rockier tracks.
"Riven" goes headlong into prog-metal territory, featuring some theatrical twists and turns of structure. A nice-blending of sounds here, too, with splashes of 'echoey' piano, dark metallic guitars, and some Portnoy/Peart-inspired drumming from Luna. I'd really love to see this band ratchet-up their prog-metal tendencies on future recordings - they certainly seem to have the chops to pull it off.
Taking on a decidedly sunnier tone, "Live For Today" opens at a brisker pace with strummed acoustic guitar and folksy vocals, providing a lighter contrast to some of the more intense songs. Also on the poppier side, "Cool Gentle Rain" features guest (male) lead vocals by James Hatem, on loan from the New Jersey rock band Blue Soul.
"And Servitude" is the discs only fully instrumental piece - and a fine one it is, too. Each of the musicians gets a chance to shine in a dramatic arrangement of melodic bass, new-agey synths, alternating soft/heavy guitar tones, and some more of those aforementioned trippy percussion effects.
"Epiphany" is a lush, sweeping ballad highlighted by a gorgeous chord progression, some emotive vocals from Vastano, and yet another well-executed & emotional guitar solo from Mr. Hoffman. I must say, there's something in this guy's playing that I really like. Unlike some prog-metallers who get lost in their own fret-frenzy, Hoffman seems to know when to tear-it-up and when to hold back.
Clocking in at over 13 minutes, "A Tragic Subconsciousness" is easily the album's most complex, compelling slice of prog-metal majesty. Built over an intricate and demanding drum performance from EJ Luna, this epic piece incorporates the sounds of wailing sirens and snatches of spoken dialog, right alongside some crunchy guitars sure to appeal to fans of Dream Theater or Shadow Gallery. One particularly gripping instrumental break gives the bass, drums and guitar a vigorous time-signature workout, while Rosenblit sails above it all with a wailing, nimble fingered synth solo. If you love the heaver side of prog, this track alone is worth the price of the CD.
Closing the album on a mellower note, "Let You Go" is a beautiful symphonic torch-song built completely out of vocals, classically-tinged piano and layered synth orchestrations. Here I was reminded of some of the quieter offerings of Within Temptation or Nightwish. This track helps to add an extra dose of variety to the album, as well as offering possibly the finest vocal performance on the album.
Also, while this is not a big-budget, major label release, there's no need to worry about any thin, demo-quality recordings here. The production, mixing and overall sound quality are all of very good standard - much cleaner-sounding than some of the other indie prog-metal releases I've received for review.
All in all, this CD comes highly recommended, particularly for fans of female-fronted sympho-metal or harder-edged (but still tuneful) rock. I'll look forward to seeing (or hearing) where Eternal Essence's musical journey takes them from here....
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on March 30th, 2013