Two of the most exceptional figures of the progressive metal genre unite once again for a new album. John Arch and Jim Matheos don’t need any special mention or reference as their past offerings are stellar and classic. The duo had joined forces 8 years ago in the more than impressive studio album “Sympathetic Resonance”. Naturally, John Arch’s voice is a classic “love him or hate him” case as you either love him or can’t stand it at all. There is no middle ground. I belong to the former category and I truly believe that “Awaken The Guardian” is a US tech-metal masterpiece! Of course, you can’t expect from them to release something of the same quality or of the same groundbreaking nature. After all, it’s not 1986, isn’t it?

“Winter Ethereal” depicts in perfect clarity where Matheos is at the moment from a compositional standpoint. It’s dark, moody but at the same time complex and majestic. There are shining moments where Matheos writes with an unparalleled inspiration (for instance the opening and closing numbers “Vermilion Moons” and “Kindred Spirits” are absolute highlights) while when he chooses to put the pedal to the metal the final result is astonishing (for instance “Wrath of the Universe”). On the other hand, Arch leaves you under the impression that he still has tons of written lyrics and that’s quite an accomplishment given that the album is full of his trademark lyrics. This time around, though, are more approachable and not allegorical in their meaning. It would be an omission if we didn’t mention that many familiar faces participate in the recordings… Joey Vera, Frank Aresti, Mark Zonder, Bobby Jarjombek, Joe DiBiase are just a few of them.

“Winter Ethereal” is exactly what I have been expecting from Arch & Matheos. I was absolutely satisfied by the final result although I must say that its predecessor was a little bit superior. I am confident that “Winter Ethereal” will be amongst the best albums of 2019 for many fans of the progressive metal sound.

Highlight: The sensational video clip of “Tethered” depicts perfectly the overall mood and content of John Arch’s lyrics.