A new review of the latest album Northumbria (MRR CD13002) reprinted with the very kind permission of Dave Shoesmith of CD Services (UK).
Imagine a vocalist a lot like Chris Rainbow alongside keyboardists like Rod Argent, Keith Emerson, Nick Magnus & Tony Banks and you have AETHELLIS!
To give you a complete picture of who AETHELLIS is and who they sound like, we first need to tell you about a wonderful British composer / musician…
Back in 2009 when this guy’s first album arrived on my desk I said: “I really do believe we have discovered the new Chris Rainbow here”, and the follow-up to that debut CD further cements this opinion in my mind.
For those who perhaps don’t know who I’m on about, back in the 70’s an amazing talent emerged in the UK called Chris Rainbow. Keyboards were his main instrument – he composed / produced many fine songs – and he had a voice to die for! Chris sang like a bird and created his own amazing BEACH BOYS style of close harmonies.
Apart from making three excellent studio albums (two for Polydor and one for EMI) he became most famous for the radio and TV jingles he produced for the late madcap radio and TV presenter Kenny Everett, one of the DJ’s who really pushed Rainbow’s albums and singles on his famous radio shows – and as we all know (in the words of one of his most famous TV characters: Cupid Stunt) Kenny’s shows were all done “in the best possible taste”.
Later, Chris Rainbow became a member of symphonic prog band CAMEL, for which he played keyboards and sang vocals on several albums and tours. He also contributed vocals and keyboards to several of the ALAN PARSONS PROJECT albums. Further down the line Chris Rainbow turned his back on the music business and now lives a reclusive lifestyle on the west coast of Scotland, and I can tell you his music is sadly missed by many CDS Services customers.
The Rainbow mantle has now been taken up by AETHELLIS, aka Ellsworth Hall. Ellsworth is a classically trained American keyboardist who also plays electric guitar, and he has an amazing voice! Commanding synthesizers, organ and piano with equally proportioned finesse; Ellsworth is not a bad guitarist either.
His smooth, higher register vocal tones are definitely like Chris Rainbow, but add just a strain of John Wetton as well, and you’ve pretty much got it. Just like Chris Rainbow, Ells excels when it comes to multi-tracking his own voice, creating fabulous vocal harmonies for his melodic, memorable songs. His keyboard work is also top class, touching on the styles of names such as: Rod Argent, Keith Emerson, Geoff Downes and Tony Banks at times.
The full line-up for the ‘Northumbria’ album is: Ellsworth Halls (keyboards / lead & backing vocals / guitar / digi-drums), Mark Van Natta (guitars / lead vocals), Erik Marks (bass), Chris Marks (guitar), Mike Harrington (drums) and Joseph Dwyer (saxophone).
‘Northumbria’ opens with the album’s title track in a hail of harmonious multi-tracked voices in an angelic choral sequence, before busting into the rockier 2nd part: ‘Mephisto Breeze’ with a stereo switching passage of Emerson-esque synth / Hammond-led instrumental work backed by rolling drums and bass.
A break leads the sounds into an angelic Steve Howe / Yes like sequence, then the sound of Mellotron and more layered ethereal choral effects drive us into an anthemic passage before returning to the catchy synth led main theme, surrounded by more almost ecclesiastical choral layers and an emotive lead vocal.
‘Awakening’ is an instrumental that opens with rippling and gurgling synths with light guitar riffs set over a of string synthesizers, and then when the drums come in, a high register synth melody line joins the electric guitar, which, with other added keyboards sounds, makes for an really nice instrumental track that instrumentally touches on later GENESIS at times.
The keyboard work on the faster song: ‘Dire Need’ is a bit like a cross between Rod Argent, Nick Magnus and Tony Banks. It has a catchy chorus, and again is a little like a later period GENESIS song.
‘Penal Colony’ is a evenly paced keyboards / guitar driven instrumental with a strong theme and smoothly flowing symphonic backdrop, driven along by drums, which includes some nice electronic percussive phasing effects on the more atmospheric passage towards the close of the piece.
‘Without A Sound’ starts out all grandiose with layered brass keyboard themes before the soft, emotive vocal comes in – again very Chris Rainbow here – on a well-written ballad filled with strong melody that could so easily fit into an ALAN PARSONS PROJECT album – Think ‘Old & Wise’ and similar APP tracks - then finishing off with a nifty high register synth solo.
‘Celui Qui Soit La Bosse’ is a short, but laid-back instrumental jazzy excursion that centres on a strong bass-line and synth brass sounds, with electric piano carrying the main melody line, then a real saxophone takes a solo spot before left & right channel synth solos take a turn in the forefront.
‘Exchecher Prague’ kicks of with synth bass and string synth sounds leading the way on an instrumental passage with jazzy piano taking the lead, surrounded by stabbing synth chords and more pulsating synth bass. More channel swapping synth solos take the track into a kaleidoscopic climax of sounds and effects.
The ten-minute, two-part: ‘Peace Path’ leads off with a two-minute instrumental passage before an excellent vocal from Ells together with a multi-tracked angelic backdrop on string synths and voices leads into a faster paced synth-led train-ride starts off. Electric guitar strains and riffs come in and out of the mix before vocal and instrumental passages share favour up to the close of what is a fine, lengthy track.
A piano / acoustic guitar melody intros the faster-paced jazzy instrumental: ‘Sounds Good’, and here I heard traces of the likes of GREENSLADE as the Hammond organ leads the way for a while, then with bass breaks and guitar motifs in-between, the keyboards bring the track to a big ending.
‘Northumbria’ leans more on the Nick Magnus mainstream side of Progressive Music concentrating on the quality of the song-writing, melody and variation of styles alongside strong playing skills, making for over fifty minutes of extremely enjoyable, melodic prog.