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North Sea Echoes “Really Good Terrible Things” album review by Banyon G.

North Sea Echoes Band Members

North Sea Echoes is the new side project of Jim Matheos and Ray Alder, two long-time veterans of pioneering progressive metal band Fates Warning.  While not a new Fates Warning album, this album should please many of their fans.   The superb material here can be seen as an expansion of ideas found in past FW material, one that takes them in a more intimate, melancholic direction. 

If I were to describe this album in one sentence, I would call it “progressive rock mixed with ambient chill.”  If you combine the most relaxed and tranquil passages of recent FW material (like “After The Snow,” “Under The Sun,” and “The Last Song” from “Long Day Good Night”) and add some of the industrial elements from “Disconnected” and the mellower parts of “Darkness In A Different Light” and “Theories of Flight,” you would have a brief but not complete idea of what to expect here.  There are songs that are heavier, like the 2nd single “Empty.”  But broadly speaking, this album is the prog rock equivalent of smoky and relaxing late-night jazz.  While that may not thrill everyone, it is so much better than it sounds on paper. 

According to Ray, they picked the name “North Sea Echoes” based on some notes that Jim had written down.  They thought the phrase seemed to fit the vibe of the music.    

The music is haunting and beautiful, at times evoking a dreamlike state.  I particularly like how Jim Matheos uses electronic and industrial sounds in a way that they become an integral part of the songwriting.  In the same way that a painter uses a palette of pigments, he creates the vibe, the moodiness, and the overall character of the music through his choices of emotive and often otherworldly sounds and textures.   The singing here is also rich and expressive and is delivered with a kind of pensive sadness.  But it is more a wistful, longing feeling than a hopeless one.  

The album kicks off with “Open Book” which sets the tone for the rest of the album.  Pristinely clean guitar lines and an echoing backbeat mix with different industrial and ambient effects, with Ray’s multi-layered vocals gliding over the top.  The song ends a bit too soon, but leads directly into the textured, jazzy rhythms of “Flowers In Decay,” another fantastic song.   “Unmoved” is a slower “melancholy chill” number with some beautiful guitar textures and a very strong vocal from Ray.

The pace picks up slightly with “Throwing Stones,” a more dramatic number with highly creative guitar lines and a soaring chorus.  This is my favorite song on the album and would have fit in well on “Long Day Good Night.”  It is also one of 2 songs here that feature a guest performance by Gunnar Olsen (Puscifer) on drums.

Empty” is easily the most “metal” song here and is positively ominous sounding.  Matheos’ crushing guitar riffs collide with heavy keyboards and some powerful drumming by Gunnar Olsen.   Lyrically the song is about a syndrome called “Cherophobia.”  Ray Alder explains it as: “Some people have a fear of happiness. They feel that something painful always follows pleasure. So, they’re sort of locked into this world where they try to feel nothing, and that’s what Cherophobia is, and what inspired the lyrics.” 

The lyrics here are largely about endings and beginnings, mortality, aloneness, searching, and finding meaning, mostly on your own.   I may not always share the same worldview or conclusions but can appreciate where the lyrics are coming from.

The pace changes briefly with the next song “The Mission,” which is more rhythmically upbeat. This song has the feel of a synth-driven darkwave track, while still maintaining the general mood of wistful longing that permeates the album.

The final 4 tracks keep the creative sounds and Ray’s wonderful vocal melodies going, but they are all slow tracks and by this point I had been wishing for more variety in moods and pacing.  My favorite of the remaining 4 songs is “Touch The Sky,” with its beautiful textures and vocal melodies.  It is a little less mournful and sullen.  The final song “No Maps” is another slow song, with spare instrumentation and industrial effects.   

I have listened to this album a few times.   My overall impression is that I love the creativity, the many different textures, and the beautiful vocal melodies, but the persistent melancholic moodiness is a bit much for an entire album.  Some more variety in emotional tonality would have been appreciated and I believe would have made this a stronger album.  But if this is what Jim and Ray set out to do and they are happy with it, then more power to them.   

2024 is so far becoming an excellent year for prog rock, with some terrific albums released or expected by the likes of The Pineapple Thief, Caligula’s Horse, Big Big Train, and others.  I would add this debut album from North Sea Echoes to the list of fine prog albums in 2024.  Just don’t go in expecting Fates Warning II – or a wide variety of moods.  If you can accept the album on its own terms, you’ll find some great material here.

Banyon’s Rating: 8.5/10

Preorder the album HERE

North Sea Echoes Album Cover

Tracklist:

01 Open Book 4:43
02 Flowers in Decay 4:34
03 Unmoved 3:42
04 Throwing Stones 4:38
05 Empty 3:22
06 The Mission 3:47
07 Where I’m From 3:47
08 We Move Around the Sun 5:35
09 Touch the Sky 3:50
10 No Maps 3:42

Band members:

Ray Alder
Jim Matheo

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