“This album….is something that even the top of the class Mike Oldfield was not able to achieve through decades of work”; wow! That little quote was from the blurb that was slipped into the CD case with my promotional copy of ‘II:XI, A Priori Memoriae’ by Echo Us. Strong words indeed, especially when it goes on to compare itself to the likes of Jon Anderson and a prelude of “the comeback of concept albums”. Strong stuff indeed. Clearly, of the Ave Noctum staff I am the ideal person to critique this work. As well as my metal collection I regularly listen to my Prog; I’ve seen Yes live in a host of configurations; I avariciously cling to 30 year old Jethro Tull merch I bought at the shows; and I both own and play all the albums Genesis released up to the departure of Steve Hackett. All that surely qualifies me, so before you read on, if you consider Iron Maiden as too soft and not worthy of your true metal warrior ears, click away now. Otherwise, read on.
Firstly, ‘A PRIORI MEMORIAE’ if my 30 year old O-level Latin memories serve translates as ‘From The Former Memory’, and in so far as the fact that this album harkens back to days gone by, that is an apt description; this is an album that references so many of the classic Prog rock sounds of the seventies. ‘Vestige’ opens the album with tolling church bells, scripture quotes in Latin, choirboy chants, and Apollo Mission sound bites, all set to exquisitely rendered acoustic guitar plucking, flutes and keyboards. ‘Exordium (Apologue)’ follows with vocals that sound like a mix between classic Jon Anderson and Roy Harper, telling a pastoral trippy tale of light and magic across an 11 minute plus track sprinkled with Vangelis inspired swirling keyboards and guitars that wanders from the Spanish to the jazzy. ‘Inventionem Memoria (Chrysalis)’ opens with the precise piano playing that screams of classical training before setting sail aboard the good ship Rick Wakeman across a Topographic Ocean. Across the ten tracks of this album, it is clear that every contributor to the complex sound structure is a master of their craft, be they harpist, part of the wood wind section, keyboardist, percussionist or guitarist, and the production is of the highest and cleanest nature. For the whole work it is apparent that composer of the piece Ethan Matthews is in thrall to the greats of heyday of Prog, and the influences run through every track.
Here, however, comes the downer. Whilst there was a lot of Prog that appeals even now, there was a whole pile of unnecessary padding, noodling, and “look how clever I am” self-indulgence in Prog that lead to it being mocked and getting a kicking from punk, and that is available in this CD by the bucket load. In fact, the whole album seems to be composed of nothing but that whimsy. Arguably my all-time favourite album, ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’ by Genesis has filler pieces like ‘Hairless Heart’ and ‘Ravine’, but they fitted the whole as they were part of a concept that included not just the record but the entire stage show, allowing costume changes by Peter Gabriel, and they also slotted between enormously powerful and moving songs; on ‘II:XI, A Priori Memoriae’ there is nothing but filler, and I kept on waiting for the music proper to kick in, but it just never did. Instead the album sounded like cuttings from the soundtrack to Bladerunner glued together to be played as background music in shops selling crystals, dream catchers and incense; I’ve no doubt there are some very earnest and deep, chin stroking long coat wearers for whom this album will be the CD of the year, but for me this is an album of superb musicianship distilled down into an audio sedative, and the score I’m giving is a reflection of the lost opportunity it represents.