Album Review – Eths / Ankaa (2016)

One of the most prominent and innovative French bands of all time returns with a true masterpiece of complexity, darkness and heaviness, shining brighter than the main star of the Phoenix constellation.

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CoverThere’s a thin line between change and evolution several bands worldwide can’t or simply just don’t know how to walk without losing their balance and, consequently, damaging their core essence. Fortunately, this is not the case with French Neo-Metal adventurers Eths, who in my humble opinion have just released their boldest and most innovative album to date, the splendid Ankaa, but still being the Eths we all learned to love. Although I had been preparing myself for quite a while for another blast of creativity by Mr. Staif Bihl and his bandmates, I must say I was blown away by the level of intricacy, darkness and heaviness found throughout the entire album. This beautiful work-of-art crafted by this distinguished group hailing from the city of Marseille, France is the perfect depiction of what evolution in music is all about, and it will surely help spread the electricity and emotions flowing from the music by Eths to the entire world.

Ankaa, which features a unique selection of guest musicians such as Björn “Speed” Strid (Soilwork), Sarah Layssac (Arkan), Jon Howard (Threat Signal), Faustine Berardo and session drummer Dirk Verbeuren (Soilwork), not to mention it is also Eths’ first full-length album with the stunning Rachel Aspe on vocals, shines brighter than the main star of the Phoenix constellation, which by the way was the inspiration for the album name. “This album is linked to the cosmos and the concept of rebirth for the band as well as personally”, said Staif, and that’s indeed what you’ll experience while listening to each one of its twelve jaw-dropping multi-layered songs, all beautifully and meticulously connected to tell a bigger story to the listener. Again, Eths might have changed their musicality in Ankaa considerably, but it was a change towards evolution that no one in their right mind should ever complain about.

One of the best compositions in the history of Eths, entitled Nefas (the Latin word for “atrocity” or “wrong”), kicks off Ankaa in a very impactful way, being insanely heavier, faster and darker than anything the band has ever done before. It’s a feast of Metalcore, Melodic Death Metal, Alternative Metal and many other subgenres of heavy music perfectly put together, and pay good attention to what our screaming diva Rachel does with her “voix incroyable”, it sounds beyond astonishing. Nihil Sine Causa (or “nothing happens without a cause”, from Latin), featuring Sarah Layssac and Jon Howard, is yet another obscure and thunderous composition where the band’s mastermind Staif showcases his always solid guitar lines, with the addition of the Arabic words by Sarah as well as the electronic effects during the song’s second half bringing a fresh taste to the music. And in Amaterasu, part of the Japanese myth cycle seen as the goddess of the Sun and the Universe, Dirk (who sounds like a beast behind his drums) makes a great duo with newcomer Damien Rivoal and his low-tuned and heavy as hell bass lines. Moreover, it’s impossible not to love this brutal Groove Metal aria, and I don’t recall coming across such a powerful triumvirate of songs like these starting an album in recent years.

eths 2016All the craziness, occultism and darkness found in Ankaa keep growing with each and every song, and in Seditio (or “rebellion”, from Latin) that couldn’t be any different. It amuses me how Rachel can sound like a beauty and a beast at the same time, showcasing all her vocal skills and contributing to the song being heavier than usual but still innovative and progressive, just like we expect from such a talented group of musicians. Then we have the startling Nixi Dii, a general term applied by the Romans to those divinities who were believed to assist women at the time when they were giving birth to a child, where its eerie background effects, demonic drumming, choir-like backing vocals and lots of breaks and variations, together with Rachel growling like an evil queen, are all the ingredients you need for awesomeness. In other words, it offers you eight minutes of the best modern metal music you can find in the entire world. And just when you think things couldn’t get more alternative we’re treated to Vae Victis (Latin for “woe to the vanquished”), with Staif providing an amazing piano base for Rachel to shine once again, this time with a mix of clean vocals and visceral growls. As a side note, the production of the album is so brilliant you can clearly hear every single note coming out of each instrument, enhancing the overall experience even more.

The next song, named HAR1 (the acronym for human accelerated region 1, a short DNA region identified recently to have evolved the most rapidly among highly constrained regions since the divergence from our common ancestor with chimpanzee) and featuring Björn “Speed” Strid, gets closer to traditional Melodic Death Metal thanks to the contribution of Björn, but of course with Eths’ own touch added to it; while in Sekhet Aaru, the Egyptian reed fields considered the heavenly paradise where Osiris rules in ancient Egyptian mythology, your soul will be transported to those fields in a flawless fusion of alternative and occult music. Sarah is back with her gorgeous voice as a guest vocalist in Kumari Kandam, which refers to a hypothetical lost continent with an ancient Tamil civilization (located south of present-day India, in the Indian Ocean), perhaps the closest song to Eths’ old musicality with Damien and Dirk providing all the uproar while Rachel takes care of the song’s tranquility, sorrow and anguish.

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Ankaa Deluxe Digibox

Last but not least, Eths bring forward a spine-tingling trilogy inspired by the Orion constellation, accurately representing the idea of rebirth. The first piece of this trilogy is named Alnitak, a multiple star (also known as “Zeta Orionis”) that’s part of the famous Orion’s Belt, which Staif effectively translated into an epic and vibrant chant overflowing his deepest emotions. The second piece, entitled Alnilam, a large blue supergiant star also known as “Epsilon Orionis” estimated to be 275,000 to 537,000 times as luminous as the Sun and around 34 times as massive, is an extremely powerful and aggressive tune led by a relentless Rachel, with Dirk yet again pounding his drums mercilessly. And finally, the climatic end to this trilogy comes in the form of another violent chant with esoteric passages and a pleasant ambience named Mintaka, from منطقة (“manṭaqa”), which means “the belt” in Arabic.

As aforementioned, calling Ankaa simply as a “change” in the music direction by Eths is an understatement of the actual evolution Staif, Rachel and the others reached with their musicality, as well as of the brilliant destiny that lies ahead for them. Ankaa is not just another regular metal album, and I’m sure it will shortly become a reference in contemporary heavy music. Thus, if you want to join Eths in this exciting path they are taking towards the future of Heavy Metal, I suggest you go grab your copy of Ankaa (which can be listened to in its entirety HERE), in special its top-notch deluxe digibox including a CD and an exclusive DVD “Live at Hellfest 2015” in digisleeve with a 24 page booklet, an Eths metal key ring and a pyramid folding card, at the Season Of Mist webshop or at the Napalm Records webshop. After listening to such a masterpiece like Ankaa, you will quickly realize it is no wonder Eths are considered by many the most prominent and innovative French band of all time.

Best moments of the album: Nefas, Nihil Sine Causa, Amaterasu, Nixi Dii and, from the Orion-inspired trilogy, I would say Alnilam is the most entertaining composition.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2016 Season Of Mist

Track listing
1. Nefas 3:50
2. Nihil Sine Causa (feat. Sarah Layssac and Jon Howard) 4:53
3. Amaterasu 3:57
4. Seditio 6:36
5. Nixi Dii 7:58
6. Vae Victis 5:05
7. HAR1 (feat. Björn “Speed” Strid) 4:04
8. Sekhet Aaru 4:09
9. Kumari Kandam (feat. Sarah Layssac and Faustine Berardo) 4:15
10. Alnitak 4:04
11. Alnilam 3:40
12. Mintaka 5:07

Band members
Rachel Aspe – lead vocals
Staif Bihl – guitars, keyboards, programming, vocals
Damien Rivoal – bass
R.U.L. – drums (live)

Guest musicians
Dirk Verbeuren – drums (studio recording)
Sarah Layssac – additional vocals on “Nihil Sine Causa” and “Kumari Kandam”
Jon Howard – additional vocals on “Nihil Sine Causa”
Björn “Speed” Strid – additional vocals on “HAR1”
Faustine Berardo – additional vocals on “Kumari Kandam”

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Metal Chick of the Month – Rachel Aspe

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La femme Nikita? Non, la femme Rachel.

Bonjour! Comment allez-vous? These initial French words have a good reason to be here: la belle femme Rachel Aspe, vocalist of the Heavy Metal/Hardcore band Eths from Marseille, France,  is our metal babe this month. This beautiful girl was born on June 24, 1988, in the city of Grasse, France, about 1,000km from Paris, but she conquered the world after singing Swiss Industrial/Groove Metal band Sybreed‘s Emma-0 on the French TV show “Incroyable Talent” in November 2012, when the video of her performance went viral.

This is the audio she sent to the TV show before being selected to sing it live on TV, and as you will be able to notice her performance was more than just awesome: her guttural vocals are as potent as the world-renowned frontwomen Angela Gossow (ex-Arch Enemy) and Alissa White-Gluz (ex-The Agonist, Arch Enemy), even never taking any lessons on how to do guttural singing. By the way, it always amazes me how ignorant and stupid those so-called “music experts” that judge the participants at any TV show like “American Idol” are: why do they make those faces of disbelief or looks of disapproval when they see a girl singing like Rachel Aspe? Honestly, I cannot believe that they don’t really know at least who Angela Gossow is, or that they don’t know how important, powerful and admired the female guttural in the world of heavy music is. That’s simply ridiculous.

Getting back to Rachel, she has mentioned in several interviews that it had always been her goal to be part of a band, and that this was one of the main reasons she went to that TV show. She had a job at a day nursery at that time and it was hard to find some proper time to work on her vocals, but she managed to do it really quickly in order to have the best possible performance on the show, which was broadcasted just a little time after Candice Clot left Eths. And guess what? Rachel was recruited by the other members of Eths to replace Candice, and then she could finally fulfill her dream. If this is not the perfect mix of hard work, some good luck and being embraced by the wings of destiny, I really don’t know what is.

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Rachel mentioned in one of her interviews that she discovered guttural vocals when she was a teenager, when she used to listen to punk rock and later to more brutal bands. She said that screaming was like a way to escape from her personal problems and it quickly became a “drug” for her. Regarding her music influences, the first singers she listened to were Max Cavalera (Soulfly, ex-Sepultura) and Corey Talor (Slipknot, Stone Sour), who helped her choose guttural as her type of singing, and although she’s a huge fan of Angela Gossow and loves her voice, she said the former frontwoman of Arch Enemy did not influence her way of singing.

As previously mentioned, she never took lessons and searched alone how to do guttural singing, but as with Eths she has to sing clean vocal parts too, she has been receiving lessons from professor Pierre Rodriguez. Another interesting fact about Rachel is the fact that she never thought about singing in French in a band (her vocal covers were almost always in English), but she really appreciates singing in her mother tongue with Eths now.

Rachel’s first studio work with Eths was the excellent EP Ex Umbra In Solem, launched in March this year. The EP contains a brand new song (the title-track Ex Umbra In Solem), three classic tracks of the band recorded live in October 2013 in Paris (Samantha, Bulimiarexia and Crucifère), and three songs from their album III re-recorded with Rachel on vocals (Voragine, Harmaguedon and Proserpina). Prior to joining Eths, Rachel was a member of French Melodic Death Metal band Dividead for a short period of time in 2012, and recorded the vocals for the song Fireblast by French Symphonic Power Metal band Kerion also in 2012.

With respect to her taste for music, mademoiselle Rachel proves us all she’s a true metalhead: her favorite artists include Heavy Metal icons such as Eths, Nightwish, Asking Alexandria and Deftones, and lesser-known but heavy as hell bands like Sybreed, Shai Hulud, Filter, Butterfly Explosion and Obscura. And last but not least, she also said she’s crazy about children and about her leopard geckos. Well, I would love to see her singing a “lullaby” to some kids, and I wasn’t expecting her to have any “cute” pets at all based on her singing style. Let those generic animals to the tedious participants from those annoying TV singing contests, while the wild Rachel and her fun lizards keep on rockin’ our world.

Rachel Aspe’s Official Facebook page
Rachel Aspe’s Official Twitter
Rachel Aspe’s Official YouTube channel

“I’m really proud to be a part of Eths. I’ve been a fan of the band for many years, and it’s a great honor for me to sing songs I have been listening to for such a long time.” – Rachel Aspe

Album Review – Eths / Ex Umbra In Solem EP (2014)

Rachel Aspe is definitely here to stay. Or should I say she’s here to scream?

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CoverAfter the departure of singer Candice Clot from French Heavy Metal/Hardcore band Eths, no one knew exactly what was going to happen with the band, as she was considered an essential part of its musicality. However, the other band members didn’t waste any time, immediately replacing her with the gorgeous and talented Rachel Aspe (who will pretty soon be our “Metal Chick of the Month”), and now releasing a new EP called Ex Umbra In Solem.

Although the music from this Marseille-based band is entirely in French, “le langage de l’amour”, they’ve chosen Latin instead to name the EP, which in English means something like “From Shadow to the Sun”, maybe as a representation of the moment the band has been through in the past few months before finding Rachel. Anyway, Ex Umbra In Solem is a special digipak limited and numbered 1 to 1,000 (available exclusively at the Season Of Mist’s official e-shop and other French stores), containing a brand new song, three classic tracks recorded live on October 24, 2013 at the Divan du Monde in Paris, France, mixed by Nikhertz at Studio Phantom, and three songs from the III album, re-recorded with Rachel on vocals.

So let’s get down to business with the title-track, Ex Umbra In Solem, the only original song of the EP, with its slow, obscure and delicate intro that suddenly turns into pure violence with great riffs, all fostered by a really nice chorus (“Et je mâche, au plus profond je nage / J’abandonne lentement / Vide, elle flotte à déraison / Isolée, je tombe (in solem)”). Rachel’s voice is really powerful when guttural and smooth when clean, sounding like some of The Agonist songs, and I really wish there were more original tracks here. Well, we’ll have to wait for their next full-length album for that.

Then come the three live tracks recorded last year in Paris, with all instruments cleanly captured for our delight: Samantha might be a very short song, but its live recording sounded amazing, explaining why it was included in the EP. Moreover, Rachel is pretty good live, which is when it really matters, and it’s interesting how she can quickly change her voice in a very consistent way without any sudden breaks. Bulimiarexia shows that, in my humble opinion, although Rachel clean vocals live are not bad at all, she just needs to adjust them a little. And kudos to drummer Guillaume “Yom” Dupré in this track, he sounds amazing. The last live track is the classic Crucifère, and as you can see in the official video below, Rachel’s onstage performance is another reason why she was the chosen one.

In regards to the re-recorded songs from III with Rachel on vocals, they all sound very professional and as heavy as they should be: I have the III album and after listening to both old and new versions of Voragine I’m pretty sure even diehard fans will love Rachel as much as they loved Candice; Harmaguedon is my favorite of the re-recorded versions and will probably be Rachel’s “secret weapon” to win the hearts of the “unfaithful”; and finally Proserpina closes the EP in a very good way, following the high quality of the recording of all songs.

EthsLast but not least, the album art was once again created by photographer and designer Nicolas Sénégas, who already worked on the art of III, and it is a very good graphic translation of the dark, gothic and heavy music generated by Eths.

So after all those good things I’ve said about Ex Umbra In Solem, you might be asking why only a 3.5, right? In fact, it was supposed to be only a 3.0 for having just one brand new song, as there’s a lack of originality and creativity in the whole EP, but at the same time Rachel’s performance is so electrifying in all tracks that it deserved a 4.0, which leads to an average of 3.5: simple math to represent how awesome this new singer will be for the future of the band.

Best moments of the album: Ex Umbra In Solem, Crucifère and Harmaguedon.

Worst moments of the album: The fact that the EP has only one brand new song.

Released in 2014 Season Of Mist

Track listing
1. Ex Umbra In Solem 4:06
2. Samantha (live) 2:38
3. Bulimiarexia (live) 4:22
4. Crucifère (live) 4:33
5. Voragine (Rachel on vocals) 3:49
6. Harmaguedon (Rachel on vocals) 4:45
7. Proserpina (Rachel on vocals) 5:48

Band members
Rachel Aspe — lead vocals
Stéphane “Staif” Bihl — guitar, samples
Damien Rivoal — bass
Guillaume “Yom” Dupré — drums