We’re back with another duo review, this time on the new progressive death metal album Ephemeral by Denver group The Lylat Continuum! We got pretty nerdy with this one, so break out your favorite Star Fox plushie and buy a Gunpla to build, but first read mine and Billie’s thoughts on this stellar, starbound album.
David: Hi pal. 🙂 How are you?
Billie: I’m good! How are you?
D: I’m great! About ready to rant about some cool music.
B: That’s one of my favorite things to do.
D: First, I must ask a very important question: have you played any Star Fox games and if so, who’s your favorite character?
B: I knew this was going to come up, and I’m sad it came up so soon. I TECHNICALLY never played any, but I did watch a friend play a ton of Star Fox 64 and he was a greedy bastard and would never give me a turn. Anyways, Slippy Toad is my favorite. I hate Fox and anyone who mains him in Smash.
D: Hell yeah, this is gonna be a good review. Mine’s Leon Powalski, because he’s a damn chameleon and also apparently Polish, so slam dunk there. I also remember him being the smuggest prick on Star Wolf’s team as well.
Of course I bring this up because the band of topic today is named in reference to the Lylat solar system those games take place in. Being the nerd I am, that instantly grabbed me before I ever hit play on a song.
B: Even though I don’t have the reverence many other gamers do for Star Fox, I too am a huge nerd. Pretty much any video game themed metal grabs me instantly just because of that fact. With The Lylat Continuum, however, I got hype before I hit play just knowing the musicians involved with the project.
D: Yes, namely Jordan Eberhardt on bass from The Contortionist and formerly Scale the Summit, one of my favorites from my instrumental prog metal days. We also have Evan Sammons on drums who’s from Last Chance to Reason, a band I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with, but he brings it regardless.
B: Bingo. I’m a huge fan of Scale the Summit, and when Eberhardt joined The Contortionist I got incredibly excited. Last Chance to Reason is another band in the prog metal scene that I consider one of my favorites, and Sammons is an incredibly talented drummer. Knowing the projects just those two had been involved with, I knew Ephemeral was an album I was sure to love. Boy was I right about that.
D: True, I’m gonna have to check them out just based on the strength of this album. I did come into Ephemeral a total noob if you will, but having a huge liking for progressive metal of the cosmic variety, so it wasn’t a hard sell for me. And they’re from Denver! Locally formed bands always get a nod from me.
Billie, I believe you have a bit more history with this band than I do – I believe this is their first album, is that right?
B: Yes, this is indeed their first album. According to what I read, they actually formed in 2016. I was made aware of the project at the end of 2019, I want to say? I’m in quite a few prog groups on Facebook and caught wind of its through there. I was immediately hyped just hearing teasers and could tell it was going to be massive.
Hearing riffs and samples of songs was enough for me to be ready, and by the time the first single hit I was through the roof with hype. “Zero” was pretty much everything I could have wanted and then some.
D: Yes, “Zero” is quite the monster, as is “Epyon” which was the first song I heard. First, let me just recognize the audacity of the band to release the album’s two longest songs as their first singles. It was a good idea because they’re beyond solid tracks, but that’s something you don’t see too often.
“Zero” is the first ‘real’ song on the album after a nice, spacious intro track and it really hits the ground running with progressive structures and fierce vocals. How’d the atmosphere capture you going in?
B: I have to be completely honest. I love the intro track “Into the Vast”, but I feel like the cut into “Zero” is kind of odd. You have this really tight drum fill that fades at the end, and to me it feels like it’s going to go directly into the next track. Instead, there’s a quick cut and immediate change of pace that always kind of gets me.
Aside from that, the atmosphere of “Zero” is incredible from the start. I think the biggest thing lending to that is the dynamic synths that are present in the background of everything. They always add this ethereal and spacey layer to this epic prog fest.
I also have to agree with the move they pulled with “Zero” and “Epyon”. It’s pretty ballsy to write such dynamic tracks that are this long. It’s even more so to release two of them as singles, and then put them right at the front of the album as a crazy one-two punch.
D: Exactly, was not expecting that, but I’m all for destroying expectations. Between those three tracks at the beginning, you pretty much have a side A right there with the other five more average-length songs making up the B side. It can be a little daunting, but the dynamics around keep things fun. Definitely love the synths and openness of it all – in fact, those are my favorite parts.
It’s funny because I listen to a lot of heavy music and sometimes it works in ways that help me enjoy other heavy music, but it also allows me to appreciate the slower, atmospheric stuff. It was a matter of the latter on Ephemeral for me. Guitars courtesy of Chris Garza and Ian Turner really dazzle, especially on that intro to “Epyon”, but the vocals were a little unsettling to me at first because I was so into the lighter stuff.
B: There are a couples times as I’ve listened to this the last couple weeks where I’ve wondered if I would like it more as an instrumental album. I think it’s because of how well-written the instruments are and how beautiful it can be at times. But I think the vocals add a great dynamic and added layer. I do really enjoy how a majority of the album doesn’t feature vocals, and there are very long segments of pure instrumentals.
I also listen to a lot of heavy music, and find a similar sentiment to what you said. I honestly think Exoplanet by The Contortionist really opened me up to how dynamic and just pretty metal music could be. Before that, I mostly just knew it as abrasive and crunchy because that was all I had heard. From there I explored on my own and was able to find bands like Cynic and Between the Buried and Me. So this kind of metal really does the trick for me, and I love the ability to go from clean and ethereal to crunchy and abrasive in a split second.
D: That’s definitely true. Obviously no hard feelings to the vocalist Chrys Robb. He does a great job, his growls are on point, but yes, I do ponder on the thought of if it was fully instrumental, would it have (ironically) hit harder?
It’s interesting you bring up a lot of those similarly styled bands because a big one for me was TesseracT with how they really worked with a richer spectrum of sonics to redefine, especially for me personally, what metal can be. It’s also why “Level 5” is probably my favorite song on the whole damn album. Astonishingly lovely intro that borders a bit on the psychedelic side, awesome guitar to push the whole thing forward, and a sax solo in the middle (provided by Patrick Corona of Cyborg Octopus and Rivers of Nihil‘s live line-up)? Fucking sold.
B: “Level 5” is an absolutely incredible track and is my second favorite behind “Epyon”. I’m a sucker for sax, so anytime one pops up in just about anything, I’m pretty happy. I think the thing that really sells “Epyon” as my favorite is a moment that starts around the four-minute mark. There’s a beautiful piano bit that goes into this plinky synth-heavy melody that I have not been able to get out of my head since I first heard it. It’s immediately followed by another epic heavy moment, and I again just love that dynamic switch. I think it’s really telling of a songwriter’s ability when they are able to piece so many moving parts together into such compelling and entertaining pieces.
There are quite a few bands I could compare this to. When I first began listening to the singles I fell in love with it as Exoplanet worship, but the deeper I dive in, the less I feel that is true. While I definitely hear a lot of old The Contortionist vibes, I feel like the songwriting and style of the band is way too unique to just write them off as anything but their own entity.
D: Yeah, I agree. I’ll admit I’m not a huge fan of The Contortionist as a whole, but I did favor their earlier stuff and while I saw similarities, this is an entirely new beast.
I’ve gone long enough without discussing arguably the biggest part of Ephemeral and that’s its conceptual nature. It actually has a story. We have a protagonist in a mobile suit pilot who awakens in the middle of a battlefield surrounded by fallen friends and foes. Mortally wounded himself, he hallucinates into an epiphany and has to do one last thing before he dies to make things right. The problem is, due to a lack of lyrics and ability to parse out pretty much any of the lyrics in the vocals myself, I can’t for the life of me figure out the rest besides that little intro provided by the album description on Bandcamp.
B: What you said is exactly all I know about the story as well, and that’s a damn shame, because I love a good concept album personally. As a big sci-fi fan, this sounds right up my alley. I’m hoping they release the lyrics in any manner, even if it’s just uploading them to social media or something.
Since you seem to have more of a relationship with Star Fox than I do, does the story resonate with that universe at all? Or do any of the track titles?
D: I’m glad you asked, because holy shit did I go down the weeb rabbit hole for this one. Strap in, y’all.
I can only find superficial connections to Star Fox: the name of the band, “Sector Y” is an area in various Star Fox games you can visit (and die in – damn, those levels were hard). If you wanna get pretty reachy with it, “Zero” is the subtitle of a Star Fox game on the Wii U that was apparently… okay.
But, what you’ll find the album has a much bigger connection to is the Gundam universe. A ‘mobile suit’ refers to those big-ass mechs everyone pilots in that universe. “Zero“, “Epyon“, and “Libra” are all references to Gundam, and the cover art screams Gundam fanart with the style of the pilot’s uniform and the build of the mech on it. Really – and I say this in the most positive, affirming way possible – this whole album’s aesthetic is like deviantArt circa 2005. I feel like I could have found the album art on that site back in the day drawn by a promising young artist (shout out to the actual artist Mizucat); the story – from what I can gather – is effectively fan fiction for the Gundam universe. It’s wild.
I discovered all of this in my research for this review, I knew nothing about the universe prior except robots, space, and pew pew. Oh, and laser swords. Actually seems pretty cool. Also, I have a Gundam wiki account now on Fandom.
B: That’s all really cool, and I applaud your dedication to learning. You really went deep cover on that one my friend. I never really got into Gundam, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t draw that connection to it at all. No matter what it’s based on, I sure would like to read the lyrics and figure the story out. If it’s crafted half as good as the music, I’m sure I will absolutely love it.
D: Yes! Bands, if you make concept albums, please provide lyrics, even for your singles and especially for us humble review nerds to read over with advance copies. We love that shit. This is triple true if you use harsh vocals that aren’t easy to decipher.
I guess to close up most of my thoughts, I enjoyed the ride that Ephemeral provided. I haven’t listened to a ton of cosmic metal lately, so it was good to jump in the deep end with some progressive, heavy stuff and really bask in the wonderful writing and eclectic touches that drift on the outer reaches of what you may think is metal. The band’s great pedigree kind of set them up for that, but The Lylat Continuum is its own thing and I appreciate that a lot. All I wish is that I could grasp more of the story and that the vocals would have dazzled me a bit more to keep up with the outstanding instrumentation and atmosphere.
B: I cannot agree more my friend. To close, I would just like to say this – It’s hard for me to compare an album to Exoplanet, which I consider one of my favorites of all time. Ephemeral is a great album by a group of musicians who have made a name for themselves with big acts in the genre already, but they have taken on a whole new identity with The Lylat Continuum. It’s refreshing and scratches every itch for groggy, spacey metal. It’s easily one of my favorite things I’ve heard this year and I’m sure it will hold up through the end of the year and much longer in my personal catalog.
D: That’s what it’s all about, right? Good music. Ephemeral is definitely that. The Lylat Continuum members, if you read this, let us know what your favorite Star Fox character is. That’s all I got. Any final thoughts from you, pal?
B: It most certainly is all about good music. I’m definitely curious to see if this is a project that will continue or if it was a one-off type of deal. I would love to hear more of this in the future, and even see them find success with a live band and play some shows.
D: Hell yeah, and same. I think they could rip it up. Guess we’ll find out in 2043, which is probably when the first mobile suit will be created. I’ll look it up on the wiki.