(All Album Reviews by gsk42)
Michael Ponczek: chamberlin, organ, synthesisers, effects
L. Duncan Hammond: mellotron, piano, mini-moog, organ, clavinet, vocal
Wil Sharpe: guitars, mandolin, vocal
Brad Stephenson: bass and bass pedals, vocal
Mark Richards: percussion, effects
Hailing from the United States (Fort Wayne, Indiana, to be exact), Ethos had a penchant for the seminal styles of King Crimson, Yes, and Genesis. They would pay homage to these artists too, but they were also able to assimilate these disparate ideas into one artistic vision, uniquely their own and thoroughly adventurous, just the same. This, their debut (their sophomore outing was called Open Up, and there has also been a recent issuing of their pre-Ethos work called Relics), is notable for its rampant use of keyboards, by turns Fripp or Hackett inspired guitar work, resonant bass, and intricate use of percussion, set amidst a dizzying and adept display of tempo shifts and rich thematic developments, and fleshed out by two talented keyboardists. The shared vocal duties were capable, and while they won’t beg comparisons to Anderson or Lake in terms of prowess, they do not distract from the musical essence either.
While Ardour culls most of its influences from King Crimson (circa 1969-74), nowhere is this more obvious than on pieces like “Intrepid Traveller”, “Space Brothers” (in spots), “Everyman”, “Atlanteans” or “Dimension Man”, where each piece features complex use of meter, a notable hierarchy of instrumental timbre, and inspired sections of jazzified wonder courtesy of Sharpe’s Frippoid guitar work. Their attention to the arrangements, always symphonically structured and texturally rich, do draw predictable comparisons with the likes of Yes and Genesis, as can be witnessed on pieces like “Long Dancer” or “E’Mocean”, both of which lean heavily on the use of Mellotron and multiple synthesizers. Save for the very passable attempt at AOR with “The Spirit Of The Music”, which is still nice on those lame terms, Ardour is a veritable triumph within its aim to tribute the Anglo school of symphonic rock, while contrastingly – and perhaps amazingly – creating an organic work of personal invention. Indeed, their invention!
Along with Cathedral, Happy The Man, Fireballet, and a host of others, these Midwesterners plied their craft to breathtaking results on their debut. It will invite many convenient criticisms of being too derivative of the oft-cited triad of Crimson, Genesis, or Yes, but this is a pithy and facile claim, certainly one which overlooks the abundance of fresh and thoughtful ideas that abound here. Sadly, this (and their other) was a major label release, during the years of the burgeoning disco and punk scenes and, as such, has only been given a reissue – now deleted – by the Japanese, years ago. It appears unlikely, to me anyway, that Capitol will open up their vaults and give this the digital treatment.