ARCHAEOLOGIST is a project born in 2013 in San Jose, and since then it has seen a steady evolution from a solo project by guitarist Kyle Schaefer to a full-fledged instrumental band in 2017 when the line-up was completed by Sean Johnson (guitar), Ryan Johnson (drums) and George Lallian (bass). Their new single Winter’s Wake (released December 6th 2019) is another step in the growth of the band that with this composition adds vocals, mainly by Kyle Schaefer with a little contribution by Sean Johnson.
Winter’s Wake is an interesting two-part work that blends jazz/fusion and progressive metal elements, with guest musicians Scott Carstairs from FALLUJAH and Wes Thrailkill from THRAILKILL offering guitar solos respectively in parts one and two. While listening I was reminded of the progressive band JOLLY, especially in the way the songs shift gears between mellow and harsher moments, but ARCHAELOGIST lean more heavily towards jazz and fusion and are technically more accomplished. In fact ARCHAELOGIST seems to have two souls, one devoted to jazz and the other to metal, and Winter’s Wake is constantly dancing around these two aspects of the band. Jazzy passages give way to metal ones before returning again front stage in a sort of ballet, but the transition between the two styles is always smooth and well executed, bridged by guitar chords and harmonies that often retain the colours typical of jazz and fusion even while using heavy distortion. Kyle Schaefer does a good job adapting his vocals to the changing mood of the song, starting from a clean style in the mellower parts and adding grittiness during the harsher moments and even using screaming and growls in some passages, and this too adds to the feeling of cohesiveness of the work.
The structure of the composition is quite complex and layered and shows the quality of the performers and their ability in switching gears between the various sections; all of them are really good with their instruments and have the chance to get in the spotlight. I particularly enjoyed both the drum solo towards the end of the first part of the song and the jazz passages led by the bass, and I was impressed by how Schaefer and Sean Johnson worked together to build interesting layers and structures with their guitars and how precise and clean their riffs feel. As you’d expect, the solos offered by the guest artists are really well executed and tasteful and complement the composition well.
From a production standpoint the quality is also good, and I liked how the jazzy sections were outlined not only by the emphasis on the VII or other melodic lines you’d expect in that genre but also by the choice of tones coherent with the style, and how some of that colour was maintained during the transition to some of the metal sections.
Despite blending jazz and metal, two genres not always compatible, and offering an elaborate structure, Winter’s Wake manages to be quite melodic and easy to listen to. I would recommend it to both fans of the aforementioned genres but also a wider audience.
Since Winter’s Wake is a single I would wait for a full length album before forming a definitive opinion about ARCHAELOGIST, but for what I've heard I think they could find a considerable following especially between the fans of bands like JOLLY and between those who enjoy the experience of digging beyond the melody to discover music that’s quite articulate and complex.
Archaeologist - Winter's Wake (feat. Scott Carstairs & Wes Thrailkill)