Hailing from Guayaquil in Ecuador, Ashes in Sapphire seems to be mostly a one man project, that one man being Christhian Zambrano. He plays all the instruments on this album except the drums, which are the work of Panos Geo, and the strings on Symphony in Blue, which were contributed by a couple of guests, Maria Trejo and Paula SantaCruz. He also contributes all the vocals, except the female voice on Symphony in Blue, which belongs to the Dutch singer Micky Huijsmans. He wrote all the music and lyrics, produced the album and presumably put the kettle on in between recording sessions too.
He describes what he does as electronic progressive metal, which is fair enough, but people expecting metal may be disappointed at how light it is. Even when the guitars are chugging along, the piano is more overt in the foreground. I'd call this progressive rock that merely happens to have some chunky riffs on occasion. People coming in to it expecting prog rock would have nothing to be disappointed in at all, because this finds an agreeable vibe, one that's almost but not quite like anything we've heard before.
Equilibrium is a decent opening song proper, but it's Blank Canvas that grabbed my attention. It has very organic, pulsing keyboards and the guitars try to emulate that when they heavy up a little, but I would call the rest of this song deceptively delicate. The vocal is delivered in the Peter Gabriel style and it interacts with the piano rather than the guitars, even when the guitars ramp up (and the whole song does build very nicely). It's a surprisingly complex song that somehow makes itself seem simple and accessible and that's a particularly neat trick for any prog rock musician to master.
The heart of the album is Symphony in Blue and I wonder if that was a deliberate choice. This is a first album for Ashes in Sapphire and, if Zambrano thinks of it as a metal band, he may be thinking of this as a go forward style. There's a lot of keyboard work here, but it's the guitars that drive this one with a solid chugging riff. It's phrased as a duet and Huijsmans usually sings symphonic metal, for a Dutch band called End of the Dream. She's more restrained here, not soaring off into the stratosphere, but the interplay is nice and there's still a lot of dynamic play going on, especially with a late midsection that's really most of the second half.
Symphony in Blue runs almost eight minutes but it's not the epic on this album. That honour goes to the closer, From Twilight to Light, which runs over twelve. It builds very well, from a rock opening to metal during the midsection and then back to rock to wrap up. It's hardly the best song here, though it doesn't outstay its welcome. Zambrano provides a neat bass, as he did on Cenizas and Symphony in Blue. It finds its vibe and milks it well.
It does remind that, while nothing here lets the side down and there's no filler, some of the pieces of music here are lesser to others. For instance, Under the Rain is a decent song, if listened to separately, but it doesn't do anything that Blank Canvas did better only one song earlier. She Wasn't Dreaming is a decent piece of music too, but it seems more like a warmup exercise than a song proper. And, at the end of the album, the title track is decent too, but it doesn't seem to warrant twelve minutes of album time.
I'll see it all as growing pains. My impression is that Zambrano is a talented songwriter and musician, but he's still figuring out exactly what he wants to write and perform. I have a feeling that his second album as Ashes in Sapphire may be a little different. I'm interested to see how.