Recycling seems to be the thing for British prog-metal rockers Threshold, at least when it comes to lead singers. The band’s lead singer situation is almost on a Spinal Tap level by now, but no lead singer change in the world seems to affect the band in any way, at least not negatively. The reason is, of course, that it is Karl Groom (guitars) and Richard West (keyboards) that are the band’s song writers and that no singer with a limited range and an impersonal voice would ever be let close to this band. I became a Threshold fan – a little late, I know – back in 2007 when I heard the song “Slipstream” (Dead Reckoning) on a compilation CD from Sweden’s (well, Scandinavia’s, actually) biggest hard rock mag, Sweden Rock Magazine. I bought Dead Reckoning on the spot after that and I still hold it as my personal favorite Threshold album. By margin, I might add. Because that album made me go back and buy almost all of their previous albums and they’re all great. When I discovered the band, their singer was Andrew “Mac” McDermott, so for me, he is the voice of Threshold. Mac left the band in 2007 and sadly, in 2011 he passed away from kidney failure.
As Mac’s replacement, the band chose to take back his predecessor, Damian Wilson, who sang on two of the band’s first albums, the debut Wounded Land (1993) and their third Extinct Instinct (1997) and together they released the brilliant albums March Of Progress (2012) and For The Journey (2014) before Wilson unexpectedly left band earlier this year. What to do then? Well, they simply gave Glynn Morgan, the guy who replaced Wilson briefly on 1994’s Psychedelicatessen album, a call. Morgan gave his thumbs up and joined the band for the recording of their brand new album, a double album, that was released on September 8. Now, I must admit that I’m not a huge fan of the band’s first three albums and I even think that Mac’s debut with the band, Clone (1998), is somewhat uneven. But since I love every album after that, starting with Hypothetical (2001), I have some huge (as in HUGE!) expectations on their new effort.
If this is a concept album or not, I really don’t know but the album’s setup sure makes it looks like that. For starters, the song “The Shire” is divided in three parts where “Part 1” opens the record. It’s a short acoustic guitar / lead vocals intro that actually sports a certain catchiness and a melody that makes it easy to hear which band we’re listening to here. The tune goes directly into the first “real” video, “Small Dark Parts”. It’s a pretty obvious choice for a single as the tune is more of a straight forward melodic hard rock tune with lots of prog elements, not a far cry from how “Slipstream” is constructed. The chorus even goes into pop territory but with all heaviness right at the bottom. A brilliant track. Next up is the albums first grand epic tune, “The Man Who Saw Through Time”. The tune starts its almost 12 minutes as a laid-back ballad with only piano and vocals but it speeds up along the way although it stays quite soft. The classic Threshold-written melody is very memorable and even though when the prog elements comes in, the tune is quite easy listenable. This is awesome!
“Trust The Process” with its seven minutes might look as a another huge progger, but even though it sure is proggy, it’s also very melodic and the chorus runs into AOR-land with some exceptional catchiness. This upbeat hard rocker also have some symphonic rock vibes that brings the mind to bands such as Kansas, Styx and even Sweet. Still, I don’t find the tune the least radio-friendly, only very memorable – a brilliant piece of music. “Stars And Satellites” takes another unexpected twist as the band goes straight into late 80’s melodic arena rock mixed with some more modern metal influences and a very pop chorus that even borders to cheesiness. But a progressive middle part that turns into a soft, atmospheric mode that is Threshold’s trademark makes it more than just another rocker. I think the tune is great and I love that they dare step outside the box a bit. “On The Edge” closes CD 1 in a mid-paced, darker and heavy way. It’s powerful and pretty straight forward but it also comes with a huge melody and pretty intricate Dream Theater-like breaks here and there. An awesome prog metal tune!
CD 2 opens with the second part of “The Shire”, a continuation of “Part 1” that starts out the same way but soon turns into a ‘real’ song instead of just another intro. “Part 2” is a big, bombastic power ballad that holds an arrangement that makes it clear it’s a Threshold tune, but as a whole, this is actually a real power ballad with very a small progressive involvement. Not that it matters much as it is a brilliant song. “Snowblind” takes a direct turn from power balladry into dark and heavy grooves where the verses are very much in-your-face metal. The refrain contrasts with a classic melodic rock Threshold melody with some major catchiness. There’s a also a bit of a symphonic rock influence waved in there that to my ears sounds a bit Yes-like – an astonishing combination. “Subliminal Freeways” comes in a more laid-back package, even soft-ish. However, the main melody is huge with an arrangement that lies all over you like a warm blanket. It is irresistibly memorable but still with a progressive groove and an atmospheric sound scape. “State Of Independence” is a big, melancholic ballad that even touches power balladry at times. It comes with a chorus that is even hit-laden with an almost overwhelming catchiness and this is something I’m not used when it comes to this band. That said, they get away with it inexorably.
“Superior Machine” is a great prog-rocker with a heavy rhythm and a killer refrain. The tune throws a nod back to both Dead Reckoning and Subsurface (2004) musically with its straight forward and melodic turns. Bloody brilliant! The third part of “The Shire” turns up and this one is more of an intermission, a classical piano piece with a cameo from the band’s first singer Jon Jeary who sang in the band from 1988 – 1992. He also took care of bass duties between 1992 – 2003. Which takes us into the album’s second epic opus “Lost In Translation”, a 10-minute progressive melodic metal song that screams classic Threshold all the way. With a brilliant arrangement, mesmerizing melodies, huge keyboard parts, heavy riffing and softer passages, the tune takes us on a musical journey that at least I never want to return from. A grandiose track, proggy yet very memorable. After a run-over like that, a ballad like “Swallowed” gives an almost cleansing feel. The tune starts out laid-back and stripped with only vocals and piano but it soon turns into a majestic power ballad with an intense arrangement and a huge melody that surrounds the whole song. A brilliant way to wind things down and close the album.
To wrap this up, let’s start with new singer Glynn Morgan – does he pull it off here? The answer must be a yes. His voice is a bit more edgy and gritty than Mac and Wilson, but his voice has a wide range and spontaneously, he feels like the perfect guy to replace them. To make a double album work in the days of streaming and mp3:s, where people buy songs instead of albums, is of course a risk. And this is an epic project – big, overblown (in a good way) and bombastic, but I must say that it’s not a very hard task to digest the album back to back, the songs are – as always with Threshold – so bloody awesome. They have a way to make their progressive hard rock / metal an easy listen, probably much because of the fact that they know how to write melodies that catches the ear and adds hook after hook after hook. Also, this band sounds like no other band within their genre, their sound and arrangements are very personal sounding. The production is crystal clear and smooth yet heavy and driven, just the way I like it. Sure, there are some new elements here but nothing that changes the band’s sound much so I can’t see how any Threshold fan will be disappointed by this effort. Brilliant!
More Threshold reviews:
1. The Shire (Pt.1)
2. Small Dark Lines
3. The Man Who Saw Through Time
4. Trust The Process
5. Stars And Satellites
6. On The Edge
CD 2 (41:32)
1. The Shire (Pt 2)
3. Subliminal Freeways
4. State Of Independence
5. Superior Machine
6. The Shire (Pt.3)
7. Lost In Translation