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Stone was THE thrash band of the late 80s and early 90s in Finland. Having Airdash, Prestige, N.N.S., A.R.G. or one of the others as a support for a foreign band back in the day was nice, but Stone was the band that guaranteed a killer show. They set the benchmarks, and became the yardstick to measure every other band back in the day.
Emotional Playground was to become their last full-length before the inevitable break-up, and somehow it seems like it failed to ignite the crowd as well as the earlier works. To be honest, Colours was already a baffling album for someone used to straight and honest thrash pummeling. Stone ventured too far into the progressive Twilight Zone, and the interest stealthily faded. But the album is far from bad. Actually, it's awesome.
Emotional Playground is not progressive in the Dream Theater sense. There are no goofy time signatures or impressive weener-bruising pieces of unnecessary wankery here, and the music is not "difficult" in any meaningful sense. No, the progression in this case means complex compositions and ever-changing song structures, plenty of individual sections and lack of steam locomotives among the instruments. The songs have progressed beyond mere songwriting or compositions, and they have turned into extremely complex collections of precariously balanced things assembled into mobile sculptures of a slightly autistic artist. Yes, they have something of a kinetic sculpture in them, and the audience more inclined to moshing themselves to the ER failed to appreciate them. And that is a shame.
Every single riff on Emotional Playground is worth a song, and every song contains piles of riffs and several subsections. The abundance of things is camouflaged by the wicked logic of the songs and the impeccable playing. It's easy to listen to the songs and get immersed in them, simply listening to the incredible delivery, enjoying the unbelieveably smooth flow of such magnificient pieces of tonal engineering. On the other hand, that is the album's downfall in the hands of a traditional 1989 thrash freak. Nothing on Emotional Playground and very few songs on Colours actually work well in a live thrash gig environment in the finnish 1990 context. The gigs back then were moshing, headbanging and stage diving, and the music on this album is way too complex and demands too much concentration from the audience to work in that environment. This album is for the "rock police" guys in the back of the audience, standing with their arms crossed and holding an hour-old flat pint of beer in one hand, listening to the band and evaluating every nuance of the live delivery, not the members of the real thrash crowd mincing their flesh in a pile of sweaty, bruised bodies next to the stage.
The album is a damn good one. It just requires concentration and wants to be familiar enough to be on first name terms with you before opening up and offering its treasures. If the members of Stone thought they had milked the thrash well dry when they broke up, it may even hold some truth in it. The album is about as complex as thrash albums can generally hope to be, and it perhaps even sacrifices some thrashiness in order to achieve even more, but it's complex in a very cunning, almost invisible way. None of the tempo changes or transformations the songs go through ever sound awkward or forced, the music flows in an incredible way all through the dozens of different sections in the songs. It's a lean, mean killer machine, but it looks like a sports car and runs down people like a sniper instead of the cruiser tank thrash fans are more familiar with.
Stone never did anything wrong. Except for the fact that they split up. But that is to be forgiven, the audience is always too stupid to recognize true quality.