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Mary’s baby’s eyes are blue… - 90%

naverhtrad, December 15th, 2016

From the very beginning hook of ‘Freaks’, you know you’re in for something a bit different.

Threshold hasn’t been born again, of course, but they have indeed matured with Clone. Instrumentally, Threshold corrected in a big way for the slight stumble of Extinct Instinct, went back to the basics of their Formula, continued where Psychedelicatessen left off, and kicked straight into high gear. Wilson left the band again, and his expressive tenor warble has been replaced with the clean, composed and collected baritone of the late, lamented ‘Mac’ McDermott (may his memory be eternal). The samples and ambient noises have been toned down, and added with a deliberate view to their poignancy. West has gotten the right balance of organ-synths-piano down pat here, balancing the overarching melodies with practised ease against the strong, driving rhythm – which is good, because that powerful trio of Groom, Midson and Jeary have clearly hit their stride, alongside newbie drummer Mark Heaney.

The fuggin’-‘eavy Groom-Midson-Jeary metal machine now alternates with well-oiled ease between cruisers and bruisers – songs which take an easy, deceptively-relaxed but virulently-catchy pace (‘The Latent Gene’, ‘Change’, ‘Goodbye Mother Earth’; seriously, try listening to that first one even once, and tell me you aren’t humming ‘my generation’s lost its patience’ and ‘ac-celerated sat-u-ration’ hours later!), and songs whose drive, weight, sheer momentum just hurtle forward crushing everything in their path (‘Freaks’, ‘Life’s Too Good’). And then occasionally they take the time to tone things back down to the earlier plodding, doom-metallic pace (‘Lovelorn’). Add to that the slightly Middle Eastern-influenced warbling and cascading arpeggios West puts on top, and Mac’s seamless vocal delivery, and the Threshold Formula veritably explodes with febrile, pulsing life on the lab table.

And that little metaphor segues remarkably well into a discussion of the lyrics. Clone strikes me as another not-quite-concept-album, an album with a clear and palpable theme – in this case, a science-fictional vision which explores the promise and the humanist dangers of genetic alteration, human artificial selection, eugenics and accelerated biotechnology. It’s much less preachy, it deserves to be said, than Wounded Land, but there’s a lot of deep thought that Groom and Jeary put into this particular topic (and to be clear, it was on a lot of people’s minds – Gattaca had been released the year before, for example). The science-fictional, vaguely-dystopian thread drawn between the opener ‘Freaks’, ‘The Latent Gene’, and the closing ‘Goodbye Mother Earth’-‘Voyager II’-‘Sunrise on Mars’ arc manages to colour even the interposed songs like ‘Lovelorn’, ‘Change’ and ‘Life’s Too Good’, which on their face don’t have anything to do with the theme. The subtle implication – delivered in classic, thoughtful Threshold style – in juxtaposing these songs seems to be that all this accelerated change is actually driving us apart, feeding unrealistic expectations of human nature, and creating insurmountable existential crises. That’s an interpretation on my part, but I’d like to think it’s a valid one!

There’s more than enough indication here, by the way, that anyone who still gives voice to the cliché that the nineties were a sucky, dismal, grunge-afflicted Dark Age for heavy metal desperately needs their horizons expanded. One counterexample doesn’t constitute any sort of statistical proof, of course, but in this case it does show that there was excellent, top-quality heavy metal being produced, if you weren’t lazy about looking for it. Clone does have marks of the age on it, to be sure – as evidenced by some of Mac’s exaggeratedly-laidback delivery as well as by the thematic material.

The fourth outing, to my mind, marks the beginning of Threshold’s golden age. With this album, they have brought together all the various elements they’d staked out in their first three albums, given them a now clearly-defined focus and direction, and shot off with all the force and finality of a rocket leaving orbit.

18 / 20

Heavy, smooth, & progressive - 89%

failsafeman, September 15th, 2010

It's too bad Threshold are still rather unknown, because really they are one of the hardest working bands in metal. Just look at their discography; they've been putting out a steady stream of material since their formation in 1988, weathering many lineup shifts that would've killed lesser bands, all while maintaining a level of quality and professionalism that is difficult to compete with (especially if you're Dream Theater). After 1997's excellent Extinct Instinct, Threshold parted ways for the second time with on-again, off-again singer Damian Wilson. However, without missing a beat, they recruited Andrew "Mac" McDermott, a man more in line with Glynn Morgan's silky smooth style on Psychedelicatessen than Wilson's aggressive delivery and heavy metal falsettos. Mac would go on to sing on the next four albums, becoming the Threshold frontman most are familiar with.

With 1998's Clone, Threshold polish their sound further and drift away from Extinct Instinct's heavier and at times epic style, which at the same time makes for lower peaks but greater consistency. While Wilson fucking slays on songs like "Eat the Unicorn", he's just not as suited for softer songs, which Mac handles much better. For any expecting long-winded instrumental showcases, that's not how Threshold roll. Even on their long songs, they're very content-minded, with each and every note played with purpose. Compared to Dream Theater, the progressive metal band most people are familiar with, instrumentation is similar; however, Threshold focus on catchiness above all else, and have a penchant for big, AOR-ish choruses with lots of backing vocals. Still, they never forget heavy riffs, as heard on songs like the speedy "Life's Too Good" especially. Threshold have done a very solid job of combining metal's heaviness and progressive rock's rhythmic and thematic complexity, with the catchiness and accessibility of AOR smoothing everything out. The faultless production backs it all up with a slick professional sheen, noticably better than on earlier albums.

Like a number of Threshold's full-lengths, Clone is a loose concept album of sorts. No tedious interludes or overblown narrations here, though; the album is still very song-focused, and while the plot's fairly easy to follow, the songs stand on their own merits. The album is enjoyable whether or not you choose to immerse yourself in its story. The concept revolves around a near-future society that indulges in ever more dramatic genetic engineering; things quickly spiral out of control, until finally the protagonist tries to escape the Earth in a dream state. His soul travels to Mars, only barely returning to Earth intact, apparently with the intention of teaching others to do the same. The message comes across a little preachy and "science gone wrong" has been a common theme in fiction since Frankenstein, but luckily the lyrics are written well enough that it's not too much of a problem. The mood the music sets is very powerful, strongly melancholy but also with grimly humorous undertones, a combination more reminiscent of early Genesis at their least whimsical than anything in metal.

As you might expect from a concept album, the weighty stuff is backloaded. Starting out we get the shorter, catchier tracks to pique our interest, while the longer epics are relegated to the second half for the story's climax. "Freaks" is probably the standout of the former sort, very catchy and entertaining but with an interesting structure; the verses initially alternate with little instrumental sections and we don't get the first actual chorus until after the bridge about halfway through, and the verses themselves change for the second half too. Of the latter sort, "Voyager II" is undoubtedly the best, with a huge cosmic feel and many ups and downs, from softer, ambient keyboard sections to the gripping chorus. "Angels" on the other hand is a rare dud, the only real washout on the album as the AOR elements gain a bit too much prevalence.

If you're looking to get into Threshold's discography, Clone is definitely a good place to start, as it defines their best-known sound and I prefer it in fact to most of Threshold's subsequent material with Mac; later on things start to slide as they get a little too polished in my opinion, but even so you can't really miss with this band.