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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.

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