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Still up there flying - 85%

naverhtrad, December 15th, 2016

Critical Mass is an album of a piece with its predecessors, Clone and Hypothetical. Threshold continues its drift in a smoother and more poised direction, whilst retaining the kinetic dynamism that marked the prior two albums – good heavy rock music with smarts and heart to spare. The instrumentation is all excellent as ever, and Groom, Midson and Jeary especially display a certainty and conviction in the signature sound they have developed. However, from the truly staggering effort and creative energy that went into Hypothetical, Critical Mass still feels like a step back.

I really don’t want to be too down on this album, in part exactly because the quality is everything you might expect. The heaviness is here in spades – I caught myself outright headbanging to ‘Fragmentation’, for example. And even though it’s really hard to top the insidious, laidback catchiness of Clone’s ‘The Latent Gene’, ‘Falling Away’ does give it a run for its money with that chorus. And then you’ve got the ‘Keep My Head’ pop-rockish ‘Avalon’ and sections of ‘Echoes of Life’, both of which are polished to a keen shine. So let’s not make any mistakes. The sky hasn’t fallen yet, and Threshold are definitely ‘still up there flying…’.

But solid, weighty song after solid, weighty song goes on, yet Critical Mass doesn’t quite add up to sustain the nuclear chain reaction it promises. One notable lack is that Threshold haven’t really provided the speedy, hard-driving bits that previously balanced out their tried-and-true heavy pounders. So here you have excellent examples of the latter, like ‘Fragmentation’ and a ‘Round and Round’, but nothing to quite match Clone’s ‘Freaks’ or the introductory passage to Hypothetical’s ‘The Ravages of Time’. The end result feels like nine-tenths of a really kick-arse Threshold album, with (pardon the extended metaphor) nearly all the needed fissile material right there, but with the gun assembly mislaid somewhere.

The two lengthy prog-epic tunes on Critical Mass, ‘Echoes of Life’ and ‘Critical Mass’, have the same tendency. There’s brilliance and madness aplenty to appreciate in both, and Mac really tears into you with some of the vocals on the latter – ‘we’re approaching the critical mass… this means war!’ – foreshadowing a bit his true foray into dirty vox on Dead Reckoning. It’s no shame on either to say they don’t quite reach the dizzying heights of ‘The Ravages of Time’ – suffice it to say that ‘Critical Mass’ does come within view of it.

It’s interesting to note that even though many Threshold albums do have an interconnecting theme, this one features several interesting, more abstract lyrical reprises and incidences of déjà vu – like they are deliberately playing with the idea of the circularity of history which they had visited on previous albums, and which they continue to explore on this one. ‘Now I’ve been here twelve times before…

The old themes of environmental destruction, corporate malfeasance and unjust warfare make their appearance here as well. ‘Falling Away’ is, of course, an excellent example of this, though it tends to be a bit more preachy than Threshold usually are. And even though on the surface ‘Avalon’ appears to be a more personal and relationship-oriented piece, it’s easy to take the mythical, ‘kingly’ and ‘romantic’ references and run with them – and interpret the song as an indictment of Britain’s history of imperialism, and the way in which it rewrites that history in a self-serving light. But ‘Critical Mass’ adds an interesting lyrical branching-out, using particle physics as a metaphor to question whether scientific progress as a whole has gone too far, and – in the end – whether we’ll really get far enough to sate our desire for understanding. ‘What is the story and how does it end?’

How does it end? Well, Critical Mass comes with the usual recommendation. It’s Threshold. It’s golden-era Threshold, to boot – profound and thoughtful (yet hard-hitting) music with profound and thoughtful lyrics. In short: you can’t go wrong. But it has the misfortune of standing in the shadow of the band’s pinnacle achievement, and also of being a bit less musically-balanced a release than the subsequent albums.

17 / 20

Separate entities in ebb and flow - 100%

Writhingchaos, March 12th, 2016

The underrated Brit proggers best album. Period. I’m still thoroughly disappointed that they have not yet got the recognition they deserve in spite of consistently releasing one solid album after another, but what the heck. That’s a rant for another time. All you need to know is that every, and I mean EVERY song is an absolute master class in top notch songwriting, the likes of which most prog bands can only dream of having. What sets them apart from most prog bands out there is that they aren’t afraid to include dashes of pop in their music from time to time. Parts of their music have a very elegant 80s feel to them bringing bands like Firehouse and Journey to mind on a more progressive route. I can already see all the die-hard prog-heads wringing their hands going “Pop??!! Oh the horror!” Well let me be the first to tell you, it works marvellously and how. Need further proof? Just listen to the first track “Phenomenon” itself and let yourself be hooked for life. Can’t get the chorus out of your head can you? The midsection of the song is just addictively epic. “Fragmentation” also has stupendously catchy vocals lines along with silky key-laden melodies plus the final chorus is one hell of a turnaround that works wonders.

The main difference? While other albums were solid riff packages interlaced with sublime harmonizing vocals and lush keys, this one dials back the riffing intensity a bit allowing for more acoustic and clean guitar sections plus further usage of the keys really spicing up the spacey atmosphere this album already possesses. More of the same power/prog, yet a tad diverse in its own way. You know the deal. There are definitely more ballads on this album compared with their previous albums which may cause some fans disappointment, but the overtly melancholic approach on this album actually works damn well. Just in case you were wondering, the proper ballads “Avalon” and “Falling Away” are just as good as the rest of the songs, with the former having a slow forlorn-drenched atmosphere with amazing vocals and the latter combining an epic clean section with heavy riffs piling on later along with a really heartfelt solo for great effect. If I may add, “Falling Away” has also some of the best lyrics on the album talking about how we’ve ultimately sealed our own fate and are ultimately doomed as a species due to our selfishness, neglect and greed over the decades. Every time I play this song I can literally feel every bit of the lyrics and the saddening frustration towards the systems set in place by a greedy corporate wealthy few who literally control the world and its resources only looking to exploit the rest of humanity. I mean just take a look at the 2nd verse and chorus and tell me otherwise. Simple and searingly effective at driving the point home.

Verse:

So we stop by the wayside and we think we're smart
And we vote for the pretty ones and curse when the world falls apart
And we swear we'll do better, but the sky's about to fall
So the smoke rolls over us and we are doing nothing at all

Chorus:
We're powerless, we're paranoid
We'll never know what we destroyed
We're arrogant, so ignorant
We're falling, falling away

“Choices” is also another great track starting off on a subtle calm note with clean picking only to build up in the pre-chorus and anthemically explode into the chorus. The harmonious chants of “How Can I Explain?” is just amazingly sublime. A heavier bridge section takes over with a blistering solo leading to more vocal epic vocals harmonies with the keys taking over thereafter. Threshold doing what they do best. Definitely one of the more underrated songs on the album along with “Echoes Of Life”, another 8 minute behemoth with some of the best vocals and keyboard work. Just listen to that amazing solo at 6:10 towards the end. As for the colossal title track, oh boy that is one track you just have to listen to for yourself and experience every minute. A towering enveloping ace of a song combining all the elements that the band is generally known for. Me gushing about it won’t do the song any justice, so scoot. If you want a peek at the most straightforward rocking song on the album “Round And Round” will suit you just perfectly.

Now I guess a lot of you are wondering what I mean by the title. Apart from being part of the lyrics of “Round And Round”, it also sums up the album perfectly as there are so many different musical elements of hard rock, pop, prog metal, symphonic prog etc, but none of those elements overpower each other instead they beautifully cascade and merge with one another enhancing the dynamics of the album as a whole. Amazing, just amazing.

If you are a newbie to the music of Threshold, this would probably be a great place to start. A stunningly addictive masterpiece that only gets better with every listen. I cannot recommend this enough.

How Can I Explain My Kingdom Remains? - 80%

Dragonchaser, August 25th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2002, CD, InsideOut Music

Threshold hit their stride with 2001's mighty “Hypothetical”, an album that laid waste to everything they had recorded prior, and set the benchmark for accessible progressive metal the world over. They never got the respect or the sales that were due, given that they put an incredible amount of time and creativity into everything they put out, but at least in the UK, this British band were starting to make people sit up and take notice. Threshold channeled this new-found surge in popularity and created “Critical Mass” a year later.

For many, the Mac era will always be the highlight in Threshold's career, and the man is on fire here. Pushing his sharp, almost snarling delivery into higher registers for what is arguably one of his finest performances, Mac delivers these fine vocal lines with strength, conviction, and purpose. The rest of the band are tight as hell, as usual, with keyboard maestro Richard West and guitarist Karl Groom getting the lion's share of the attention. I've often found West to be a better soloist when it comes to the instrumental sections, showing a great amount of flair and sophistication, while Groom's passion is all about the riff. Those looking for a classic Threshold fix will find nothing to turn your nose up at here, though the album is a little different from the one that preceded it.

While “Hypothetical” was a rampaging affair, with a razor sharp guitar tone and an almost prog-power sensibility about it, “Critical Mass” take a more melancholy tone. It's rather ballad-heavy, with songs like “Falling Away”, Threshold's take on “Space Dye Vest”, and the spacey “Round And Round” feeling somewhat tiresome against the album's heavier cuts. The band have never been about speed or technicality; Threshold are song-driven, and every track here is well-crafted and expertly written. I dig the slower, more sedate feel of this album, but some might find it rather lacking in terms of flow, especially considering tracks like opener “Phenomenon”, which is Threshold running at full throttle, or the grinding, crowd-pleasing anthem “Fragmentation”, with its to-die-for chorus.

On the whole, this is one the band's more mechanical offerings, but it does contain a number of their best songs. “Echoes Of Life” is a killer West number with some of the best vocal lines on the album, and early epic “Choices” is a roller coaster of emotion and energy. The middle section is particularly striking, with its off-kilter melodies, courtesy of bassist/backing vocalist Jon Jeary, who would sadly leave the band after this, passing on all lyric-writing responsibilities to West.

So to recap, an excursion into melancholy for Threshold, one of prog-metal's most consistent band's. If you're just starting with them, go for “Hypothetical” or “Subsurface”. Seasoned fans will appreciate “Critical Mass” on another level.

Threshold - Critical Mass - 90%

ConorFynes, December 28th, 2010

My first experience with the band Threshold, I was blown away when I first listened to this album. Typically, one expects a progressive metal band to sound something along the lines of Dream Theater or Symphony X, and conform to a certain protocol (in other words; being incredibly unprogressive.) Threshold manages to steer clear of that stereotype; and in melding great melodic hooks with progressive integrity, have created an unlikely masterpiece.

This album was purchased with a completely 'blind' ear; I had no idea what I was getting into and only had the knowledge that the band was progressive metal, and that one of their previous singers had done work with Ayreon. Besides that, I was treading into completely alien territory.

From the first song onwards, I recognized a very strong attention to melody; something that progressive metal has seemed to long-since forgotten. This alone warranted a heightened interest in the album, and the band. By the time of listening to 'Falling Away,' I was certain that I was listening to something clever and beautiful. The dynamic, beautiful introductory sequence of 'Falling Away' really stole my heart.

In terms of flow, album cohesion doesn't play a huge role with 'Critical Mass' although there's nothing wrong with the way the songs are set up. 'Phenomenon' is a fantastic way to open the album up, while the acoustic finale of the title track puts the listener on a gently soothing closing note.

Unlike 'Dead Reckoning' (a significantly weaker release from the band,') 'Critical Mass' does not give up progressiveness for melody and good songwriting. None of the material here is incredibly progressive... Prog is better described as a part of the musical mold rather than the main attraction.

The voice of 'Mac' McDermott doesn't impress me as much as Damian Wilson's did on the Ayreon releases, but he has a great voice that really fits the music. Some listeners might have a bit of time getting used to his voice due to the fact that his tenor sounds like alot of hair metal vocalists, but in the end, that shouldn't get in the way of his talent and the band's ability to create great music in general.

Great melodies, powerful compositions, and something that's a bit different and more down-to-earth than your typical progressive metal band. A fantastic album, and a very rewarding purchase.